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'We need a sense of urgency on education'

More schools, less illiteracy and equal opportunity in education: These are among the goals world leaders agreed to meet by 2015. But there is still much progress to be made, says education expert Pauline Rose.

DW: Each year in the Global Monitoring Report, you investigate how far we've come in achieving the Millennium Development Goals pertaining to education, which were established in 2000. What are the stand-out developments that have taken place since the publication of the last report?

Pauline Rose: We've seen progress in some countries in terms of their reduction of out of school numbers. So, to give a couple of striking examples, India and Ethiopia both saw a reduction in their numbers of children out of school by around one million. I think this is largely due to the political role that these countries have placed on education.

Where have you seen stagnation with respect to benchmarks already achieved?

In terms of stagnation, unfortunately that is the keyword for this report. Stagnation is apparent across most of the “Education for All” goals. Most strikingly the number of out of school children has stagnated between the last years that we had data, which were 2009 and 2010. There are 61 million children out of school. Of greater concern: The number of out of school children in sub-Saharan Africa has actually increased - making up half of all children not in school.

The 2012 report focuses on qualifications for the work force and how that relates to educational systems. Why did you choose to highlight this in a report on education?

Education expert Pauline Rose Copyright: UNESCO

Pauline Rose heads the Global Monitoring Report

We felt that skills was one area that the Global Monitoring Report had not covered in sufficient depth, and it's increasingly urgent due to the large numbers of young people who are unemployed in the context of economic downturn along with the growing youth population. So as we have seen with the Arab Spring, this has led to a great deal of frustration, and skills or lack of skills has been a part of that.

One thing we felt was lacking in some of these debates was not just the concerns and frustrations of graduates, but also of those who lack even the most basic skills. So, in Egypt, where some of these frustrations were being shown most explicitly, we found that around a third of poor young women have actually less than two years schooling.

Given the economic crisis, youth unemployment has risen in many states in recent years. Is that affecting the motivation of young people to learn and do well in school?

My impression from the work that we've done for the Global Monitoring Report is that young people have really great ambitions and motivation to do well. I don't think that the economic downturn has put a dampener on that, but clearly they are frustrated when they can't see the opportunities. They need to be given the training not only to get these more formal jobs but to be given the entrepreneurial skills to expand their opportunities.

I remember one girl in particular, from Ethiopia, saying very explicitly: I know what I want to do. I just need someone to help support me in getting the skills that I need to be able to fulfil that goal.

Which nations have systems in place that are functioning especially well when it comes to helping young people transition from school to work?

Flags of various nations stand in front of a UNESCO logo Photo: Dolega +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

UNESCO is responsible for publishing the GMR

One of the most successful examples is the Republic of Korea. Over 30 years ago, it started investing very heavily in skills development alongside a very carefully planned strategy to address industrialization, bridging the demand and supply both of what's needed in the labor market as well as what's needed coming out of school. We found that was a key reason why they have achieved such high levels of economic growth and went from a poor country to a rich country within that 30 year period.

Another very positive example that we highlight in the report is Germany. Its well-known dual apprenticeship system, which links very explicitly the education system with the world of work by providing both practical and theoretical training, has really helped to both provide young people with the skills they need and help keep Germany's level of unemployment down.

The Millennium Development Goals are intended to be realized by 2015. But in the last Global Monitoring Report, you pointed out that there may be more children by 2015 than there are today who don't go to school. Do you think there will be an extension on the time frame for realizing the goals?

We really need to place urgency on what needs to be done between now and 2015. We shouldn't allow global leaders - politicians as well as governments - to start saying: We haven't reached these goals.

But I think it's clear that we're not going to be able to make the goals. So there will need to be a push after 2015. After 2015, we need to put more emphasis on inequality because one of the key reasons we haven't achieved the goals is because we haven't placed enough of a spotlight on those who are hardest to reach. So the stagnating or even increasing numbers of children out of school is due to the poorest households, the girls and those living in remote rural areas. We need a real push to provide them both with access to schooling as well as better learning opportunities.

Pauline Rose is director of the "Education for All" Global Monitoring Report, published by UNESCO, a key study on educational access and quality around the world. The most recent report came out on October 16.

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