Can you remember your favourite teacher? The person who introduced you to a still-cherished book, flicked a switch in your brain, or ignited a passion that years later still burns strong and bright?
Mrs Jette Axlev helped nurture my ambition, set me on course to succeed and helped build in me a sense of self-confidence. She inspired me to go into politics, and to get involved in the student council. I remember her classes vividly. She would introduce bombshell topics to stimulate vigorous discussion and debate, teaching myself and my classmates the importance of critical thinking. I owe Jette a lot, and am happy to say I'm still in contact with her on Facebook.
I was lucky. My ambition was nurtured by a teacher who saw all who passed through her door as a talent to be realised, and I grew up in Denmark, a country with a decent education system that was well funded . Many children today are not so lucky.
Education has the power to transform lives and empower young people. Yet, right now, 260 million children - 160 million of whom are girls - will grow up without ever meeting their favourite teacher. They'll miss out on opportunities to shine and to shape their own lives. Their future will be moulded by poverty, discrimination and limited circumstance. Natural leaders - born to bring about real, lasting change - will not have the opportunity to rise above their peers, or inspire future generations.
Education has the power to transform lives. Its absence curtails them.
Photo credit: Plan International / Bea Uhart
This is doubly true for girls, who are more likely than boys to be completely excluded from education. School should be a space for girls to explore their own authority, test out and raise their voice, and stretch themselves to the limit of their abilities (and good teachers will push them just that little bit further). And school is not only important for academic learning; school can help promote beliefs, values, and expectations that equip students to take on leadership roles later in life, and challenge negative social norms or gender inequality.
Living up to the challenge of the Global goals
The Global Goals have set the world a bold challenge: ensure inclusive and quality education for all by 2030. And so many of the other Global Goals will not be achieved if children cannot have an inclusive, quality education. If we are ever to achieve this ambition, funding for education in 136 low and middle income countries must rise from $1.2 trillion today to $3 trillion in 2030.
Even those who struggled at the blackboard, chalk in hand, will recognise that money is the missing facto. And here's the point: if we don't act now, over 400 million girls will miss out on secondary-level skills by 2030.
This is my bombshell topic.
Bridging the gap in educational funding
That's why ahead of their summit in Hamburg this July we're asking the G20 nations to recognise the importance of education, put their hands in their pockets, and plug the education financing gap. We want to see G20 nations commit to meeting the long-standing target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income as Official Development Assistance, and to allocate at least 15% of this expenditure to education.
We also want countries to acknowledge and address the many barriers currently stopping girls from fully participating in school. These range from safety in and on the journey to school, to harmful practices such as child marriage. Equally limiting are social norms that place less value on girls' education and girls being unable to contribute meaningfully to school decision-making processes.
We believe that girls should be encouraged to speak out in the classroom, participate in all subjects, and take on leadership roles within the student body and in-school decision-making mechanisms (it worked for me). It astonishes me that I have to say this in 2017, but isn't it time for our education systems to challenge gender norms, not reinforce them?
Governments should encourage more female teachers into all levels of education, and women should be encouraged and supported to take on management and leadership positions within schools.
So here's the lesson. By closing the education funding gap and addressing the barriers preventing girls from equal participation at school, we can help develop the next generation of female leaders and ensure a brighter future for all.
Want to make your voice heard? Call on G20 leaders to fill the education funding gap so all girls can be inspired to reach their potential. Take action at: www.plan-international.org/wearethenext