Education has shaped my life and the history of my country. I grew up in a society ravaged by war and mired in poverty. Schools had been destroyed. My classes were held in the open under a tree. We had no desks, chairs or other basic necessities. The Republic of Korea was on its knees, but education enabled the country to stand tall again. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other international partners provided books and school supplies to help pave road to recovery. I will never forget the hope that these basic tools gave us.
Even in the worst circumstances, education helps to give children confidence to face the future. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I want every child, without exception, to have the same sense of opportunity that I had. The power of education to transform lives is universal. When you ask parents what they want for their children -- even in war zones and disaster areas -- they seek the same thing first: education. Parents want their children in school.
Children have a fundamental right to free primary schooling of good quality. Governments have pledged to uphold this right. I am deeply concerned that education is slipping down the international priority list. Education First stems from my resolve to answer the call of parents everywhere for the schooling their children deserve -- from the earliest years to adulthood. We must place education at the heart of our social, political and development agendas.
This is not a matter of choosing education over other issues of great importance. Our internationally agreed development goals are a complex tapestry, and education is an indispensable thread. Educated mothers are more likely to have healthy children who survive. Educated families are less vulnerable to extreme poverty and hunger. And educated nations enjoy are more likely to enjoy vibrant economies, political stability and a respect for human rights.
Education is not simply a moral imperative; it is the smart choice. Every dollar invested generates $10 to $15 in returns. Yet worldwide, some 61 million children are still not in school. Our shared ideals are simple. We want all children to attend primary school and to progress to secondary school and relevant higher education. We want them to acquire the literacy, numeracy and critical-thinking skills that will help them to succeed in life and live as engaged and productive global citizens.
This is a pivotal moment for collective action. The 2015 deadline for achieving the internationally agreed goals for education is approaching fast. The achievements of the past decade have shown what it takes to succeed: political will at the highest levels, sound policies, and resources to scale up proven methods. But to achieve a breakthrough, we will need an unprecedented mobilization of all traditional and new partners. Education First aims to rally a broad spectrum of actors to spur a global movement to achieve quality, relevant and transformative education for everyone.
We must not deny the promise of quality education to any child. The stakes are too high. When we put education first, we can end wasted potential and look forward to stronger and better societies for all.