Education is civil rights struggle of our age: U.N. envoy Gordon Brown

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks at a "Britain Stronger in Europe" rally at Birmingham University in Birmingham

By Emma Batha

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Ensuring every child gets a good education is the “civil rights struggle of our generation”, United Nations education envoy Gordon Brown said on Friday ahead of launching a plan for the largest educational expansion in history.

Education not only provides children with a route out of poverty but also guards against the spread of extremism, the former British prime minister said as he called for a massive increase in investment.

“We will be betraying half our future if we do not take action,” he told a media briefing at the United Nations.

Under new global development goals agreed upon last year, all children should be receiving primary and secondary education by 2030.

But Brown said under current trends half the world’s children would still be either out of school or getting a poor education which would not begin to equip them with the skills needed for the labor markets of the future.

Young people denied school are more likely to end up victims of child marriage, child labor or fall into the hands of traffickers, he said.

Brown also warned of a “ticking time-bomb of discontent” among young people deprived of education and opportunities which would leave them “prey to extremist factions determined to exploit their discontent”.

On Sunday, Brown will present a report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon which will call for the first global education budget and propose a new international funding mechanism to boost investment in schooling in poorer countries.

Brown said low income countries were spending only 3 percent of their national income on education and must invest more.

The two countries with the highest number of children out of school – Nigeria and Pakistan – spend around 2 percent.

Brown also said that international educational aid, which has fallen from 13 percent of all aid to 10 percent since 2002, was “completely inadequate”.

“Education aid is worth just $12 per child per year – barely enough to finance a text book for that child,” he added.

He said countries which show a commitment to reforming and investing in education must receive international support.

The Education Commission report will also call for a massive effort to get the world’s 30 million refugee and displaced children into school.

Brown said the main reason so many Syrian refugee families were risking their lives to reach Europe was because they could not see any hope of their children getting an education if they remained in the region.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, land rights and climate change. Visit to see more stories.)