Yesterday I heard Malala Yousafzai speak at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, New York. She stood alongside four other girls, from Pakistan, Syria and Nigeria. Her speech was a remarkable performance and her story remains an inspiration.
It was best summed up when she said: “It was a gun that hit me on the left side of my forehead, it was a gun that hit my two friends, but it wasn’t a pen. But it is a pen that really helps us go forward in our lives.”
Her speech was not in isolation. Hollywood stars, musicians and politicians came together to promote the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals being agreed in New York by the world’s leaders at the UN General Assembly.
The event, and this video made by Aardman Animations and Sir Ken Robinson, gave a consistent message. The Millennium Development Goals achieved a lot, but we need to finish the job between now and 2030. The 17 Global Goals may have been agreed by leaders, but everyone needs to take action if we are to tackle the great challenges to end extreme poverty, to fight inequality and injustice, and to fix climate change.
The message is one of hope and collective action.
Most powerful were the messages combining the goal of universal education and the goal around gender equality. Beyoncé introduced the first lady Michelle Obama, who encouraged people to join her campaign for education for the 62 million girls in the world who are currently denied it.
I was in New York having participated in a TEDx event in Washington DC where similar themes were discussed.
I learned from Jay Newton-Small that the demographic problem facing the US, as the baby-boom generation retires, is solvable if women are enabled to make an equal contribution in the labour market. We heard about the power of citizen action in bringing down the corrupt president of Guatemala last week.
The inspirational bishop Harry Jackson told us that the fight for racial equality is not something African Americans can do in isolation – he reminded us for example that the founding president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was a white man, Moorfield Storey.
These all combined to give a strong sense of our individual responsibility to take collective action. Their stories also reinforced the amount of learning to be had around each and all of the goals.
This is the basis of the World’s Largest Lesson.
Teachers around the world are being asked to teach a lesson on the Global Goals so that every child understands their responsibility. This has been backed by government ministers, including the prime minister, and by teachers' unions through Education International. A set of resources have been sourced from teachers around the world, and it is hoped that many will video their learning so we can share it with others.
The challenge is out there to teachers. Malala best put it in her speech: “Will you stand with all of us who hope for a better future? Will you stand with us?
“Change will come. But change does not come by itself. It is we; it is you; it is all of us who walk together and bring that change. So let’s be that change and make sure that this world gives that basic human right to every child that is education.”