People following child-related policies often come across the subject of “human development”. The concept, which has been around for three decades, helps us measure progress beyond economic terms. Instead, human development is about the richness of someone’s life, the creation of fair opportunities and the right to a life with dignity. The three foundations of human development are education, health and a decent standard of living.
It is always the right time to talk about equitable access to quality and safe education – and even more so now. Following the recent EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, published by the European Commission, the Council, under the Portuguese Presidency, now promotes a debate on the importance of human development with a focus on education, health, and gender equality.
The follow-up question, then, is one that is easy to ask but trickier to answer: how can the EU use education to ensure no child is left behind?
Plan International has prepared a list of recommendations for the EU Council Conclusions on Human Development to answer exactly this question in order to support the work of EU Member States, focusing on three key areas:
Inclusive quality education at all levels, for all children and young people
Plan International believes that all children and young people should have access to a safe, gender-transformative and inclusive learning environment. This works up to tertiary education – not only during early childhood. To achieve that, investing in national education systems is key, making them more flexible and resilient. A more resilient system is a system capable of providing inclusive quality education even during emergencies, avoiding disruptions and ensuring school is not denied to anyone.
Ensuring girls’ access to and completion of education
Already before the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of girls forced out of school was -in no uncertain terms- appalling: 130 million girls. When the pandemic reached its peak, the number got as far as 767 million girls. School closures due to the pandemic have exposed girls to higher risks of unintended adolescent pregnancies, child marriage, and gender –based violence. As Plan International, we call for removing any barriers, whether they are structural, financial or practical, that could lead to girls leaving school – especially in emergency settings.
Offering digitalisation through education and education through digitalisation
If it was not clear before the pandemic, it certainly is now: digital solutions have become key to ensure access to education. Therefore, education needs to provide children and young people with digital and ICT skills. This should happen at all levels and without any discriminations. However, girls and young women are often marginalised when it comes to technology as we witness through the gender digital divide. Girls need to get equal access to technical skills so that they can become creators of equality tech – a technology free of gender stereotypes and online harassment.
The EU has the opportunity to promote a human development agenda with inclusive, gender transformative, quality and safe education at its core, with attention to digitalisation and a clear intention to prevent girls from leaving school. In many ways, we are now at a crossroads and our choices will shape years to come. Ensuring no child is left behind is the moral thing to do – but also the smartest option we have in our hands.