Photo: RNE.Photo: RNE

Opening Speech at the Education Conference

Last updated: 14.01.2016 // Norwegian Ambassador Andreas Gaarder held an opening speech at the Education Conference in Addis Ababa today, 14 January.

"Dear State Ministers, University Presidents, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you all to this Joint Ethio-Norwegian conference on Education!

During today’s conference we will celebrate the fact that Norway and Ethiopia have been engaged in a partnership for higher education for 20+ years, involving institutional cooperation between our respective universities. Many are the Ethiopian scholars that have been trained in different universities in Norway – for then to return to Ethiopia and set their competence to the best use for the development of their country. This was the aim – and it has been a major success. And many are the professors and teachers and doctors from Norway that have contributed their expertise into the higher education sector in Ethiopia – some are present here today!

In addition – and equally important -  this conference serves as a platform for the take-off of a new partnership for general education – a welcome addition to our multifaceted development cooperation. This education partnership – that will be formally entered into when the memorandum of understanding will be signed today – builds on a mutual understanding of the importance of education for development. Education is a fundamental right, and the basis for progress of any country. This is true for individuals, as they gain knowledge and skills that provide them with greater opportunities as well as choices in life. It is equally true for the society as a whole, as it reaps the benefits of an educated population and obtains the skills and knowledge necessary to advance and develop – both economically and democratically.  Thus, our common ambition to eradicate poverty, break the cycle of humanitarian crises and lay the foundation for sustainable development cannot be achieved without education for all.

However, there is still a gap between ambitions and reality. Today, 10 percent of the world’s children still do not go to school. In Africa as a whole, as many as one in four children of primary school age, are left behind. In other words, the education sector is facing an unfinished agenda, where progress has been hampered by lack of resources and un-coordinated efforts.

It was based on these insights and considerations that the Norwegian Government last year decided to intensity its global efforts in the field of education, with an aim of becoming a driving force for education at the international arena. In the pursuit of this goal, Norway has increased its efforts multilaterally as well as bilaterally. This is why the Norwegian Government organized the Oslo Summit on Education in July last year, which main purpose was to garner political and financial commitment to the global education agenda. Overall, the budget allocated to the purpose of furthering this aim was to be doubled from USD 200 mil in 2013 to USD 400 mill in 2017. A fair share of this would be channeled through multilateral organisastions such as UNICEF, the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education. As part of the bilateral component, Ethiopia was chosen as one of four focus countries for increased bilateral cooperation on education.

The reason for choosing Ethiopia was manifold. Firstly, Ethiopia has shown great willingness and ability to invest in the education sector, with a view to securing education for all. Public spending on education in Ethiopia has increased by 70 percent in real terms between 2003/04 and 2011/12. These investments have yielded results, and the progress in education attainment over the past 10 years is deeply encouraging. I am particularly impressed by the Ethiopian Government’s efforts towards universal primary education, resulting in a rapid increase in enrolment rates and reduced gender imbalances within education.

Secondly, the Norwegian education policy puts particular emphasis on reaching those who do not yet have access to quality education. Despite significant progress, Ethiopia has more children than most countries belonging to this group. In addition, the sheer size of the country combined with substantial diversity in terms of geography, economy, culture and ethnic groups imply major challenges to the provision of basic public services like education.

Finally, the Ethiopian Government’s education sector plans prioritize access and equity, as well as quality in education – topics that lay at the heart of Norway’s global commitment to education.

I am therefore confident that our partnership in education will generate results. Importantly, the partnership will give preference to collaboration on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls through education. Research shows that there is no greater way of empowering women and girls than to secure their access to education. Unfortunately, girls and young women remain underrepresented in schools all over the world, and as many as 65 million girls worldwide are denied basic education. This imbalance is the result of several factors, including traditional gender roles and expectations, limited family resources, higher opportunity costs, and the lack of necessary facilities in school buildings. As such, it is our belief that securing gender equality in the education sector requires targeted measures and real commitment to include gender sensitive solutions in education across the board.

Further, the new partnership will include cooperation related to education in emergencies. All over the world, humanitarian crises prevent millions of children and youth from attending school. Moreover, funding for education in humanitarian responses is usually meagre – the same goes for resources for education in early recovery and risk reduction phases.

Unfortunately, this issue is highly relevant in Ethiopia today. As large areas of Ethiopia are affected by the drought, we have witnessed the closure of several schools as the children are being kept home in order to attend to other, more pressing challenges. Therefore, the Norwegian Embassy decided to redirect some of the education funds to drought response programs implemented in Afar and the Somali region by Save the Children Ethiopia. The objective of these programs is to assist the government in re-establishing the protective force of the education system by providing water, school-feeding, school supplies, protection and psycho-social support. In this way, we hope to contribute to uninterrupted education in the most food insecure regions as well as to prevent malnourishment and other related illnesses among children of school age.

Another aspect of education in emergencies relevant to the Ethiopian context is education for young refugees. As a result of the Ethiopian Government’s generous open-door policy towards refugees from its neighboring countries, Ethiopia currently hosts the largest refugee population on the African continent. Some of these refugees live in a protracted crisis situation, resulting in underfinanced facilities and services. However, in working towards durable solutions, it is essential to secure continuation in education. In such circumstances, basic education is both a fundamental right and an important tool for future prospects and opportunities.  In Ethiopia, Norway has therefore decided to support the Norwegian Refugee Council in its efforts to provide basic and vocational education to refugee children and youth in the Shire camps. Importantly, the project will include children of school age residing in the host communities, so as to ensure equal access for children with education needs in the surrounding area.

Although cooperation on general education is a new and welcome element to the broad Ethio-Norwegian relationship, it is not the first time Norway engages in education in Ethiopia. 2016 marks the 20th+ anniversary for the Norwegian engagement in the higher education sector in Ethiopia. The Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa has supported the Universities in Jimma, Hawassa, Mekelle and Addis Ababa in the last 20 years continuously. Last fall, this institutional cooperation entered its forth phase – extending the partnership between the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Hawassa and Mekelle Universities another four years, until 2019.  The program mainly focuses on institutional and human capacity development in the fields of rural development, climate change adaptation and food security.

Thematically, this higher education partnership aligns itself with Norway’s support to Ethiopia’s ambitious agenda to tackle climate change. More specifically, the purpose of the programme is to enhance the overall capacity of Mekelle and Hawassa universities in contributing towards sustainable development and improved livelihoods of rural communities in Ethiopia. Further, the partnership provides valuable experience that enhances the capacity of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. As such, this bilateral institutional cooperation has proven to be a mutually beneficial partnership that contributes to the strengthening of the Ethio-Norwegian relationship in ways beyond the project itself.

As we celebrate this anniversary, it is remarkable to think that, in the same period of 20 years, the Government of Ethiopia expanded the number of universities from two to thirty-three! And still, education – at all levels – is one of the important pillars of the Government’s Growth and Transformation Plan II, that serves as a roadmap for development in the next five years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The broad cooperation that Ethiopia and Norway is developing in the field of education – should also be a stepping stone for a partnership aiming at furthering the “education for all” agenda on the global arena. Suffice it to here to remind us all of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals – where SDG 4 reads: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.  Ethiopia’s commitment to this cause is an example for many other countries to follow. Making sure that the Ethiopian voice is heard loud and clear on the international arena is something Norway could also contribute to.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am looking forward to today’s discussions among experts on how to ensure quality education for all – be it primary or secondary - and how we together tackle the challenges in the pursuit of this common goal. Let me conclude simply by quoting one of the most important statesmen of all times – Nelson Mandela, who once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. 

I wish us all a productive day.

Thank you for your attention"

 


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