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World's biggest lesson

Yesterday morning, myself and about five million other people attended the world’s biggest ever school lesson. Thousands of schools in over 100 countries took part, teaching the same lesson at the same time. What was this lesson about? Well – about school itself, and its importance.

This was part of the Global Campaign for Education, which aims to ensure that everyone has access to free and quality education. It involved a coalition of charities, trade unions, parents and citizens’ groups around the world.

The lesson I went to was in the Irish Aid information centre in Dublin. In attendance were Irish TDs Ruairi Quinn, Brian Hayes and Senator Ivana Bacik. These three distinguished pupils were joined by pupils from CBS Westland Row and baby Louie, who at just three months was the youngest pupil to take part. Lizzy Noone from Concern was the teacher for the day.

The pupils led by the politicians then broke into groups to discuss what can be done to improve access to education both in Ireland and globally. Some of the suggestions they came up with were free school books, smaller classes, access to new technology, having nutritious meals available in schools and better quality school buildings.

It was a rowdy group – some of the politicians were throwing paper airplanes! – but what we learned was important. With only seven years to go to meet the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education, 72 million children are still missing out. Although some progress has been made, at current rates this goal will not be met for another 100 years.

It is the most vulnerable children who are denied an education – 60% are girls and one-third has a disability. One in seven children is a child labourer.

Millions more children are not receiving quality education. There are classes with more than 100 students, with no access to books or stationery. Too many teachers have little training and are poorly paid.

Lack of quality education has resulted in 774 million adults who are unable to read and write. Access to education must be made available to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to break the cycle of poverty. Without quality education, people have a greater risk of living in poverty, getting sick and being infected with HIV and AIDS.

Ultimately, the lesson called upon all governments to invest and commit to providing quality education for all. The money and the know-how are available. All governments have a responsibility to make sure it happens.

• Concern is part of the Irish Campaign for Education. Click here to find out more