While global leaders address remotely the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, UNESCO calls on the international community to prioritize building resilient education systems at a high-level side event “Education During Covid-19 and Beyond: The Global Education Coalition in Action”. Convened as education experienced the largest disruption worldwide with nearly 1.6 billion learners affected by school closures due to COVID-19, the event brought together Heads of States and intergovernmental organizations, ministers, teachers, learners and representatives from the private sector from across the global community to outline best responses to the short and long term challenges and built on the messages from the UN Secretary-General’s policy brief issued in August 2020 on “education during Covid-19 and beyond”.
The policy brief provides a series of recommendations to Member States on policy responses during school closures and re-opening and protecting education financing in the recovery.
As the pandemic negatively impacted societies at large, “responding to the crisis meant addressing its immediate consequences, and moving from shock to action”, said UNESCO Director-General Ms. Audrey Azoulay.
Reacting swiftly, UNESCO launched the Global Education Coalition, which is now working in over 70 countries targeting 400 million learners and 12.7 million teacher beneficiaries – directly and indirectly. These activities are described in the first progress report on the Coalition’s action. Beyond the negative impact on students’ learning, UNESCO’s Director-General of UNESCO alerted that school closures can produce collateral damage for the most marginalized, in particular as “more than 8 million girls risk never to come back to school”. Furthermore, she outlined the important “cultural and social role played by schools” and urged that “education budgets should be considered as an investment”. To ensure that education remains a key priority, UNESCO together with the United Kingdom, will organize the extraordinary session of the Global Education Meeting on 22 October 2020 that will primarily “work towards developing a tangible action plan for education”.
Championing the cause of rethinking education, H.E. Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia, reminded the international community that the “global pandemic had shed light on the existing vulnerabilities” as the “transition to remote learning in the global South has proven particularly difficult”. Yet, outlining Ethiopia’s COVID-19 response, she underscored the potential of digital platforms to support learning continuity while lifting people out of poverty and promoting gender equality. As the Chair of International Commission on the Futures of Education, she also highlighted the principle that education is a common public good as also affirmed in a recent Commission publication Education in a post-COVID world: Nine ideas for public action. “This pandemic presents us an opportunity to decide on how we want to change the future together; let us build our education more inclusive and accessible through collective efforts, knowledge and technology,” President Zewde firmly stated.
Addressing the event, H.E. Mr. Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister of Samoa, shared key policies that focused on innovation and collaboration to build resilient, inclusive and gender response education systems. He underlined his Government’s compliance with the Framework for Reopening Schools as well as the important partnership with Vodafone-Samoa to provide all teachers and learners with free access to education data.
Leveraging partnerships for education
Highlighting the need for strengthened digital cooperation, Fabrizio Hochschild, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General and Under-Secretary-General on the Commemoration of the United Nations’ 75th Anniversary, warned that the global disruption of education would have a “generational effect” as well as “long lasting consequences especially for those who experienced the worst impact of the pandemic”. “Nowadays not having connectivity is forgoing access to most basic services including the fulfilment of rights such as the right to health and education,” said Mr Hochschild and urged partners to “do their utmost to address the digital divide by focusing mostly on the most vulnerable to retain and accelerate the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals”. “The challenge is to combine education with technology and to bring together the multi-stakeholder approaches as demonstrated through the Global Education Coalition”, he concluded.
Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, recalled that the Global Education Coalition is “a paradigm of global solidarity and renewed multilateralism”. She informed that more than “80 coalition members participated in the emergency call for Lebanon and pledged various forms of support – both financial and in-kind”. Looking ahead to the post-COVID environment, she highlighted that “the proven innovative solutions tested in the context of the Coalition’s work will be reviewed and harnessed to support national efforts to advance education systems’ longer term resilience and transformation” and stressed the urgent need to mobilize domestic and international resources. Urging partners to deliver more efficiently on inclusive and equitable education for all, she highlighted the ongoing #LearningNeverStops campaign focusing on keeping girls in the picture.
Both H.E. Mr. Martín Benavides Abanto, Minister of Education of Peru, and H.E. Mr. Mamadou Talla, Minister for National Education of Senegal, outlined their respective countries’ efforts in ensuring continuity of learning. Peru is putting forward a national chapter of the Global Education Coalition with a nationwide campaign to return to schools. The Senegalese Ministry of Education brings together policymakers, private companies, communities and schools to use digital technology as a viable solution for crisis.
The technology giants and Global Coalition members ProFuturo, a programme of Telefonica, and Microsoft Corporation are supporting educators globally through a range of digital platforms. Magdalena Brier López-Guerrero, Director General of ProFuturo, highlighted an initiative in Liberia, Nigeria, and the United Republic of Tanzania that trained 6000 teachers in digital skills development. Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Education at Microsoft Corporation, outlined the remote learning tools, training and how-to-guides that help schools, educators and students navigate their “new normal”. Microsoft also partners with UNESCO through the Global Skills Academy on compilation of data to understand and serve the needs of educators and learners.
Antonia Bain, a teacher from Bahamas, stressed the need to prepare teachers for future crises and build resilience of the learning community. Aurora Richaud, a youth participant from Mexico, revealed her experience learning programming, coding and AI technologies at distance with mentors advising her from other countries. Shai Reshef, the President of University of the People, called on all academic institutions to dramatically change the class structure and make education more accessible and affordable.