Education Cannot Wait Interviews Finland’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Ville Tavio

Photo © UNICEF/Bashir | Education Cannot Wait
Ville Tavio

Ville Tavio is Finland’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development and a Member of the Finnish Parliament. Having graduated with a Master of Laws degree, Tavio established a law firm specializing in litigation. 

In this regard, he followed in his family’s footsteps, being a third-generation lawyer. Tavio has over 10 years experience in municipal politics. Tavio first entered Parliament in 2015 where he has chaired the Finns Party Parliamentary Group and served as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Grand Committee and the Legal Affairs Committee.

ECW: At this year’s UN General Assembly, Finland announced a generous new €8 million ($11 million CAD) contribution to Education Cannot Wait, bringing total commitments to €16 million ($23 million CAD). Why is investing in education for children and youth living on the frontlines of the world’s toughest contexts a continued priority for the Finnish Government?

Tavio: The rights of children and youth are not suspended during an emergency. This includes the right to education. Education in emergencies—providing quality learning opportunities in crisis situations—often depends on international assistance since the national duty-bearers are incapable of fulfilling their obligations due to conflicts and violence, public health emergencies or disasters.

Even if enrollment in primary and secondary education has increased considerably, the global out-of-school population of primary and secondary school age was still at 244 million in 2021, only nine million less than in 2015 (Data: the UIS and GEM Report).

Almost an equal amount, 224 million conflict-affected children are currently in need of education support. Over the same period, between 2015 and 2021, the number of out-of-school children in sub-Saharan Africa grew by 12 million. The discrepancies within countries and between countries are considerable. Learning achievements are often poor, amounting to a global learning crisis.

Education Cannot Wait—as the name says—implies recognition of this emergency. The potential beneficiaries—224 million crisis-affected children in need of education support—are in need of help. Education Cannot Wait is well-placed not only to support individual learners amidst emergencies, but also to support the resilience of education systems and safeguard the continuity of the teaching and learning process in crisis situations.

©ECW/Emnet Dereje

ECW: Finland is a global leader in education and has one of the world’s best education systems. How can Finland’s leadership and experience help to further leverage donor support for education in emergencies, especially by unlocking investments from the private sector to deliver on ECW’s goal of mobilizing US$1.5 billion ($2 billion CAD) by 2026?

Tavio: Education is one of the top development policy priorities for the Finnish Government. Presently, there is no shortage of global challenges and crises demanding attention, and both humanitarian and development funding. Immediate responses to food security crises and conflicts are necessary. At the same time, we are concerned of the possibility of education being crowded out or deprioritized on the global development agenda. This further calls for effective mobilization of various potential financial resources, including private sector investments.

Finland commits to an active role in advancing the right to inclusive, equitable and quality education. Gender equality and the right to education for those in the most vulnerable positions, especially persons with disabilities, will be at the core of all our efforts.

We have also committed to global advocacy and leadership of the School Meals Coalition. We will use any opportunity to advocate for donor and private sector support for education, including for ECW.

ECW: Recent estimates indicate that 62 million crisis-affected children have had their education disrupted by climate shocks since 2020. Education is recognized as one of the best ways to help fight climate change. How can global investments in education help us to realize the global climate commitments of the Paris Agreement?

Tavio: Climate change education will help people understand and address the impacts of climate change, empowering them with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to act as agents of change. Climate change education, together with training, public awareness, participation and access to information, are to be enhanced under the Paris Agreement (Article 12).

In my view, this is closely linked with international cooperation on climate-safe technology transfer and enhanced support for capacity-building actions in developing countries. Therefore, I see a clear role for global investments in education, technology and innovation to contribute to global climate commitments. At the same time, there is potentially a justification for climate finance mechanisms to include investments in education.

More broadly speaking, both mitigation of and adaptation to climate change require inputs from education systems, ranging from changing the consumption patterns to boosting innovations. Investments in early childhood development, primary, secondary, non-formal, technical, vocational, higher and adult education all have different payback periods and different potential impacts on climate change mitigation.

For me, investments in education are important as such, and do not necessarily need to be justified by their impact on climate, however important that might be.

© ECW/Daniel Beloumou

ECW: Finland is prioritizing the needs and rights of the most vulnerable groups, and the global need for humanitarian support has never been greater. How can we continue to deliver quality inclusive education while also addressing the diverse needs of crisis-affected children, including through school meals and mental health and social-emotional wellbeing?

Tavio: Indeed, Finland prioritizes the rights of the most vulnerable groups in its development cooperation, including people with disabilities. We support structural changes and help to build systems that can deliver, for example, quality inclusive education. Having said that, building quality inclusive education is never easy, and often takes years or decades. In contrast, in humanitarian assistance the focus is on tangible benefits for individual people, and as quickly as possible.

Education in emergencies provides—in addition to education provision—physical and psychosocial protection, school meals and other support that is needed to sustain and save lives. The needs of crisis-affected children are diverse, and humanitarian aid is need-based. At the same time, the very reason why people are at the mercy of humanitarian assistance is often a combination of an external risk and factors related to inequality, be they related to gender, disability, or social status.

There is no simple formula for delivering quality inclusive education for crisis-affected children. Any appropriate solution depends on the context and resources available.

ECW: We know that ‘leaders are readers’ and that reading skills are key to every child’s education. What are three books that have most influenced you personally and/or professionally, and why would you recommend them to others?

Tavio: I think I have gained most important lessons from basic textbooks of philosophy, psychology and economics. However, I can mention three books that I found very interesting when I was a student: “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. This bestseller is a good reminder of the importance of decent behaviour and it teaches us win-win thinking. “Awareness,” by Anthony de Mello. I see this as a classic book on critical thinking in a way that promotes healthy self-forgiveness. “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” by Robert T. Kiyosaki. This book is a good read for students who wish to understand how capitalism works.

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