Development Through Education
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Few venues could be more appropriate for this conference than the Alisher Navoi National Library. A statesman, poet, scientist, and prolific author, celebrated for more than five centuries, Navoi was one of the most brilliant minds of his generation. In his words: “He who stands apart or turns his face, Deserves no place in the human race.”
This sentiment is the heart of the United Nations – the belief that all countries and all people share the responsibility to build a better world.
Education holds the key to that future. As the UN Secretary General (SG) has said: “People are the greatest wealth of any country, but that wealth must be built on quality education”.
In many ways, education is a ‘game changer’ that can close our biggest development gaps. Improved education carries benefits throughout life and across generations.
It has positive impacts on reducing infant and maternal mortality; it leads to better nutrition; supports HIV prevention; boosts poverty reduction and empowers women and youth.
But it does something even more important. Education opens the door to unlimited possibilities. It helps us to change mindsets, to dream and to bridge the gap between the reality we have and the future we choose to create.
Progress in Central Asia
Twenty two years ago the world pledged to achieve universal primary education and to reduce global illiteracy.
It has been 12 years since the Framework for Action to Achieve Education for All was agreed. That’s long enough for a child to have started and finished their primary and secondary schooling.
With just three years left until 2015 – the deadline for both Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is time for a last big push. We need to ask ourselves how many children have had this opportunity? How many have we equipped to seize the possibilities of the 21st Century?
In Central Asia we have done quite well – with some progress towards universal primary education, higher literacy rates, and reduced gender gaps. On the other side of the equation, however, this progress has been uneven across and within countries.
On the goal of universal primary education for instance, progress has been made with the net enrolment ratio for the sub-region having reached 90% in 2008, indicating that countries continue to struggle to reach the last 10% of children.
Central Asia’s adult literacy is near-universal at the average rate of 99.4%, which is higher than the world’s average of 83.7%. However, more than 330 000 adults remained illiterate in 2009, of which almost 67% were women.
At least as important as access to education however, is the quality of education delivered. We have seen good improvements in the number of pupils per teacher – with teacher recruitment at the secondary school level in Central Asia having risen by 11% between 1999 and 2008.
Education and Modernization
The theme of this Conference is that education is a key condition for modernization and sustainable development. I want to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Uzbekistan for making such a clear link between economic development and education.
In a country where youth make up almost 60% of the population, successful modernization means tapping into the youth dividend. With more than 1600 vocational colleges around the country, improved out-of-school education and new programmes to partner with other education systems, there is a clear shift in emphasis from quantity to quality of learning.
Initiatives like these are also important first steps to achieve the goal of building Tashkent into a hub of educational excellence for Central Asia.
By investing in education – in life-long learning – we build human capital and equip people to make the leap into the new global economy. We develop in them the skills and know-how to attract foreign investment, to generate new jobs, and to build shared prosperity.
Central Asia stands at a crossroads. Asia is investing in itself to sustain its economic growth by increasing regional connectivity, closing its development gaps, and investing in social development, green growth, and sustainable agriculture. Great opportunities are emerging as Asia creates stronger, more integrated regional economies.
Countries like Uzbekistan have the potential to be part of and to translate this emerging economic opportunity into inclusive growth – and quality education holds the key. This is a priority for Uzbekistan and it is a priority for the UN – especially for the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
ESCAP stands ready to partner with Uzbekistan in these efforts. We are already working together on several projects. Our Dry Ports initiative, for instance, is building inter-modal transport systems linking the Asian Highway with the Trans-Asian Railway. This will ensure that the trading systems of Uzbekistan, a doubly landlocked country, will be connected with sea ports and the more prosperous economies of the region. An area of future cooperation could be on statistics, where our Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP), in Japan, stands ready to offer its assistance to help improve the quality of statistical information. Our Asia Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communications Technology (APCICT), in the Republic of Korea, is already providing ICT skills development across Central Asia, preparing the youth for the modern knowledge economy.
I am also pleased to announce today that one of the fellowships under the ESCAP Young Leadership Programme will be awarded to a recipient from Uzbekistan. These young leaders will be seconded for three months to our headquarters in Bangkok and trained to understand and engage effectively with multilateral organizations so that they can make a difference to the future of development in their countries.
Education for Sustainable Development
The focus of this Conference on the links between education and sustainable development could also not be more timely. We cannot make lasting progress on economic growth, environmental sustainability or social equity in isolation. They are all part of the same integrated agenda of balanced development.
Sustainable development is the greatest challenge but also the greatest opportunity of our generation. The exciting thing is that we can still choose the future that we want by changing knowledge, attitudes and behavior. Education is the tool with which we can make these changes.
We must choose to change our patterns of production and consumption. We must invest in innovation and green technologies. We must build partnerships between business, government and civil society.
I have been particularly impressed by the links being made here in Uzbekistan between education and supporting the concept of citizenship. We must reduce social inequalities and exclusions and address disparities as citizens. Shared values of tolerance and open-mindedness are the cornerstones of education for sustainable development.
The process of shifting to a more sustainable future will change the way economies are structured. Some jobs will be lost, but many more will be created as new technologies and new industries begin to emerge. Our challenge is to focus education and skills training to build our knowledge economies and position our people in Asia at the leading edge of this next economic wave.
I would like to conclude today by returning to the works of Alisher Navoi, whose perspective on education was that “Learning is knowledge acquired in small portions, As drops make the rivers that flow to the oceans”.
Clearly the message from this conference in Uzbekistan, and from Central Asia as a whole, is that investment in education is a critical part of a smart development strategy, and it can help us to leap-frog into the modern economy and a sustainable future.
Working together as educators, funders, policy-makers, humanitarians, and communities across the sub-region, we can accelerate sustainable and inclusive economic growth. ESCAP and the UN stand ready to partner with you on this journey.