Education is the sole response to the global rise of religious and political extremism, French President Emmanuel Macron told a conference in Senegal on Friday where he pledged 200 million euros ($248 million) to support an international education fund.
Macron was attending a financing conference of the Global Partnership for Education, which seeks to ensure access to classrooms for 870 million children in 65 developing countries.
“The risk of terrorism that we have lived through … that convinces children that their future is war … the risk of seeing actual human bombs continue to deploy in our societies, there’s only one answer,” he said.
France has been a target of militant violence, including attacks in Paris in 2015 that killed more than 130 people, and is engaged in the fight against Islamist fighters in Africa.
It has deployed troops as part of a regional operation in West Africa’s arid Sahel band. Paris is also supporting a new multinational force created by regional governments to take on Islamist groups, some of whom are linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, operating in the area.
Several West African leaders were in the audience as Macron gave his speech on Friday.
Ensuring that children were able to attend school, Macron said, would combat fundamentalist movements, including those seeking to repress women and girls and remove them from public life.
However, he said France had work to do to improve education at home. “We have an education problem today when a fifth of children cannot write, read or count well when they arrive at the age of 12 years,” he said.
He said developed countries around the world were struggling with the fear created by vast societal changes brought on by technological advances and disruption.
“Without education, what is the response? Retreat. Hatred of others. A revival of nationalism and everything we have survived and thought we’d vanquished during the 20th century,” he said.
The Partnership is seeking $3.1 billion in financing to fund its activities over the coming three years.