Conflicts rob 30 million children of education: Norwegian PM

Girls were far more likely to be kept away than boys

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Armed conflicts deprive about 30 million children of education worldwide and governments need to step up investments to make schools safer, partly by widening use of the Internet, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Monday.

Solberg, co-chair of a United Nations group advocating new development goals for the world for 2030, told Reuters that higher spending on education would also benefit health, economic growth and women’s equality.

“We still lack 58 million children,” she said of global primary school attendance, which is lagging a U.N. goal set in 2000 of full access for all children by 2015. “Half of them are in areas where there are conflicts.”

Girls were far more likely to be kept away than boys.

Norway will host an international meeting on July 6-7, to be attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, about improving education and reducing threats from groups like the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, or Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The goals will include finding ways to ensure “that schools are not targets in conflict”, Solberg said. In some cases, schools and universities that can afford it could widen use of the Internet and other technology to ensure safety.

At the same time “it’s always important not to fall for the narrative of the terrorists. If you want to fight for getting a normal life back, you also have to participate,” she said.

Last December, Taliban militants killed 134 children at a high school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. The al Qaeda-aligned al-Shabab group killed almost 150 students in the Kenyan city of Garissa in April.

And Islamist militants from Boko Haram abducted 200 girls from a school in the Nigerian town of Chibok last year.

Solberg also urged private sector sponsors to do more for education, modelling themselves on health initiatives. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance, has committed $2.5 billion to a global alliance for vaccines since 1999.

“The private-public partnership models that have been made in the area of health - we really need to adopt those in the area of education,” she said.

Solberg, a Conservative and Norway’s second female prime minister after Gro Harlem Brundtland in the 1980s and 1990s, said girls still lagged boys in education in too many nations, something she blamed mainly on cultural barriers.

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