Education International
Education International

When I say "Education", you say "First"!

published 12 July 2013 updated 11 October 2013

Today, on Malala Day, 550 Youth Delegates prepare to take over the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York to demand equitable quality education for all.

The members of EI’s delegation to the UN Youth Assembly are Mennatallah Shapaan Abdelgid Morsy Hikal from ISTT, Egypt, Yohanni de Jesús Jiménez Rodríguez  from PRICPHMA, Honduras, Jannel Alexander from JTA, Jamaica, Sehreen Moorat from COT, Pakistan, Lotte Bosma from AOB, the Netherlands and Alexis Ploss and David Tjaden from NEA, USA. The delegates are trainee teachers, as well as experienced teachers of ICT, English, Counselling & Guidance, and basic education for disabled learners. Participating in this event at the UN is a life-time first for all of them.

Young voices ring out in the UN corridors

There is no doubt that the 550 young people, who are taking over the UN General Assembly, have swept a hurricane of youthful enthusiasm and exuberance down the hallowed halls of the United Nations. Yesterday (Thursday July 11th), delegates were briefed about the logistics of today’s event, every now and then, the Chair of the Youth Advocacy Group of the Global Education First Initiative(GEFI), Chernor Bah from Sierra Leone, interrupted their work with calls and responses: “When I say ‘Malala’, you say ‘Day’! When I say ‘Education’ you say ‘First’!” To thunderous applause from the audience, he reminded everyone that they are there to ‘take over’ the UN and to make sure that the voices of the world’s young people are heard loud and clear at the highest levels of international policy.

And the call, said Mr Bah, is for ‘equitable quality education’ for all children, no matter where they live or the circumstances in which they live. The delegates are at the UN to remind member states of the promises they made almost 15 years ago; to decry their failure to meet those promises so far; and to insist that it is not too late. With sufficient political will, education for all by 2015 can become a reality.

Zeenat Rahman, the Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues to the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, told delegates to remember three numbers:

"57 million is the number of children currently out of school;

550 is the number of young delegates currently at the UN to call for an end to this travesty;

The efforts and sacrifice of one person, like Malala Yousafzai, is all it takes to make the world sit up, listen and act."

Overwhelming Energy and Passion for Education

EI delegate Jannel Alexander from Jamaica finds the energy and passion for education expressed by the young delegates gathered in New York almost overwhelming. She said: “What I am seeing here now really brings home to me the fact that problems and challenges around education are not unique to Jamaica. Speaking to so many other young people from so many countries shows that the only difference is the level and intensity of the problems. What we all have in common is our commitment to making change happen”.

Other EI delegates expressed feeling inspired to continue working towards the common goal of achieving equitable quality education for all. The delegates’ first impressions of the youth takeover at the UN are very positive: meeting young activists from around the world is an opportunity to not only coordinate youth activism at a global policy level; it is also an opportunity to learn. As Sehreen Moorat from Pakistan noted, “This event is making me reflect on what we can adopt and adapt from other countries to improve our own education system in Pakistan, and to make sure that everyone has equal access to it”.