UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called on all countries to prioritize education as a public good and support it with cooperation, partnerships and funding.

In his message to the first ever International Day of Education, the UN chief said that at least 262 million children, adolescents and youth were out of school.

“The world cannot afford a generation of children and young people who lack the skills they need to compete in the 21st century economy, nor can we afford to leave behind half of humanity,” said Guterres, adding that if all girls and boys completed secondary education, 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty.

In celebration of the role of education for peace and development, the UN General Assembly in December adopted a resolution to proclaim Jan. 24 as International Day of Education.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Audrey Azoulay, on her message to the international day, said that the day was the occasion to “reaffirm fundamental principles.”

About 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math, less than 40 percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school while some 4 million children and youth refugees are out of school, their lives disrupted by conflict and loss, said Azoulay.

“Education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility,” she said, calling it “the most powerful force in our hands to ensure significant improvements in health, to stimulate economic growth, to unlock the potential and innovation we need to build more resilient and sustainable societies”.

Apart from these messages, the UNESCO, the permanent missions of Ireland, Nigeria, Norway, Qatar and Singapore on Thursday held a whole day event entitled “Maiden Celebration of International Day of Education” at the UN headquarters in New York.

Attendants at the event expressed their concern over the lack of funding in education, and urged the international community to make education a leading priority. Enditem

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