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Out Of School: Globalization's Children Are Being Abandoned

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Gordon Brown, the former prime minister of Great Britain, is the UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

LONDON -- The seeds are being sown for waves of social unrest more threatening to authority than the Arab Spring and more widespread than the Occupy movement.

If world leaders thought that they could relax as the demonstrations of 2011, 2012 and 2013 petered out, today's launch of the Education For All Global Monitoring Report compiled by Pauline Rose reveals the shocking disparities in opportunities for young people that are already fuelling the next generation of discontent.

The inequalities faced by 'globalization's children' -- children born just before and after the millennium -- make for grim reading.

It is heartbreaking that in 2014 -- a year before we were to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of universal education -- 57 million boys and girls across the world won't even get a first day at primary school, and 500 million of today's school age girls will be forever denied the chance to complete their schooling.

But it is also bad economic news for developing countries that even in 2030, one billion men and women out of a 3.5 billion global labor force will be without the most basic employment skills.

Indeed, despite the world's promise that by 2015 every child would complete a basic education, today half the world is still being deprived and cheated of its dreams.

Today just 36 percent of children in the poorest countries complete their lower secondary education. By 2030 it will have risen -- but only to 54 percent. And 23 percent, one child in every four, will not even have completed primary schooling.

It will take until 2069 for universal primary education to reach all poor boys in sub-Saharan Africa and 2086 for it to be offered to all poor girls.

And on present trends, it will take almost a century for universal lower secondary education to be achieved by all poor girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

The gender divide is not the only problem. Only one in four poor rural girls complete primary education today and even in 2030 half will still miss out. Ninety percent fail to complete secondary education today -- and still 70 percent will be missing out in 2030.

The chance of getting a school place is so unequally distributed between rich and poor that in at least 11 African countries it could take until 2120 or later before girls from poor families enjoy the same rights just to lower secondary education as wealthier boys.

Being at school does not mean you have a decent education. We invest just $400 on a typical African child's education from infancy to 16 compared with the $100,000 spent on the education of a typical western child.

The gap between the promise of globalization -- opportunity for all -- and the reality young people experience is already creating a restless and rebellious youth tension.

A report by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung studied recent protests and found that: "The main reason why people around the world are protesting is because of a lack of economic justice. Overall, 488 such episodes are found in the period 2006-2013, 58% of total protests were counted in the study. They reflect people's outrage... The majority of global protests for economic justice and against austerity manifest people's indignation at the gross inequalities between ordinary communities and rich individuals and corporations."

In future years, these young people will be increasingly aware through mobile devices and the Internet that they are poor and uneducated not because of what talents they have but because of where they live and who they are born to. Tension will increase because young people in the developing world will no longer be prepared to accept a world where your birth determines your fate, your rights are what others ascribe to you and opportunities are what your father or grandfather determine you can have.

It is in support of their rights to a fair chance in life that young people, business, faith groups, parents and teachers will come together over the next two years to demand a massive expansion of educational opportunities. By reinstating the political will to expand education for all by 2015 and by closing the inequality gap, we can change course for the next generation. And we should start by making sure that the 57 million children who are denied schooling are released from child labor, child marriage and discrimination and be provided with teachers and classrooms so that they can begin to learn.

www.educationenvoy.org