Speech

Speech by Mr. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen at the Latin America and Caribbean-European Union Summit, Rio de Janeiro 28-29 June 1999

We can make a difference: Education and lifelong learning, - the key to economic development.

It is a known fact that access to - and completion of - primary education can help children break the vicious circle of poverty. Education and vocational training is the way forward. Access to education of good quality for all is the very key to long-term wealth for every single citizen.

My country, Denmark, considers education to be an essential investment. We have education for all. But it is important to bear in mind that education is not only a question of access. No meaningful learning takes place unless the education offered is of good quality.

We all know that in a number of poorer countries the quality of education is unacceptably low, and availability of resources too limited to ensure even the most basic improvements. I think that is unfortunate. Schools are faced with high dropout rates and repetition rates. We see young people that leave school without being able to read a newspaper or to write a simple letter. That is the direct road to social exclusion.

In March 1990 the World Declaration on Education for All was adopted at a meeting in Thailand. Now, as we get near to the end of the decade on Education for All, it is disturbing to see that millions of children are still out of school - often for poverty related reasons. And adult illiteracy is still alarmingly widespread.

I feel obliged to remind you of the World Conference on Education for All. The conference suggested six basic dimensions - dimensions that countries were invited to use in setting appropriate and challenging national goals:

  • Expansion of early childhood care
  • Universal access to, and completion of, primary education
  • Improvement in learning achievement
  • Reduction in adult illiteracy rates
  • Expansion of basic education and training in other essential skills for youth and adults, and
  • Increased acquisition by individuals and families of the knowledge, skills, and values required for better living condition and sound and sustainable growth.

In essence, these six mutually supportive dimensions should be seen as key elements in a broader policy aimed at overall development of the society. This is the way to ensure a comprehensive battle against poverty and social exclusion. We have to invest in knowledge and education.

In Denmark we do not have much gold or many diamonds. But we do have human capital and a well-educated work force.

Rapid technological changes, new information technology, dynamic changes in the production structures in all our countries imply that the days are over where people could hold the same job throughout their life.

Today - and in the future - we will have to get used to changes to a larger extent than earlier. We will have to accept the fact that each individual will have to change jobs several times during their working life.

In the globalized economy we have to trust the ability of each individual to adopt to changes. We can not - and do not want to - stop the globalization, but we can make the right choices. The key to ensure future employment is continuous updating of skills and on the job training - all elements in the modern labour market.

Focus on good quality education and training is indispensable for every country that wants to compete globally and create new jobs - without falling back on a working poor strategy.

Let us make it clear to everyone that we have a choice between a working poor and a working rich strategy. The thing to remember is this: there will always be a spot on earth where wages will be lower per unit than in our countries. Always.

Our choice should be the working rich strategy. This is the best weapon in the battle against social exclusion and for enriching our countries.

We will not be able to accomplish this over night. We know that. But we can make our choice and form our strategy. We should join forces and take steps towards wealth in our regions - in Latin America, in the Caribbean, in the European Union. I think that we can accomplish these goals, together.