Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, Iwaki City, 7 April 2014
Deputy Minister Yamanaka, Ambassador Kodama, Tohoku School Students and Teachers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to be here today, to meet with the students of the OECD Tohoku School. Great progress has been made in the two years since the launch of the Tohoku School project.
In the immediate aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake the world witnessed your courage, solidarity and determination. We witnessed unprecedented resilience and a cohesive energy which transformed the tragedy into a new beginning. The Tohoku School is exactly that – a new beginning.
Young people, like you, face a very challenging reality today. In recent years, youth unemployment has reached alarming levels. Worldwide, there are over 75 million young people looking for work. Youth are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.
In the OECD, nearly one in five young people are neither in employment, education, nor training, what we call the NEETs. Here in Japan almost 10% of youth fall under this category; while youth unemployment stands at 6.5% (OECD youth unemployment – 15.7%).
The effects of a bad start can set back your entire careers. This is why education has such a crucial role in ensuring that young people do not face an uncertain future. We know how important it is to adapt “teaching” and “learning” to the needs of the 21st century.
Through the workshops organised by the Tohoku School, students are encouraged to be independent, to consider their region’s and their society’s recovery, and to put into practice their innovative abilities. More importantly, they are encouraged to lead, to be internationally minded and to think critically.
In this respect, the OECD Tohoku School project is of particular importance to your national authorities. It provides them with the opportunity to identify scalable factors, to build on the Tohoku experience and to design new education policies in Japan.
But we should not limit the Tohoku School example solely to your country. This learning experience is an important model for other countries recovering from natural disasters as well. It demonstrates how they can best invest in their most precious resource – their young people!
In addition, the Tohoku School project has demonstrated how essential it is for the private sector to contribute to education in Japan. And at a time when national universities are expected to raise funds beyond the budget allocated to them, Fukushima University has invested enormous efforts to build up the fundraising capacity needed to run this international project.
Your courage and resilience is inspiring for us all, it reminds us of the great skills and talents of our youths and gives us hope for the future.
A Tibetan proverb states that “a child without education is like a bird without wings” and the OECD Tohoku School project demonstrates how crucial it is for our countries and our societies to provide you with ‘a flying start’!
I very much look forward to welcoming you to Paris in a few weeks, at the OECD Forum, and in September for a special tree planting ceremony!