The potential of a classroom

How can education in mid- and low-income countries become a catalyst for change in reducing inequality?

High-level panel - Auditorium
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
14:00 to 15:30

Education can be a catalyst for change if the right approach is in place or can reinforce inequality if not managed correctly. Equal opportunities for girls and young women to pursue a better life is a fundamental right and a moral obligation, as well as a smart investment to address rising inequality. Their education is a critical means to improve the welfare of disadvantaged populations and cultivate social justice and economic productivity. Drawing upon the lessons learnt and action of EU funded initiatives such as the Global Partnership for Education and The Education Cannot Wait platform, the panel will focus on low- and middle-income countries and discuss ways to enable more girls and young women to achieve equal opportunities through education.

Key points

  • Barriers stopping children (especially girls) from going to school must be removed.

  • The use of child labour prevents children from attending school; it is time to join forces with the private sector to end child labour.

  • Digital technologies may provide a partial solution to the shortage of teachers faced by many African countries.

  • Focused government spending on education is needed – in cities, in rural areas and on areas such as early child development.

  • Teaching skills need to be improved.


Education is an essential tool in reducing inequality and a key question is how to harness its potential. The barriers that prevent children going to school must be removed. In Ghana, for example, many girls from rural areas are missing school because they cannot afford sanitary pads, which have a 20 % import tax. As a result, they are spending more time on domestic activities such as cooking. Another challenge is the poor level of infrastructure, including a lack of information communications technology laboratories. In rural Ghana, children are failing exams because they have to use computers they have never seen before. One major reason why children are not attending school is because they are the cheapest source of labour. Child labour denies children education. The solution lies in freeing them from this slavery/labour so they can attend school. The private sector has to share leadership here. The Dutch government has passed a law making due diligence in the supply chain of companies mandatory. The European Union should pass a law to ensure an end to child trafficking. Given the shortage of teachers in many African countries, digital technologies could provide a partial solution – digital technology remote learning combined with traditional physical classes. Private sector programmes are being set up in African countries to enable young people to learn coding or other digital skills. And business incubators can be established to foster young people after they leave school. Governments need to allocate enough money to the education budget and ensure that it is spent in the right way and in the right place. For example, if all the money goes to cities and not to remote rural districts, children in those areas will not benefit from education opportunities. Another example is the need to focus on early childhood development – stimulating brain development at a young age helps children to read, write and do maths. Currently, too little money is spent on this in many African countries. Other keys to success include investing in teachers and teaching methods, improving the curriculum, and teaching parents to stimulate and be involved in their children’s teaching. Governments also need to invest in school infrastructure (electricity, gas, blackboards, chalk) so children do not feel that going to school is a punishment. Teachers can make a difference by caring about their pupils, even if they are not doing well at school. They need to serve the top achievers and those at the bottom too, identifying children who are struggling, and making the space and time to give those children the extra help they need. It is important to train school heads about leadership so they can lead teaching staff, who in turn can help children learn as much as possible.


Education needs to be made a right. Everyone needs to have access to education, regardless of where they are born or live. One idea put forward was to create a sense of urgency to deal with education challenges by encouraging mass mobilisation led by young people.

Organised by


James Elder
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund)
Kailash Satyarthi
Nobel Peace Laureate
Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation
Bernard Yvetot
Vice President, International Strategy
Akosua Peprah
Young Leader - Ghana
Lucas Odhiambo
Youth Advocate
UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund)
Julianna Lindsey
UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund)
Maria Magdalena Grigore
Secretary of State
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Romania