ICONfront interview article vol.18 features Hiyona Otake (ID24) who is an active member of GPE Youth Japan.
GPE (Global Partnership for Education) is an international foundation under the umbrella of the World Bank which specializes in educational support for low-income countries. Hiyona is one of the members of “GPE Youth Ambassador Japan,” which is one of GPE’s 17 branches in the world. In this interview, we focused on her activities in GPE Youth Japan, her thoughts and motivations behind the activities, and her message to ICU students. Read the article to find out more!
Q1. Could you tell us about what you are doing?
I’m a member of GPE Youth Ambassador Japan, which is a group of Japanese youth leaders of an international organization, Global Partnership for Education (GPE). GPE is a foundation under the umbrella of the World Bank that specializes in education and assists low-income countries in working on their educational issues. 37 education activists, aged 18 to 30, participate in this organization, as youth members. Last year in August, the first youth group was launched in Japan, and I’m one of the founding members.
Regarding the history of GPE, a global financial partnership framework, FTI (Fast Track Initiative), was first created to achieve EFA (Education for All), which was proposed in the 1990s. The World Bank was a core organization of this establishment. Later, FTI became the current GPE.
GPE is a multi-stakeholder bank that aims to provide high-quality education to everyone equally, in partnership with NGOs, international organizations, and partner countries.
There are five GPE youth leaders in Japan, and four of them are ICU students and one of them is a Keio University student.
Q2. What do you specifically do at GPE Youth Ambassador Japan?
Our vision is to connect people to provide high-quality education. We put an emphasis on partnership as the P in GPE stands for and, to achieve our vision, we also value the three pillars of our mission.
- To champion the voice of youth around the world. This aims to connect youth in the world and Japan.
- To transmit the reality of education in our partner countries to Japanese politicians. This aims to connect developing countries and Japanese government.
- To Spread awareness of the importance of funding quality education. This aims to connect GPE and Japan.
Based on these visions and missions, we are mainly doing two different activities.
The first one is advocacy. This activity is to achieve mission II: “To transmit the reality of education in our partner countries to Japanese politicians.” What I do is to create advocacy strategies, engage in domestic advocacy, and attend conferences with government officials and political representatives. Recently, I have had some opportunities to attend international conferences as well. In the near future, I would like to make policy proposals.
Specifically, in late March, one other member and I attended a conference about GPE and education with the Diet members and members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we gave a speech on the importance of education. These past four months, we have been visiting the parliamentarians and have had meetings with members of the Houses of Representatives and Councillors. We always made sure to give them our pamphlets. Also, I’m attending the Global Education Summit, which takes place in London, UK, on July 28th and 29th. By providing a youth perspective to bilateral conferences that the Japanese representative also takes part in, I hope I could advocate to both Japanese policy makers and world leaders.
Our second activity is communication. I am in charge of communication more than advocacy in my activities. Recently, although our communication platform has shifted to online, I actively communicate with students at other universities.
Through this, we aim to achieve mission I:To champion the voice of youth around the world. This aims to connect youth in the world and Japan.. For example, we interviewed Vietnamese youths about girls’ education amid the COVID-19 pandemic and posted the video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1L8zgQzzxSfn3gzQhT1SBA). We also organized bilateral conferences with Germany and South Korea and helped them make connections. Lately, we are holding international conferences with 17 countries regularly and joining meetings between donor countries so we can create proper donation strategies.
To achieve mission III: “To Spread awareness of the importance of funding quality education,” we also host seminars and events for youths in Japan to create more opportunities to make connections with Japanese youths. Our seminar for ICU students that we hosted last November is an example of this. Another thing we did was to have a meeting with Japanese *Y7 and deliver their voices to the global arena. We also conducted interviews with GPE staff around the world and published them on YouTube so that we could let people know what’s happening in education around the world by delivering the voices of people who are working at the forefront. As well as YouTube, we also focus on our social media activities, such as posting our blog articles on our Instagram page and translating articles on GPE and its activities.
*Y7・・・one of the G7 Summit’s official conferences; a youth conference where groups of representatives from around the world, aged under 30, are invited.
Q3. What is the situation of education in developing countries like right now?
What I’m feeling based on my activities at GPE is that the current pandemic has worsened the situation of education. In developing countries, there were children who were distanced from education even before the pandemic, but with schools closed due to the pandemic, there has been an increasing number of children who are completely cut off from educational opportunities. Girls’ education is especially a challenge and those countries tend to have more early marriages and early pregnancies than Japan does. Also, because of school closure, the number of households that decide upon girls’ early marriage and pregnancy are increasing.
So, the reality of education is that people who could barely afford education before the pandemic came to be completely cut off from education. Children can only be children once, so I really want to mitigate the risk that children who left education once cannot go back any more.
Q4. What are you doing to spread awareness about the importance of education in Japan?
This is not about the importance of Japanese education, but I wish to spread awareness about the importance of education globally, especially the importance of basic education since GPE particularly focuses on it. In Japan, literacy is not something special for most people, so we don’t really think about why illiteracy is a problem. I think people understand the need for food, clothing, and shelter, needless to say, but I want to emphasize that education is an important lifeline. For example, you go to hospitals and get prescriptions, but if you are illiterate, you can’t figure out how to take the medicine. Or, you would not be able to read bus timetables and have no idea when the next bus is coming, so you have to wait for a bus for a very long time. These things are not commonly considered in Japan, so I hope more people will realize the importance of basic education.
Q5. What made your participation in the conferences with government officials and political representatives possible?
In GPE’s in-person seminar in late-March, our boss told us there’d be some space for youths to join in a conference and asked us if we were interested, and that’s how we made it to the conference. We also attended an online meeting, which was a great opportunity for us to get to know what each country’s foreign affair officials and other political representatives were considering. All these networks were what GPE created for us. Whenever we get a chance to have a one-on-one meeting with diet members as part of our advocacy, we make an appointment with them through phone or FAX beforehand.
Q6. How does your relationship with donor countries go?
First of all, donor countries are the actors who supply money. The polarization of developing countries and developed countries is not preferable, but the youth leaders of partner countries (developing countries) advocate the situations of education in their countries and the need of support to foreign leaders. As members of developed countries, I believe we need to speak up about how the Japanese government should turn their attention towards world education. We host meetings for donor countries to consider how we should encourage donor countries to provide money.
“International conference” sounds like something on a very large scale, but what we do is similar to university classes: we discuss ideas of what encourages donor countries to provide financial support.
Q7. You are using several social media platforms. How do you differentiate between them?
Instagram and Twitter accounts are managed by the youth members. For YouTube, the GPE headquarters, called GPE Japan PR, outsources its management, so we are not managing YouTube. Instagram is where we post our official opinions and voices, including our blog articles. On the other hand, Twitter is for advocacy to diet members and it’s more informal.
Q8. When did you start your activities in GPE?
August 21st, 2020, which was during the summer break of my first year.
Q9. What motivated you to start your activities in GPE?
To be honest, it was not something that I’d planned. Because of the unexpected pandemic, I spent the first semester of my first year quite lazily. At that time, Professor Mikiko Nishimura sent us information about GPE’s internship through her mailing list. I thought, “I have plenty of time so I want to challenge myself!” and applied for that internship position, but with no particular motive, I was rejected, unsurprisingly. But Professor Nishimura and some GPE pro-staff read our applications later and selected several students as GPE’s youth volunteer members. That was how I started my activities in GPE. Interns are involved in organization management, like office work, and youth volunteers bring new perspectives as students and engage in public relations.
Q10. How did you feel when you started?
I was confused, or I should say that I had no idea. Till I got involved in GPE, I didn’t know about the organization, and my knowledge was insufficient to ask questions to our boss. I was just so confused about what GPE was even after my boss explained it to me. There was also no office in Japan, and my boss was in France, so I had a lot of worries.
Q11. What have you learned through your activities and what would you like ICU students to know about?
There are three things to say.
First, international organizations are not something very distant from you. When I first heard that GPE was under the umbrella of the World Bank, I was very surprised, to be honest. But our ideas are often used and sometimes we take initiative for our projects. GPE’s management style is not top-down; our voices are often reflected and we can participate in decision-making processes.
Secondly, I believe changing a society is challenging but not impossible. We advocate rethinking the allocation of ODA for education. And since we let Y7 members know more GPE and they mentioned GPE to G7. Also, G7’s statement mentioned GPE, which made me realize our voices were actually reflected. If you advocate not only GPE or education but also any issue that you are concerned about with passion, I think society will slowly change even if there is a long journey.
Lastly, what I want to stress is the power of youth. I think one of the reasons why diet members welcome to meet with us or allow us to attend the meetings must be our youthfulness. Of course, I want to believe there are more reasons. Many people expect of us
and there might be a better way of saying this, but they make their time for us as good investment. We should make use of our brief time that we can stay youth.
*ODA・・・various types of government aid and cooperation to developing countries.
Q12. When I heard “government,” “parliament,” and “international conference,” I imagined these would be something very distant from students and our voices would not be reflected that much.
Yes, that’s fair. I’ll be glad if people realize that I’m just an ordinary university student and that what I’m doing is something that anyone can do.
Q13.You mentioned that you encourage the government to rethink the allocation of ODA funds through your advocacy. What positive impact will occur if the government allocates more ODA to basic education?
Japan is the fourth largest donor to education, however, 51% of the fund goes to higher education and only 10% goes to basic education. Supporting higher education makes educational support to future global elites possible, so I understand why the government focuses on higher education ODA. But, I believe what’s important here is that the majority of the population can receive education.
Japan’s ODA is something called “endless ODA.” Strictly speaking, aid should end someday, but if Japan’s ODA continues endlessly, the recipient countries could hardly establish and strengthen their own educational system. Isn’t it important to increase the ratio of allocation to basic education, increase the literacy rate of the majority of the population, and strengthen the base of a country?
Q14. When do you feel a sense of accomplishment?
Since I value communication, the result is easily reflected in numbers. When I find our Instagram followers have increased, when our posts receive more likes than usual, and when our YouTube videos are viewed more times, I feel that our voices have reached more people, which makes me happy. This is a personal story, but I’m really happy that my grandmother watches our YouTube videos weekly and often sends me her feedback.
I’m studying Developmental Studies at university, and I feel grateful that I have a place to put into practice what I learned in classes.
I enjoy the time I spend with the GPE Youth Japan members more than anything. To be honest, not everything is easy, but joining GPE provided me with the opportunity to become close with my fellow members who are like family to me. This is what makes me happy the most.
Q15. I assume that you work quite frequently: how do you balance your university life and your GPE work?
During exam period, the five of us help each other and distribute our tasks. All of us are students, so we understand each other’s challenges. The other thing is mental management; I make sure I clearly separate my GPE tasks and school work.
Q.16 You were the student council president in high school. How do you think your past experiences, including in high school, have influenced your current activities?
All of my experiences have been useful, and I’m sure that everything I’m working on now will be useful in the future. I became interested in education through my experience of living in England, where I learned the joy of education. If I had not lived in England, I would not have been interested in education. I was also the student council president, so I like public speaking and talking with adults. I think that the experience of working hard and feeling passionate about something and going through with it has had a big influence on me to this day.
Q17. What would you like to tell society?
I believe that working for worldwide change in education is the key to a brighter future for the world. Education can solve a lot of social problems, such as gender equality, environmental protection, human rights protection, etc. Education is necessary to make the world a place you want to live in, and to become the person you want to be in it. We believe that we are not educated only to learn that 1+1=2. Education is about recognizing our rights through knowledge and giving us the power to voice them. By sharing our opinions, we can connect with others who have the same rights, form solidarity, and find a community where we feel safe. Unlike food, clothing, and shelter, education is often thought of as not necessary for survival, but I would like people to consider that it is a lifeline where we learn important skills for living.
There are always emergencies happening in the world, such as disasters, conflicts, and pandemics. We all know that education is important, but we are so caught up in what is needed in emergency situations that education is always treated as something that is just there. However, education is necessary to rebuild the country and to build the foundation of the world. I think that we need to work on educational reform/improvement on an international scale in order to build a strong country and world in the long term, rather than just providing support after something has happened.
Q18. Lastly, if there is anything you would like to do or try in the future, please let us know!
First of all, in the near future, the Global Education Summit(GES) will be held in London on July 28th and 29th. This will be my first trip abroad as a GPE member, and I am quite enthusiastic about it because it is an important summit that only happens once every five years. I would like to study and prepare properly for the next few weeks so that I can properly represent the voices of young people in Japan.
Right now, my mind is occupied with the GES, but once that is over, I would like to build GPE Youth Japan with an eye on the future of the world and Japan. From now on, I would like to think about how I want the situation of world education to be in 5, 10, or 20 years and what kind of role I want Japan to play in that situation, and I would like to make sure our organization can be on the roadmap to get there.
Personally, I also need to think about where I want to be involved in this project. I would like to think more about what kind of world I want to live in in the future, what kind of society I need to create for that purpose, what kind of people I want to work with, and what I need to learn and experience to fulfill that purpose.