The world needs to step up its efforts to tackle the crisis of 121 million children, particularly girls, who receive no formal schooling, Julia Gillard, the former Australian prime minister, has warned.
Speaking before a major education summit in Norway, Gillard said the world was at a pivotal moment in tackling millions of children growing up without basic schooling, in much the same way as the need to address global health issues reached a tipping point in the early 2000s.
She said it was not just a moral imperative to give everyone the right to go to school but better educated parents would help prevent infant mortality and lift people out of poverty.
“The poorest girls will get there a full 70 years after the richest boys. The gap is startling,” she said. “There is a moral, rights-based reason why we’ve got to educate every girl, but there’s also a practical development outcomes if we do educate girls.
“We know that if we educated every girl, we would see infant deaths plummet by 3 million. We know that if women are educated children are more likely to survive childhood, more likely to be vaccinated, that economies grow because women have got the capability to work and direct that financing back to their families. Educating girls is win, win, win all round.”
Nine in 10 school-age children around the world get a primary education but there are still about 121 million children of primary and lower secondary age who are not in school. Of the 58 million not in primary school, about 31 million are girls.
Gillard, who is chair of the board of the Global Partnership for Education, said there was a lot of positive energy around the need for more international cooperation on education for millions of unschooled children, led by people such as Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Gordon Brown, who is now the UN special envoy on education.
Gillard said “The motivating force throughtout my life and work in politics has been access to education and opportunity so I find it truly heartbreaking that we can look at our world and contemplate that it could be 100 years before girls get basic education, let alone full access to education,” she said.
As the first female prime minister of Australia, Gillard gained renown for her “misogyny speech”, taking now-prime minister Tony Abbott to task over his sexist attitudes.