Political Leaders, Speaking of Education (4)

Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan addresses the issue of inequality and and education’s role in redressing it:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the time for revised priorities…refocused policies…and revitalized commitments. This is the time to educate ourselves out of inequality.

And to do so, I believe there are four areas on which we must focus:

  • The first is the link between healthy brains and healthy bodies.
  • The second is to start early and focus on the marginalized.
  • Third…the hallmarks of education, at all levels, must be inclusion and quality.
  • And fourth, schools must be synonymous with skills.
  • Allow me to unpack each of these briefly.

First. There is no substitute for health and nutrition in the early years of life.

The linguistic and cognitive skills that children develop in early childhood are the foundation for lifelong learning. Lack of nutrients in the first thousand days of a child’s life, cause irreversible brain damage…and often result in those children starting school late…dropping out early… scoring lower grades …and, later in life, earning less.

Ultimately, it perpetuates the inequality gap.

The second is to start early and focus on the marginalized.

85 per cent of a child’s brain develops by the age of five. If that isn’t an argument for providing universal pre-schooling, I don’t know what is.

A 2009 PISA study shows that in 58 out of 65 countries, 15 year old students who had attended at least one year of pre-school outperformed those who had not. But more than half of the world’s children are excluded from pre-school.

The half that needs it the most is the half that is least likely to receive it: the most marginalized children. Providing them with pre-primary education can reduce inequality on day one of primary school…and Every. Single. Day. Thereafter.

Third…the hallmarks of basic education must be inclusion and quality.

Otherwise…what’s the point?

It’s an abuse of children’s rights if they are in school year after year and fail to develop basic skills. But that’s what happens when classes are over-crowded, resources are over-stretched, and teachers are under-trained.

That’s why I’m so pleased that UNICEF is focusing its efforts on quality learning for boys and girls, especially those from impoverished backgrounds.

Last, but not least, schools must be synonymous with skills.

Currently, technological advances are increasing demand for highly educated, innovative, and adaptable employees. But out-dated school systems and obsolete curricula are robbing our young people of the ability to realise their potential.


Queen Rania Al Abdullah. 22 May 2012. “Educating Ourselves out of Inequality.”  OECD Forum, Paris, France. http://www.queenrania.jo/media/speeches/her-majesty-queen-rania-al-abdullah-keynote-address-oecd-forum-paris-france


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