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 Home > News & Policies > May 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 14, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Forum
As Delivered
Paris, France

Education: The Door of Hope

Thank you for inviting me to address this prestigious gathering. Ambassador Phillips; Secretary General (Don) Johnston; Ambassador Leach.

I thank the many OECD member country ambassadors who are here today. This year's forum focuses on four themes: security, equity, education and growth. All four are important - and I believe all four hinge on one: education. Education opens the door of hope to all the world's children.

Friends and distinguished guests, no matter what country you call home, no matter what our differences in culture or custom or faith, one value transcends every border: all Mothers and Fathers the world over love their children and want the very best for them.

As President Bush said earlier this year in his State of the Union address to Congress: "All fathers and mothers, in all societies, want their children to be educated, and live free from poverty and violence...No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them."

We all want our children to grow up in a world that is secure. Today, our world community is engaged in a mighty struggle against the agents of terror. Many of the countries represented here are working closely with our military and intelligence and law enforcement officers to locate terrorists and bring them to justice, and the American people thank you for your help.

The recent bombings in Russia, Israel and Pakistan, where 11 French citizens lost their lives, are tragic reminders that terror threatens lives throughout the world. The nations of the world must work together to confront this threat to our peace and security.

Just yesterday, I read in the newspaper the words of a mother of a fourteen year old boy who was injured by shrapnel in the bombing in Russia. One of his young friends died immediately, another several hours later. 17 of the 41 victims were children.

"The person who did this," the Russian mother said, "could not have been born of a mother." That plaintive quote speaks about the human values we all share -- the values we must teach our children. A lasting victory in the war against terror depends on educating the world's children, because educated children are much more likely to embrace the values that defeat terror.

First and foremost, we must teach all the world's children to respect human life - their own life, and the life of others. Every parent, every teacher, every leader has a responsibility to condemn the terrible tragedy of children blowing themselves up to kill others.

Education can help children see beyond a world of hate and hopelessness. With education comes greater self-respect, and respect for others. With education comes greater understanding and tolerance.

Education also invites greater equity, because it gives our children the tools they need to succeed in today's global economy. And education fuels growth, because it unleashes individual creativity and provides the skilled work force essential to growth and development.

Today's easy travel and instant telecommunications provide wonderful new opportunities for us to communicate and educate. Through forums such as the OECD, we can coordinate efforts to improve education in each of our countries, and throughout the world.

This afternoon, I will focus on three areas: new education initiatives in the United States, our cooperative education efforts around the globe, and the progress we are making in opening the schools of Afghanistan to boys and girls.


Education is a top priority for President Bush, for me and for the entire Bush Administration.

Our public schools are open to every child in America, and we are working to make sure they provide a quality education to every child. The United States Congress recently passed, and my husband signed into law, the most sweeping public education reforms in a generation.

The initiative is called "No Child Left Behind," and is based on the principles of accountability and results. The new law sets high standards and holds schools accountable for achieving them. It requires states and school districts to test students and publish the results, so parents know which schools are performing - and which ones are not. The law gives local school districts greater flexibility to achieve results and it empowers parents and students with more information and more choices.

Providing a quality education for our children begins with putting first things first, and in education, reading always comes first. Reading is the first step to learning. So that all our children can achieve their dreams, my own country, and countries around the world, must do a better job of teaching children to read.

Children who can read have a greater chance of succeeding in school - and in life. According to a recent study from the OECD, at least 15 percent of the world's 15-year-olds can read only at the most basic level, and in some countries, that number is as high as 30 percent.

A parent is a child's first reading teacher. The early years of a child's life are critical to life-long learning, so President Bush has announced an early childhood initiative called "Good Start, Grow Smart."

This initiative will strengthen and improve our Head Start pre-school education programs by including early literacy, language and number skills. It will help pre-schools coordinate with elementary schools to make sure children enter school with the pre-reading and language skills necessary to succeed. And the initiative will provide parents and caregivers with the latest information about early literacy and teaching strategies.

Research shows what parents have always known, and that is: when parents hold babies in their arms and sing to them or talk to them, they help babies grow both physically and emotionally. This interaction establishes a strong bond between parent and child, and it promotes a child's happiness and self-confidence.

Research also shows that it is very important for parents to read to their children from the time that they are babies. Children who are read to early and often learn two things: First, that reading is important, and second, that they are important.

Before children are old enough to attend school, they should learn basic vocabulary words; also, they should begin to recognize the letters of the alphabet and understand the sounds that correspond to those letters. If children start school with this knowledge, they are much more likely to succeed in school.

For example, reading scores for 10th grade students in the United States can be predicted with surprising accuracy based on a child's knowledge of the alphabet in kindergarten.

A growing body of scientific research is providing new information about the best and most effective way to teach reading, and we are eager to share that information with parents, teachers, and all who care for children.

Another priority of mine is recruiting quality teachers. One of the most immediate and effective ways to improve education is to achieve President Bush's great goal: a quality teacher in every classroom. The United States will need 2 million new teachers during the next 10 years. I am working with a variety of organizations to encourage recent college graduates, career professionals and retiring military personnel to bring their skills to America's classrooms.

Teachers deserve our respect and appreciation. Teachers have one of the most important jobs in any society, because they help shape and mold our future.

A young girl named Amy, from the state of Texas, wrote this to me: "The reason why my teachers deserve to be appreciated is because they go above and beyond what most people do. They get up early in the morning, make breakfast, get dressed, go to school, teach, go home, eat, grade papers, and make lesson plans, and then go to bed. The next day is more of the same. They spend their own money to get things to make learning fun for kids. They work more time for less pay doing something they love to do. They try to make a difference."

Teachers do make a difference. Most of us can remember a childhood teacher who especially inspired or encouraged us. My favorite was my second-grade teacher. I admired her so much that I decided to become a teacher. The years I spent in the classroom were among the most fulfilling years of my life.

By preparing children to learn to read, recruiting quality teachers, setting high standards and holding schools accountable for results, we prepare our children to succeed - and open the doors of prosperity and opportunity.

A former President of the United States said that where knowledge spreads, wealth spreads; and to diffuse knowledge in the world is to diffuse wealth in the world.

Those words were spoken by President Rutherford B. Hayes on May 15, 1878, and they are as true today as they were 124 years ago.

Those who acquire knowledge have a better opportunity to acquire wealth, and the truly knowledgeable human being also desires to be a better neighbor, citizen and student of the world. Education is the most important long-term investment we can make in the future, because through education, all the world's children have a far better chance of pursuing their dreams in peace and prosperity.

Because education brings opportunity, the United States works closely with our friends and allies to strengthen education throughout the world:

  • Through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) the U.S. government is investing $357 million dollars in education worldwide this year - that's a substantial increase from the $285 million we spent last year. These funds will help support literacy programs; teacher training; computer training; and efforts to educate those most often forgotten -- the world's poorest children and young girls.

    USAID education programs helped bring 17 million African children into the classrooms in places like Uganda, Zambia, Ghana and Malawi in the 1990s. Uganda is setting a great example by reforming its policies to ensure a universal primary education. Uganda now allocates 31 percent of its budget to education. Teachers are receiving better training and higher salaries. Twice as many children now have textbooks.
  • The United States Agency for International Development has also made public-private alliances an important part of our development assistance. The Centers of Excellence for Teacher Training, which President Bush announced at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec last year, is a good example. Despite the importance of reading, very few programs exist to train teachers in the science of how children learn to read. The United States will invest $20 million dollars in three centers of excellence in Latin America and the Caribbean to improve teacher training and the quality of reading instruction in schools, and this will be matched with money from the private sectors of the United States and Latin America.
  • The United States Peace Corps has long been a world partner in education. Today, the Peace Corps is involved in 55 education projects in 52 countries worldwide - and President Bush has pledged to double the size of the Peace Corps in the next five years as part of his new USA Freedom Corps initiative.

    More than 2,500 volunteers, or 35 percent of all Peace Corps volunteers, work on education projects. Volunteers teach subjects including math, science, agriculture, business development, health, information technology, and disease prevention. They promote adult literacy and improve educational opportunities for women and girls around the world.

    Peace Corps volunteers also work to strengthen communication between teachers, and strengthen relationships between schools and their surrounding communities.

During a recent trip to Afghanistan, the Director of the Peace Corps met with Dr. Sima Simar, the Minister of Women's Affairs. When he began to tell her about Peace Corps, she interrupted, saying, "I already know about the Peace Corps. A Peace Corps Volunteer taught me how to speak English."

  • The United States has also supported basic education through student and teacher exchanges in Russia, Ukraine, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
  • Our Fulbright exchange program has provided opportunities for more than 250,000 young scholars, teachers and university professors in the U.S. and 140 countries since its start in 1947.
  • The United States is also a partner in the Balkans, working with the International Community and Civitas in Bosnia and Herzegovina to develop a course in democracy and human rights. This course is taught in (primary) schools throughout the region, including Brcko, and it has been translated for all three ethnic groups.

    The course is part of a larger effort called "Project Citizen." Through "Project Citizen" programs, children learn to identify and solve problems in their own communities, from supplying clean water to improving dangerous traffic crossings. Citizenship - a sense of belonging and responsibility - strengthens societies.

A child named Erica, from the state of Kentucky, wrote a letter to me and said, "I admire that Americans love each other more after September 11th. There are people who help donate blood, money, and food to the homeless now..."

Children want to learn how to be responsible citizens and to participate in society; they want to learn about human rights and civic duties. We can help children understand that their actions affect other people; that they can have a positive effect on their communities and on the much larger world around them.

We must work to ensure that all children have access to education, including ethnic minorities, girls, and children with disabilities. I am proud that my husband, as the Governor of Texas, took a stand for educating all children in our state.

While another state was debating an initiative to ban education for children of illegal immigrants, my husband said, "In Texas, we are educating all the children, regardless of the status of their parents." In some European countries, educating all children means educating Roma children. In other parts of the world, it might mean ensuring an education for members of ethnic or religious minorities.

Education and development are directly related. Simply put: better schools produce workers with better skills. That's why corporations and local businesses are interested in promoting education. Initial investments in education will produce a more stable and robust consumer market. Educated workers are good for business and society as a whole.

Americans believe that individuals are responsible for their decisions, and their children, and their communities, and corporations have a responsibility to be good citizens of society as well. By supporting education, businesses and corporations can make a real contribution toward achieving all four goals of this forum.

There is no better example of governments, businesses and individuals working together than the effort now underway in Afghanistan, a country that is now rebuilding - and realizing unprecedented opportunity - thanks to efforts led by the United Nations, the United States, the new Afghan government, and our coalition partners around the world.

I had the honor of meeting Afghan Interim Chairman Karzai in January, and presented him with a children's dictionary which symbolizes the importance the United States places on education. Prosperity cannot follow peace without educated women and children. When citizens are educated, and especially when women are educated, people's lives improve in significant, other ways as well. For example:

  • Improvements in women's education have contributed the most by far to the total decline in child malnutrition;
  • And mothers with a secondary education have children with mortality rates nearly 36 percent lower than mothers with only a primary school education.

In March, the boys and girls of Afghanistan went to school, many of the young girls for the first time in their lives. The world watched as teachers took their long-vacant places and students opened their books for their first lessons.

The United States is committed to helping the Afghan people redevelop their educational system:

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is sending to Afghan schools almost 10 million primary and secondary school textbooks written in Pashto and Dari. Currently five USAID-funded teams of teacher trainers are teaching refresher courses in the schools around Kabul. By the end of the year, thousands of Afghan teachers, many of whom are women, will receive this training.

Miriam, a volunteer teacher in Afghanistan said, "I am teaching at my best because I want my (country's) children to be highly educated. It is to ensure that whatever mistakes have been committed in the past will not be repeated in the future."

  • USAID and the United States' military civilian affairs forces are repairing more than 58 schools and training centers throughout Afghanistan.
  • President Bush asked our American schoolchildren to help Afghan children by contributing a dollar to America's Fund for Afghan Children. So far children from across the United States have raised and sent more than $4 million dollars for food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and toys for children in Afghanistan.

One American child wrote the President a letter with a dollar attached. She said, "I'm sending a dollar to help the innocent children of Afghanistan. My name is Grace and I am 11 years old. I would really like to give the children that are orphans this gift. I'm proud to be an American. I also wish to help one life of a child."

Another dollar came with a letter that read, "Dear children of Afghanistan, We care about you. We want you to have food, clothes, water and medicine. Sincerely, Gray Coppernell, U.S.A. kid."

Clearly as they are helping children halfway across the world, America's children are learning a lesson about responsibility and service to others.

  • The American Red Cross is also coordinating a nationwide project to collect school supplies - enough for 120,000 Afghan children. Already 1,000 chests (or heavy-duty plastic crates) of supplies have been assembled and sent to Afghanistan. These supplies include pencils, rulers, tablets of paper, crayons, jump ropes, soccer balls. President Bush has asked Americans to help fill 2,000 more chests with school supplies for Afghanistan by June.
  • For primary schools, a US-based non-profit organization called the Academy for Educational Development, or AED, sent 40,000 backpacks filled with slates, chalk, school supplies, and toys for refugee children, and currently the organization is working to send an additional 200,000 backpacks to children in the fall.

    The backpacks are hand-made in Pakistan, and some of the children who receive them may have never owned a book or toys.

    Afghan Charge d'Affaires Haron Amin was a second-grade teacher in Kabul. He said that he had a hard time convincing his students to write on the new sheets of paper because they were the cleanest things they had.

    When he saw photos of the children receiving backpacks from the Academy, he said, "I could see the delight and curiosity on their faces. Some of the items (in the backpacks) reminded me very much of my own schooldays in Kabul. There are many hundreds of thousands more children in refugee camps and inside Afghanistan who need similar backpacks to help them get started in school ... and to support the rebuilding of the educational system."

When you give children books, you give them a piece of hope they can hold and the ability to imagine a future of opportunity, equality and justice.

A seven-year-old Afghan refugee named Alya said, "If we were educated, we would not be like this as we are today. I want to become a teacher to burn the candle of education when I come back to my country."

  • The world is working together on a back-to-school project to help Afghan women earn money for their families by sewing school uniforms for Afghan girls.

    This uniform project began in February, when Women's Affairs Minister Sima Simar asked for help to send girls back to school and to send women back to work. She requested sewing machines and 450,000 yards of fabric for Afghan women to sew uniforms. A global partnership of organizations, agencies and companies in the United States, Asia, Pakistan, and elsewhere united to answer Dr. Simar's request. Next week, 200 sewing machines and the first 50,000 yards of fabric will arrive in Afghanistan. About 550,000 yards of fabric, 144 million buttons, 30,000 pairs of shoes, 10,000 socks, sewing shears and household goods are also en route from places around the world.

    By sewing uniforms, Afghan seamstresses - many of whom are widows - can earn money to provide for their families...some for the first time in years.

I am confident that the United States and the global community will continue to work to improve the lives of all the people of Afghanistan.

* * *

These are times of great challenge - and times of great opportunity. As we work together to make the world safer, we are also working to make it better.

And the countries of the OECD can commit to no more important challenge than to make sure every child everywhere in the world can read and attend school. Together, we can make a tremendous difference in our countries and in developing nations. With commitment, resources and energetic leadership we can reach - and teach -- children everywhere.

The most important gift we can give the world's children is the gift most likely to lead to future peace and prosperity - and that is the gift of a good education. Thank you for inviting me.

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