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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

UNESCO's Education for All Initiative

Opening Plenary
Georgetown University
February 28, 2005

Mrs. Bush, Director-General Matsuura, Secretary Spellings, distinguished guests, it is a great privilege to welcome you to Georgetown.

We are deeply honored that this is the third visit to our campus by First Lady Laura Bush. With each visit, Mrs. Bush has challenged and inspired us with her deep commitment to the possibilities of education. In July 2001, she convened a White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development at Georgetown that focused on new research into the way infants learn and how to help parents and caregivers prepare children for lifelong learning.

None of us will ever forget the warmth of her message to the 2003 graduating class of our School of Nursing and Health Studies. Today, she helps us engage the nation's academic community in UNESCO's Education for All initiative. Mrs. Bush, thank you for your love of education and your belief in its power to change the world.

We are very pleased to welcome Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. During President Bush's first term, she served as the President's senior advisor on domestic policy, with responsibility for education policies, and was instrumental in passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. Her efforts won her respect on both sides of the political aisle.

Secretary Spellings also brings the perspective of an informed consumer to her duties: she is the first mother of school-age children to serve as U.S. Education Secretary. Madam Secretary, we at Georgetown look forward to opportunities to work with you during the next four years.

Let me also welcome to Georgetown the college and university presidents, educators and scholars, researchers, leaders in nonprofit, cultural, and development communities, and others who join us for today's historic conference, which is made possible with the support and sponsorship of the Verizon Foundation. The experience and wisdom collected in this hall today is humbling, even for a university.

It would be challenging indeed to find anyone who would contest the importance of education in individual lives and in the well-being of our societies. Yet primary education is a fairly recent concept, historically speaking.

In the late 19th century, only about half of all American children were enrolled in school. Education was the privilege of the wealthy, until reformers like Horace Mann convinced the public of education's broad salutary effect on society. By the end of the century, free public elementary education was available for all children, although it was another 20 years before attendance was legally mandated.

The evolution of elementary and secondary education in this country is the legacy of academics like Booker T. Washington, John Dewey, and William Heard Kilpatrick. For well-over a century, American colleges and universities have prepared teachers and advanced pedagogical theory; while American scholars have contributed to our understanding of human growth and development and conducted groundbreaking research into issues related to literacy.

Today, we stand on the threshold of the next frontier of primary education -- the global initiative to assure that every child in every nation can attend school. To help achieve this extraordinary goal, we invite the engagement of America's scholars and educators, its learned societies, and most certainly, its colleges and universities.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1818, "If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it." If we wish for all humankind the benefits of education, including the access it provides to economic self-sufficiency, then we share a moral and ethical imperative to help remove roadblocks to universal primary education.

Leadership for this great endeavor comes from UNESCO - the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization - whose evocative mission is "to build peace in the minds of men." Under the banner of UNESCO, more than 160 countries have embraced the initiative known as Education for All. Initial goals were defined by participants at the World Conference on Education for All in Thailand, in 1990. Ten years later, delegates to the World Education Forum in Senegal committed their governments to achieve quality basic education for all by 2015. Each nation has pledged to achieve specific national goals regarding access to education, reduction of illiteracy, instructional quality, and gender equity.

Universal education is so important that it is included as one of the eight Millennium Development Goals, a set of development priorities articulated by all 191 member states of the United Nations. The MDGs have focused attention on fundamental human needs and the responsibilities and roles of both rich and poor countries to address these needs.
Global initiatives like the MDGs and Education for All are inspiring governments, donors, and civil society to mobilize resources to address global development needs in ways earlier generations could have never conceived.

The challenges we face are substantial. More than 800 million people around the world - about one in five individuals - cannot read and write. More than 103 million children are not attending school. We will hear more about the challenges from Director-General Matsuura. This conference is our opportunity to discuss the contribution we as educators can make in such divergent realms as research, teacher training, information technology, policy development, public health, in support for EFA flagship projects, and much more. I encourage you all to return to this Hall this afternoon for our concluding plenary session where we will discuss the ideas that emerge today.

Let me say a few words about our theme: calling higher education to a higher calling. More specifically, how do colleges and universities like our own respond to the reality of global inequity, whether in terms of poverty or education?

Our institutions enjoy all the benefits of a networked global economy. Georgetown, for example, has 145,000 alumni on seven continents; members of our faculty are conducting research in 44 countries; our students come from 137 nations; more than half will study abroad during their college years. We are 216 years old; the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the United States, located in the capitol of the world's single superpower.

Contrast our reality with the heartbreaking facts of inequality around the globe. Three billion people -- nearly half the world -- live on less than $2 a day. More than one-third of the world - 2.4 billion people - do not have access to adequate sanitation.

I believe that institutions like our own have a responsibility to educate our students about the reality of lives far different than their own.

I am grateful for the example set by Georgetown faculty members like Phyllis Magrab of our Medical Center who directs the Center for Child and Human Development and has been involved in the Education For All effort since its beginning.

Two members of our faculty, Tony Arend and Carol Lancaster, are providing leadership here at Georgetown in examining how universities can play a role in responding to the challenge of meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

This spring, I have the privilege of teaching a course, Ethics and Global Development, with Professor Lancaster who also advises UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on New Partnerships for Africa's Development. Our class is here today to share in this opportunity to hear Mrs. Bush, Secretary Spellings, and Director-General Matsuura.

Through this range of activities, our intent is to ensure that we provide our students with a far richer understanding of the world than has been possible for any generation in history. We also seek to support our faculty in their research and scholarship and to ensure that we as a community can play a role in responding to the urgent challenges of our day.

In 1999, Koïchiro Matsuura was appointed to a six-year term as Director-General of UNESCO. Born in Tokyo, he studied law at the University of Tokyo and economics at Haverford College. His distinguished career in diplomatic service includes five years as Japan's ambassador to France, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, and as chairperson of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

The dynamic changes he has implemented at UNESCO have invigorated the UN agency. While much of his focus as been directed to the Education for All initiative, he has oversight for other critical endeavors, including the establishment of a global tsunami warning system in the wake of the tsunami that devastated nine countries surrounding the Indian Ocean in December.

Director-General, we are honored that you join us today as we engage America's higher education community with the urgent work of UNESCO. I know that this engagement is critical if we are to achieve the goals of Education for All. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Koïchiro Matsuura.

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