Header image for news printout

World Innovation Summit for Education 2021

Generation Unmute: Reclaiming our Future through Education

8 December 2021

Main panel: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Meaningful Employment:
Empowering marginalised youth across the MENA region – Resilience in a post pandemic world

I am pleased to address this Summit.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the largest-ever global disruption of education. If not urgently and effectively addressed, this disruption could have incalculable and long-lasting effects. And the reason is that not only is education a fundamental human right in itself, it is also crucial for the full and meaningful exercise of all other human rights.

Like the rights to vote and to participate in public and economic affairs and decision making; the right to express oneself freely, to plan a family and to benefit from scientific progress. The right to decent work.

The pandemic has rendered the transition from education to employment even more difficult for young people. Moreover, it has contributed to further deepening inequality in this area, especially given the digital divide. In the Middle East and North Africa region, for example, approximately 37 million young learners did not have access to remote learning, which means 40 per cent of children. As in other parts of the world, the majority of those were already in vulnerable situations.

Last year, my Office, the ILO and other partners conducted a global survey, which found that the impacts of the pandemic on young people, particularly among young women, younger youth and youth in lower income countries, have been systematic, deep and disproportionate.

Highlighted in the survey is also the severe impact on the right to education. Globally, one in eight students were left without any access to education or training, with youth in lower-income countries most affected. And from those studying, nearly two in every three reported having learnt less since the pandemic began; as a result, over half believed their education may be delayed.

The COVID-19 crisis also led to a decrease in youth employment -- by 8.7 per cent in 2020. Even more concerning is the fact that young people who lost their jobs are not finding the education or training opportunities they need to re-enter the market.

The scope of this educational disruption is an overall catastrophe, but we cannot lose sight of the gender perspective. The closure of schools and educational institutions make girls and young women more vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy, and gen¬der-based violence – all of which decrease their likelihood of continuing their education or accessing the job market. All of that is on top of the barriers young women already face when entering the labor force, including unequal pay for work of equal value, violence and harassment in the workplace and unpaid care work.

We must recover better than this.

We must ensure that all people fully enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to education and the right to decent work.

It is increasingly and abundantly clear that the only way out of this crisis and into more just and resilient societies is through human rights.

And to uphold universal human rights, young people need to be both aware of them and of the means to ensure their protection.

This is the fundamental task of human rights education: to equip individuals with knowledge, skills and attitudes that help them identify, claim, and defend the human rights of us all.

It enables young people to recognize and fulfil their role as active citizens, participating in public affairs and democratic decision-making processes.

For all these reasons, human rights education must be an integral part of the right to education.

I am pleased that my Office, in partnership with Education Above All and Silatech, is developing a toolkit on the human rights of young people, including the right to education, with a focus on those in situations of vulnerability. We trust the toolkit will empower them to stand up for their human rights.

From the multiple facets of the COVID-19 crisis to climate change, young people must have a voice in shaping solutions to today’s complex problems.

Education is the key to a common, better future. One with dignity and rights for all.

Indeed, investing in high quality education, including human rights education, is the most cost-effective way to drive economic and social development, to improve skills and opportunities for young people, to unlock progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind.