High-Level SDG Action Event on Education

IMG_4121On Wednesday 28th June 2017, representatives of the IBVM NGO attended The General Assembly Action Event at the United Nations, where a full day of panels aimed at achieving the 4th Sustainable Development Goal took place.


The speakers at the Event could be characterized as both enthusiastic and determined. They advocated for a vital change in perception of education. Education is crucial to sustainable development world wide. Education lays the foundation for future generations, who must live in a world facing issues of climate change and inequality, to become leaders of positive and sustainable change. Education is a human right, which opens doors to innovation, employment, gender equality and many other goals that the UN wishes to achieve by 2030.


The dialogues that ensued highlighted the 3 major challenges with the international standard of education.

1.     Access- 263 million young people, and 600 million adults/youth (60% being women) don’t have access to education. Education is not seen as the human right that it is.

2.     Quality- nearly 40% of students leave primary school without having mastered any basic math or language skills. Education needs extensive resources, training and a modernization of curriculum and learning model.

3.     Governance-  A holistic vision is needed. Whilst a top-down approach is still pertinent to ensure adequate funding for education, there needs to be more collaboration with those on the grass roots level: teachers and parents engaging in deep dialogue with key decision makers.


So…what is the solution to the issue of access and quality?


Innovation, though commonly used in reference to technology, can take forms in many ways. A representative from WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education) talked about innovation in the form of a curriculum change, a change in standardized testing, and development in physical school facilities.

Leslee Udwin, British filmmaker and human rights activist, passionately spoke about the need for innovation of school curriculum. This was a point that really stood out to the room. School must teach value based social and emotional learning. Education can be a tool to change the mindset young people, teaching them how to exist in the world in a peaceful way.  

Technology can be used as a conduit for the outcome of learning, and this was an issue discussed in the second dialogue of the event. Online universities provide high quality, affordable and easily accessed education for all individuals without discrimination.

It should be noted that Technological tools should not replace a traditional schooling system. An iPad cannot fulfil the multifaceted role of a compassionate and empathetic teacher. In this media revolution we find ourselves in, the centrality of teachers should not be undermined.


The third panel was geared towards the planning of education in humanitarian situations. In the face of disaster, education is the least resilient or prioritised. As such, the General Assembly proposed the Three I’s for moving forward:

Invest long term funding focusing on the planning and preparedness of schools and children.

Improve quality of education to meet the SDGs learning outcome targets.  This means building teach capacity and employing a mechanism to measure progress.

Include- every child has the right to effective education.


Leonor Briones, Secretary of the Department of Education of the Republic of the Philippines, provided a powerful anecdote on her experience as a child, writing on banana leaves for school in the wake of a catastrophic natural disaster. It was the empowering force of learning that helped her get through the immense hardship.


A key takeaway from this event would be that education is a key which opens doors to all the other Sustainable Development Goals. As such, the United Nations is and will continue to work towards 

ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. 





The United Nations’ Global Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking

On Friday 23rd of June 2017, two representatives from the IBVM NGO the United Nations attended an informal interactive stakeholder hearing in New York, where speakers and in-room participates engaged in a dialogue centered on the practical steps which need to be taken to combat the issue of human trafficking.


It was both a moving and informative hearing, with a wide range of voices being heard and celebrated to ensure the formulation of the Plan of Action encapsulates the vast nature of this international issue.


Trafficking of persons is a gross human rights violation and a major barrier to sustainable development. This is why the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is paramount to this discussion. Targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2 specifically touch on the the gender inequality and social insecurity that needs to be addressed if we are to move towards prevention.


An eye opening address from Withelma “T” Oritz Walker Pettigrew, a victim of sex-trafficking, spoke openly about the importance of having those who have endured such trauma to be a part of the system that helps other survivors into the recovery stage. Moreover, she honed in on the need for a change in focus. From now on, a SURVIVER CENTRED APPROACH is essential. Using resources to educate, empower and take legal action for victims of human trafficking is a far more-long term solution, and should be universalised to help prevent such atrocities from happening in the first place.


A key quote from the conference was from Kay Buck, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), where she said “this generation of survivors will be our last”. CAST advocates for ground-breaking policies and legislation that goes against the unfair misidentification of victims as criminals. CAST takes a holistic approach to support thousands of survivors, providing counselling, legal resources, housing, education, leadership training and mentorship.


It was reiterated countless times that the heinous crime of human trafficking occurs as a result of numerous social factors and pre-existing vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. These include gender inequality, lack of education and poverty.


The solution to these problems are vast and multifaceted, with the targets of the SDGs doing much to outline the practical steps that need to be taken. Other strategies touched on in the hearing include:

-       A world wide curriculum in every school about the risks of the trafficking industry

-       A change in legislation to a survivor centred approach- ending the penalisation of victims

-       Address the demand for cheap labour and commercialised sex- the business supply chain that exists today is fuelling this demand

-       Allocation of SIGNIFICANT resources, not just the minimum funding

-       Multidisciplinary approach to the prosecution of traffickers and the retraining of law enforcement.

-       Frame the outreach to the wider public that their donations to this cause is a “life saving mechanism”.

-       Empowerment of victims through therapy and legal action

-       Plan a review mechanism for the global plan, to assess progress

-       Having crisis management plans in place for potential natural disasters, as these types of events are directly linked to the increase in human trafficking incidences, due to the desperation it causes. In the wake of a natural catastrophe, an overwhelm at the situation leads law enforcement and authority figures to neglect those members who are at risk of trafficking. Prioritising vulnerable people to this industry in the wake of such disasters is a major preventative measure.