We must always look back before we attempt to move forward. At the start of the millennium, the United Nations set the goal of achieving universal primary education for all children between six and 14 years old by the year 2015.
In the year 2000, there were 100 million children missing out on even a basic education, and a Millennium Development Goal (MDG) was set to ensure that every child on the planet had a chance to unlock her or his potential. Every UN country promised they would honor this pledge. Universal primary education on paper seems an achievable goal -- nothing has to be invented, no new heights must be scaled or negotiations reached -- we have everything we need to get each child into school.
So where are we now, 15 years later? The overall result has been to get under halfway there.
There are still 59 million children not in school. The hardest to reach have been left adrift by the international community. The most vulnerable children, the most marginalized, the girls married off as children, the boys and girls forced into work in order for their families to survive and the many children caught in the aftermath of conflict -- these are the 59 million the MDG did not reach.
What do these 59 million lost children mean for the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on education? Firstly, we must figure out how every child is able to get that chance for a basic education. We have to use double-shift schools; we have to create a humanitarian-funding stream to create the best and safest schools possible for refugee children; we have to keep up the battle to end child marriage, to end enforced and dangerous child labour; we have to end the stigma of disability and difference that prevents millions of children getting to school; we have to make schools safe and the journey to school safe for all; and we must support our teachers and improve learning for every child.
As a society, we have to value education as much as we value global health. An educated society is one that is able to address poverty and inequality. It gives people the tools with which to provide for themselves and their families, it creates economic growth and improves health.
We have to bring groups together to work on the goal of getting all children into education -- the public and private sectors, youth, faith and civil-society groups and governments must join hands. Energy and goodwill without cooperation will not be enough. Some of this is happening, and the rest is all possible.
The Oslo Education Summit in July got the ball rolling for a Global Humanitarian Platform and Fund for Education in Emergencies, the Global Business Coalition for Education launched Safe Schools in Nigeria, and the drive to make schools safe is in the process of spreading to Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Middle East. And A World at School has created a movement of young people who say that we can't forget the promises on education that have been left unaddressed.
The launch of an International Commission on the Financing of Global Education Opportunities chaired by UN Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and co-convened by the Norwegian Prime Minister, President of Indonesia, President of Malawi, President of Chile and Director-General of UNESCO has to figure out the financing. Just what will it cost to get every child and young person to school and learning, and how quickly can we do this? This is vital as we clearly can no longer afford not to act.
And our horizons can widen with the launch of the SDGs -- investment in early years is crucial, and looking past primary education to create opportunities for young people to continue on to secondary school and college is essential. Every country in the world needs young citizens ready to serve and make our world the place that the 17 goals aspire to create.
It can work because it must work -- and I have no doubt that the young people who want, deserve and need an education to meet the challenges of the future (and the ability to deliver on the other 16 goals) will ensure that this happens. I, for one, will be right there alongside them to help in any way I can.
"We, the world's youth, teachers, parents and global citizens appeal to our governments to keep their promise, made at the United Nations in 2000, to ensure all out-of-school children gain their right to education before the end of 2015.
We are standing up to bring an end to the barriers preventing girls and boys from going to school, including forced work and early marriage, conflict and attacks on schools, exploitation and discrimination. All children deserve the opportunity to learn and achieve their potential.
We are #UpForSchool."
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 4.