Rome (Italy). The 5th International Education Day is celebrated on 24 January 2023, established by the United Nations to underline the essential role of education in the goal of achieving peace and development, to raise awareness of global opinion on educational emergencies, and to support inclusive, equitable, and quality education for all citizens of the world.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right to elementary education as fundamental, which must be guaranteed as free and compulsory. A further step forward was taken with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, which establishes that countries must make higher education accessible to all.
With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda in 2015, Member States recognized that education is essential for the success of all 17 of its goals. In particular, Sustainable Development Goal #4 aims to “guarantee inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030.
However, according to data from UNESCO – the specialized United Nations agency for Education, Science and Culture – around 244 million children and adolescents in the world do not go to school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40 per cent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some 4 million refugee children and young people are not educated. The various global crises – health, economic, climatic – also contribute to the increase in poverty, the lack of means and funding for education, and the school dropout of populations and social groups already in difficulty.
With the theme of this fifth International Education Day – Investing in people, prioritizing education – we therefore want to underline how education must be prioritized to accelerate progress towards all sustainable development goals, given the growing inequalities and the climate crisis. In particular, UNESCO – which invites non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and the private sector to celebrate International Education Day with initiatives – dedicates this year’s Day to girls and women in Afghanistan, deprived of the fundamental right to education.
“There can be no integral human development without education”, Pope Francis reiterated on receiving the Volunteers of the Work for the Promotion of Literacy in the World (O.P.A.M.), on 23 January 2023. The Holy Father took up Populorum Progressio with the words of St. Paul VI, ‘Basic education is the first objective of a development plan. The hunger for education is actually no less depressing than the hunger for food’; and he added, “the ‘dream’ of Populorum Progressio is the same as that of the encyclical Fratelli tutti. It is the dream of the Church, or rather, the dream of God, who wants a world in which we can all live as brothers and sisters in full dignity”.
It is the dream shared by many educational institutes, such as the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, with the awareness that “Education is an act of hope that young people, families, society need so much,” as Mother General, Sr. Chiara Cazzuola, reminds in Circular n° 1022, in which she underlines the importance of responding to today’s challenges by creating networks and working in synodality with the Institutions, the Groups of the Salesian Family, the other religious Congregations, and the various vocations:
“Today it is necessary to maintain high attention to social issues, interculturalism, communication and technology, environmental protection. We are called to educate young people to take care of each other responsibly, to form themselves in the values of justice, peace, universal fraternity to break down inequalities and injustices.
The climate crisis itself questions us and commits us to be creative, bold, and tirelessly build networks. To make the necessary changes, in fact, a strong convergence is needed. In education, it is essential – as our Founders taught us – to be many in order to have an impact. It is, in fact, a synodal, generative work, rooted in taking care of life, a typically maternal and Marian mission”.