Idea

COVID-19 – Education is the bedrock of a just society in the post-COVID world

02/06/2020

By Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education and John Brandolino, Director, Division for Treaty Affairs, UNODC.

As the COVID-19 crisis may lead to an erosion of trust in public services and governments, urgent questions should also be asked about how measures to prevent its spread can adversely affect the rule of law and human rights. UNESCO and UNODC stress the importance of education which teaches awareness of human rights and ultimately helps build more equal, sustainable and inclusive societies and economies that are more resilient in the face of crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented educational disruption with 1.2 billion students and youth across the planet affected by school closures.

It has not only undermined trust in the capacity of public services such as education and health to respond to the crisis but has raised more fundamental concerns about a potential erosion of human rights now and post-crisis.[1]

UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned in a report in April 2020 that the economic and social crisis is fast becoming a human rights crisis and that any emergency measures taken must be legal, necessary for protection, proportionate and non-discriminatory.

Emergency measures and legislation taken at speed in a changing situation can encroach on rights beyond what might be necessary. Reports from various UN agencies highlight the impact of emergency measures at different levels:

  • Freedom of movement may be curtailed;[2]
  • Women and children at home may be at risk of increased violence;[3]
  • Intrusive technology may breach privacy laws;[4]
  • Vulnerable groups may be hit hardest;[5]
  • Democratic processes like elections may be affected.[6]

'The virus threatens everyone. Human rights uplift everyone. By respecting human rights in this time of crisis, we will build more effective and inclusive solutions for the emergency of today and the recovery for tomorrow,' said Mr Gutteres.

UNESCO and UNODC are working together to bridge the gap between education and justice and to empower children and youth to understand and exercise their rights, think critically, make sound ethical judgments, act with integrity, challenge injustice and promote fair societies.  

Education is a key ally in defending rights and protecting the rule of law and is an essential life skill in crises. How can you protect your rights when you do not know what they are?

Children, particularly girls, who are taught in school from an early age about their right to be protected from abuse and gender-based violence are less vulnerable to its effects. This is all the more critical in times of epidemics, as violence against women tends to increase in all types of emergencies (WHO 2020).

Learning empathy, respecting diversity and being able to recognize and challenge discrimination are key skills that young people need to avoid societies becoming even more polarized. Recent research shows that socio-emotional skills contribute to building the resilience of young people, especially in times of crisis (UNESCO MGIEP, 2019).

As crisis management turns to addressing future educational challenges, UNESCO and UNODC are working to:

Place rights at the centre of education: Help countries deliver educational programmes and resources that empower children and youth to understand and exercise their rights. Ensure those most at risk of being deprived of their rights are educated about those rights, especially girls and vulnerable groups.

Build bridges between changemakers in the education and justice sectors: Provide policy guidance for policymakers, share effective strategies and innovative practices. Help institutionalize education for justice within educational policies, curricula and school governance.

Support teachers: Equip teachers, educators and families with resources and interactive handbooks in order to teach children about their rights, the structural factors which cause inequality and empower them to become engaged citizens who build just societies for the future. 

UNESCO and UNODC are stepping up their ongoing partnership on education for justice in the context of the Global Education Coalition. The Coalition provides a platform to join forces with other multilateral actors, including international organizations and civil society and private sector partners, to ensure the current crisis does not widen learning inequalities and that the rights of children and youth are protected.