Investing in Girls' Education: Best Road to Development

March 23, 2015 - UN Vienna
At-the-UN/Vienna/Girls-Education
By: Yoshiko Pammer, Ewald Schenkermayer and Mona Schoelzl

Education in the 21st Century: 4th Capacity Building Session on Education

Speaking to a full room, Dr. Maria Riehl opened the conference with the words, "Repetition is the mother of wisdom," referring to this 4th in a series of capacity building sessions organised by WFWPI at the UN in Vienna in support of SG Ban Ki Moon's "Education in the 21st Century." When girls excel in primary and secondary schools, their lives are forever affected.

Dr. Lan Young Moon, WFWPI, Special Advisor to WFWPI and past President explained in her opening statement that more than 200 million girls are still sent to work rather than school. The educational aspiration of Korean mothers for their children has led to remarkable development. Her grandfather invested his wealth into a school and went on to send his five daughters to higher eduction, which was exceptional at that time. Educated girls help assure the social development of future generations.

SESSION I : Snapshots into Education in four countries: Afghanistan, Mali, Austria and Rwanda (report).

WFWPI UN Office Director, Ms. Carolyn Handschin, introduced H.E. Ayoob Erfani, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the UN in Vienna. Before the war, girls went to school but there were still social barriers and families were not supportive. In the last 2 years, there has been a huge social revolution, now everyone wants to send girls to school. Yet there are dangers. Without education for girls, there are no educated women models, teachers, politicians, and judges. The Government has the task to provide conducive conditions for education. It is against the law and our religion to have early forced marriages. "How can other NGOs like WFWP support?" 1) By supporting the building of schools in Afghanistan and 2) by applying positive pressure on us. Statement of H.E. Ambassador Ayoob Erfani.

Mali was represented by Mr. Mamadou Kone, a consultant on international relations in the areas of education and human rights, speaking on the "Importance of the mother's role in education." He experienced how his mother managed to give the critical educational components of love, respect, responsibility, discipline, and creativity to all 10 children. "The education process is not mathematical. Stories from my mother and grandmother in the evening were the 'lessons' I looked forward to. Every figure reflected a virtue, planted towards building my character. The stories developed my memory, my respect for elders. My father showed me how to treat women through how he treated my sisters. He taught me diplomacy and authority." A saying in Malian society reads: "When a child is bright, it is the child of everybody. When a child fails, it is the child of its mother."

Ms. Teresa Habjan, Austrian Commission for UNESCO-Youth, spoke more broadly of the curriculum that she works with in Austria. At UNESCO, gender equality deals with mainstreaming and programming. Gender programming is strengthening women's participation in radio production (a powerful information tool) and editorial content. UNESCO has developed a Global Citizenship Education model praised by Kofi Annan that prioritizes girls' education. Society benefits at all levels. (See "World Atlas of Gender Equality" on UNESCO website.) UNESCO - UN Women developed a new mobile technology for learning since Feb. 2015. Asked by Ms. Handschin about her role at the UN Alliance of Civilizations, 5th Global Forum, Vienna 2013, she explained that she had the honour to present the report of all youth participants at the plenary. Their recommendations were impressive, including : Stop the segregation of young people from adults and strengthen relationship between youth and decision-makers on all levels; and a systematic inclusion of ethical, non-formal, spiritual education to foster a culture of tolerance and respect.

SESSION II: Family: Parenting, Modern Challenges

Chaired by Mag. Maria Neuberger Schmidt, the first speaker was Family and Youth Counselling advisor, Ms. Gabriele Zoehrer who spoke on "Mothers Impact on children and Society." Mothers today are overwhelmed by their many responsibilities to care for their children, have a career and do the housework. Through breast feeding a hormone connected to bonding is released. A study made in the UK with 43,000 students from 1993-2006 showed that the mother's education has strongest impact on her child's choice of studies. Love and care from people of trust lead to security of the child. Also ethical and moral standards of elders have been shown to have a great impact.

Ms. Hannah Heikkila, of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, spoke about how her department has come to prioritize working with families in their drug prevention program, now called, "Family Skills Training." Parenting doesn't only directly influence drug abuse, but also self control and other healthy behaviours. "Parental monitoring" is knowing the whereabouts of their children with love, not just surveillance. How to engage and stay positive, be a good role model, have discipline? Just a two hour session already has a great impact (-50% conflict), which shows how little there is to do. This also prevents violence, increases academic achievement, mental and physical behaviour, and helps regulates sexual behaviour. The UNODC results are accessible on line. Governments like to sponsor the program.

Dr. Thomas Legl, "Families First" spoke on "Free Time Society vs. Education." He treats mental diseases and drug abuse. All prevention goes through families and education. Do we still give education in families or does technology do it? Positive aspects of social networking are: shy persons communicate and overcome fear; good ideas, like saving of environment get spread. Negative aspects, such as: isolation and secrecy; sextexting; bad ideas like self-harm, bullying or exploitation get spread. Too much information in a too short amount of time - information doesn't go to long-term memory - brain system is changing. Low strictness of parents supports the most risky online behaviour of children. Strict and warm in involvement is the best combination for healthy behaviour. Conclusion: 1)There should be a lot of socializing and enjoyable active family activities, 2) Parents need to keep themselves informed about the dangers of the internet; and 3) Technology can/should be used in a good way - e.g. for education.

SESSION III: Education in Practice

This session was an opportunity to meet recipients of Youth Education Ambassador's certificates. Ms. Teresa Habjan, Youth Advisory Board to the Austrian Commission for UNESCO introduced the ambassadors. Mag. Maximilian Edelbacher, ACUNS Vice President, Vienna chaired the session.

Ms. Helene Raab, 18 years old spoke on behalf of all students, quoting Malala, who said, "One child, one teacher and one pen can change the world!". Many girls in developing countries do not get to attend school, having to help out at home. They walk long dangerous ways to school, because they see the value of education, that it can help them accomplish so many things. It would only cost 22 Billion USD to finance universal primary education.

Mag. Ulrike Lang, Board member, "Aktion Regen" spoke on "Knowledge as a chance."

Planning a family should be a woman's conscious choice. We train "multipliers" to work in sub-Saharan Africa; informing about the UN development goals; what is family planning, fertility awareness, early pregnancy, birth spacing, natural contraception, prevention of sickness, FGM and abuse. Our tools are easily understandable, reasonable, and touchable. Birth Control Necklace or Baby-Necklace, Mothers Health-Card: It's important to have 18 months between births. Girls Diary: for knowing how the women's body functions and making informed empowered choices. More information: www.aktionregen.at

The final speaker was Mag. Edwige Hartig, City Councilor in Linz. Her topic was "Girls, women's voices in society." She explained that she came to Austria from Cameroon when she was 7. She became a mother at 17, but fortunately still had the chance to attend school because the Austrian system very much encourages education. She worked hard and became politically active due to a few integration issues. In 2009, she was elected as a city councilor. She is currently working on two projects: "Frau macht Media" for young women to gain the skills to create radio/video broadcasts; and the other program called "neighbors" that provides further education to immigrants.

Session IV: Intercultural Education
The session was chaired by Mr. Peter Haider, SG of Universal Peace Federation, Austria.

It began with a video statement on "The Post 2015 UN road to dignity and justice through intercultural education for women and children" by Dr. jur. hab. Slawomir Redo, UN Senior Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice expert. Currently, there are 2.5 billion women educated in Confucian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and other non-Western values. Look at the cast system, although abolished, the mentality remains. Intercultural education is a way. Notions of dignity and justice are evolving, it is an opportunity to get it right. Inclusivity should permeate the classroom through social sciences and history. Failures are easily transmitted to the next generation. Concerning the good work of WFWPI: 1) continue to stress that peace is a precondition to justice and dignity by strengthening universal human values and 2) among these values, one is cardinal at a practical level, namely that peace in the world starts with peace at home. Inequality, inequity, intolerance, cultural or domestic violence, but also crime prevention starts in our bedrooms and homes and then goes into the streets, kindergartens, schools, parliaments and peoples.

H.E. Pilar Saborio de Rocafort, Costa Rica Ambassador gave a very insightful explanation of the evolution of women's role in family, education and society since the early 1800's (1821 independence)in her nation. Education was at first for the economic elite, who became the political elite. Women were sent to separate schools, but were key figure in the education of future good citizens. Later with reforms, universal suffrage, girls' education became important - also as future educators.

Prof. Elisabeth Stanners, Secondary School Principal, Vienna International School spoke on "Character education is a necessity for world peace." "I am a mother and grandmother, who welcomes 800 students each day, all expected to become leaders! Our statutes take into account the spirit and principles embodied in the UN Charter and Declaration of Human Rights; shape young people who understand their role in creating peace. Our curriculum promotes a broad range of religious and political beliefs; and where students should think about how to give back to society. Links closely to character education, very well studied topic in recent years; but teachers really need to think how to apply it. To know a person's academic achievement, but also know them as an individual, so after mistakes they can reflect and learn from it. Free to hold own opinions, but not free to damage other people. Our teachers often do not feel that they have the power to manage such a broad curriculum." See: www.mindfulnessinschools.org

And the final presentation of the day was by Mag. Neuberger-Schmidt who spoke about the Welt Ethos: "Intercultural education in Kindergarten" project developed by Mag Edith Riether. Objectives of the program are to raise awareness of different values and to learn ethical principles playfully together. Hans K√ľng, World Ethos founder had asked what are the universal principles of humankind? He recognized the Golden Rule as the most generally accepted, most concise core principle. The answer to "why ethics in kindergarten" was, "the earlier the better". www.weltethos.at.