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Remarks by Ertharin Cousin at the 2013 WFP Annual World Leaders Dinner in Davos, Switzerland

We are here tonight because although the world has seen significant gains in the expansion of access to early childhood care and education, we know we must do more.  Globally, 61 million children are still out-of-school, and 10 million children in sub-Saharan Africa drop out of school every year.

Weak education governance and accountability, shortage of qualified teachers, poor school infrastructure and learning environments, and inadequate or irrelevant curricular and learning materials are immediate challenges faced in many countries. 

Meeting these education quality challenges, combined with ensuring good nutrition that prepares young bodies and minds to maximize learning opportunities, will unleash children’s potential and help secure a better a future.

But realizing these twin goals demands a more concerted approach.  That is why we are linking efforts – UNICEF, UNESCO and WFP, together with our partners – to help put things on track; because working together, we can and we must do better.

So, today I invite you to join us on a voyage of hope.  Let me take you for a moment from the streets of Davos to the Dalaweye Primary School, fifty kilometers from the Republic of Niger’s capital city of Niamey.

Last year in Niger, erratic rains and pest infestation resulted in a failed harvest with a cereal deficit of half a million metric tons.  The Government of Niger classified 750,000 people as severely food insecure.  Families had not yet recovered from the food crisis of 2010.  They risked replaying a desperate scenario of poverty and despair; selling off their few remaining assets, and pulling their children out of school.

But Daleweye Primary School was ready. A school canteen had been running there since 2006.  And throughout last year’s crisis, their students stayed in school.  Mahamadou Aladji, the school headmaster, had this to say:

Teachers, parents and schoolchildren are not stressed anymore with lack of food; we are much more concentrated on teaching and helping children to express their full capacity. We know how difficult it is for parents to feed their children.

Through my travels, I have seen many similar schools in remote, underserved regions of the world where school attendance has increased and students’ capacity to learn boosted thanks to school feeding.  So many stories of hope challenging despair... and winning.

But it takes more than hope to educate a child.

We need to make sure the human and material infrastructure is in place to ensure children can access a good education:

·         A qualified, motivated and well-trained teacher.  

·         A sound and relevant school curriculum taught in a language that the children understand.  

·         A school building with adequate water and sanitation.  

·         Books, pens, notebooks, backpacks.

·         A safe and conducive environment for children to learn.

And we also need to ensure that children are fit to learn and able to take advantage of these educational opportunities.  

A child’s ability to participate and learn is influenced by their health and nutrition status, particularly in the formative years where good nutrition is essential. 

A meal at school provides a magnet to get children into the classroom. 

Ensuring that meal provides the nutrition that children need to learn and grow is an investment in the child’s future.

We want to be sure that every child is equipped with both the nutrition and the infrastructure they need to learn.  Even in the most remote schools.  Even in the poorest areas. 

Today, under the leadership and inspiration of the UN Secretary General, WFP joins with UNESCO and UNICEF, governments, friends in the private sector, and all our development partners in renewing our commitment to improved educational outcomes for the world’s most underserved children. 

For this year, next year and the year after, we resolve to shine a bright spotlight on our performance in Haiti, Mozambique, Niger and Pakistan.  And we will apply the evidence and lessons learned in designing scalable models that will raise educational opportunities for children everywhere. 

For the next three years, we aim to collaborate better on the ground, measure what works, and earn an A+ response to every parent’s fundamental question:  

Will my child have a better life?

And then we must graduate to the next level.  We must replicate the approaches that work in more and more schools, in more and more countries.  Bring more children to school, ensure that they stay, and most of all, that they learn.  Nourishing bodies, and nourishing minds.