Ghulam M. Isaczai's speech delivered at the Conference on "The Role of Education in Socio-Economic Development"

Dear Mr. Jeyhun Bayramov, Deputy Minister of Education, Dear Mr. Sahib Mammedov, Deputy Minister of Economy, Dear Mr. Adalet Muradov, Rector of Azerbaijan State University of Economics, Honorable representatives of the Government and Members of Parliament, Dear Rectors and Professors, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is an honor to be here among you today and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Adalet Muradov for inviting me to this important conference on the role of education in socio-economic development.

This is indeed an issue that the UN takes very seriously, with the belief that Education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development.

But before I elaborate on this point, I would like to draw your attention to fact that this University is located in the vicinity of a remarkable historic legacy – it is very close to here that the first secular school for Muslim girls was founded and funded by the philanthropist Zeynalabdin  Taghiyev in 1901.

Taghiyev genuinely believed in the importance of education and enlightenment for bringing up educated, cultured and broad-minded children. Indeed, he also founded an agricultural school and technical school as well as providing scholarships for young Azerbaijanis to study in top universities in Russia and Europe.  He was particularly passionate about the importance of educating girls and believed that educated mothers would be a driving force behind an educated family in the future.

Taghiyev’s belief in the importance of education for all reflects how many of us feel today about gender equality. It is therefore, befitting that a conference on such an important subject is being held so close to this historical institution.   The magnificent story of this neighbouring school no doubt can still inspire us all to invest in education.

Now let me turn to our main issue under discussion here.

In Azerbaijan, the UN system has been supporting educational institutions including this University and the role of education in socio-economic development of the country over a number of years. Our contributions have included providing support to students’ career orientation and adapting curricula to the labour market requirements.

The United Nations Development Programme has cooperated with several universities to promote the concept of human development within which education plays a central part. Human Development focuses on people and their opportunities and choices. It is about expanding the richness of human life, rather than simply the richness of the economy in which human beings live.

The idea of human development stipulates the need for education, better conditions for work and more choices for leading productive and creative lives. Higher levels of literacy lead to greater economic output, higher employment and income levels, better health, better social structures, and a number of other development aspects. Without investment in quality education, progress on all development indicators will stagnate.

As you are aware, In September 2015, Azerbaijan, along with other 192 UN Member States, endorsed a new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which identified 17 universal Sustainable Development Goals or “SDGs”.

Given the centrality of education to sustainable social and economic development and achievement of all 17 goals, a stand alone Goal 4 was dedicated to education. It calls for ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

It  aims to provide equal access to affordable vocational training — to eliminate gender and wealth disparities — and achieve universal access to quality higher education—so that at the end no one is left behind in getting the necessary skills, knowledge and experiences needed for the sustainable development of a society.

In Azerbaijan, efforts to promote education have led to excellent levels of enrolment in primary schools. Over 95 per cent of primary school aged children are enrolled in formal education. The Government has also placed greater focus on early learning and plans to expand coverage of school preparedness programmes in order to reach 90 per cent of children aged 5.

During the last year the Government’s school readiness programme, which is supported by UNICEF, has been rolled out to 3,000 schools. This has resulted in training provided for over 3,700 teachers, which has benefitted around 100,000 five-year olds.

This early childhood development is incredibly important for socio-economic development, because children’s brain capacity, behaviours, and cognitive skills all advance at a tremendous rate during these formative years, as long as they are exposed to the right nurturing, stimuli and protective environment.

It is equally important to make education more available and accessible to children with disabilities. Enabling children with disabilities to participate in mainstream education not only creates more opportunities for their personal development, but it increases their potential to make a contribution to their communities. This can potentially lessen pressure on public sector social welfare services in later years.

Unfortunately, in the area of secondary education, Azerbaijan has not witnessed the same level of progress as it has in primary education. Data from UNESCO indicates that as many as 1 in 10 teen-agers do not complete secondary school education in Azerbaijan. We know that children from poor families, and girls, are often the most likely to drop out of secondary school learning.

Other forms of learning for young people, such as vocational training, emphasized in the Government’s new economic roadmap, can  help young people learn skills for gainful employment in future. Vocational education packages should take into account the needs of young people who have fallen out of the regular education system, or for whom current vocational training may present challenges; such as young people with disabilities.

A wide range of learning opportunities for vulnerable youth can reduce future dependencies, again with significant positive impact on public expenditures and growth. Moreover, quality, inclusive learning for all, from an early age through adolescence to early adulthood, is the bedrock of sustainable growth. The economic and social prospects of any nation depend greatly upon a well-educated generation of young people. Investing in education today delivers dividends that last long into the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The United Nations will provide support to the government through coordinated policy advice, technical assistance, capacity development and monitoring of progress at global, regional and national levels. We will pay particular attention to our programme interventions in sectors, which will be instrumental to delivering sustainable social and economic progress in Azerbaijan, including education for all.

We will support the Government in building multi-stakeholder partnerships by engaging a wide range of actors, as part of our active outreach efforts. This year, we will launch a joint UN advocacy campaign on the SDGs, in partnership with the Government and other stakeholders including educational institutions. It is hoped that this will raise public awareness about the importance of education as one of the key goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

We stand ready to continue our cooperation with youth and educational institutions, including the State University of Economics.

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon once said:

“Education is critical to nurture global citizens who can rise to the challenges of the 21st century,” (May 2016).

Once again, thank you for inviting me to the conference and wishing you a productive consultation.

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