The COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented education disruption with school closures that impacted more than 90% of the learners globally. At the height of the pandemic, schools, universities and other learning institutions were closed in more than 160 countries, affecting 1.6 billion students. The crisis has exposed the vulnerabilities and amplified social, gender, learning, and digital inequalities.
Recognizing the critical importance to reaffirm the centrality of education in the global efforts to build back better and engage Member States with the major education stakeholders on the education response to COVID-19, the Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning and UNESCO organized the virtual high-level briefing ‘Education Disrupted, Education Transformed’ on 30 June 2020.
The discussion brought together voices of Member states, senior representatives of the UN system and key education stakeholders, including UNESCO, UNICEF, Global Partnership for Education and Education International, as well as representatives of the private sector, teachers and civil society. The panel, moderated by Borhene Chakroun, UNESCO Director of Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems Division, highlighted lessons learned from COVID-19 crisis, from application of innovative alternative learning delivery models to strategies deployed to reach the most disadvantaged, as well as recommendations how to make education systems more resilient and inclusive.
On behalf of the co-chairs of the Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning, H.E. Lazarus Ombai Amayo, Ambassador and Permanent Representative Kenya to the United Nations and co-chair of the Group of Friends, stressed the importance of Member states’ commitment for ensuring the right to education to all during the pandemic and beyond. Ambassador Amayo noted that Member states are in a position to make a difference through when their national education responses are grounded on inclusion and equity, multilateral approach, solidarity and viable partnership, including with the private sector. The Group of Friends urged for strengthened financial investment in education through sustained domestic funding and international cooperation to ensure access to technologies and education during the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Furthermore, the Group encouraged the UN membership to the commitment to promote centrality of right to education and learning continuity as key for the success of COVID 19 response and recovery in various decision-making processes at the UNHQs.
On behalf of UNESCO, Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education, briefed participants on the education response to the global crisis worldwide. She emphasized that without a timely action, 17 million of children and youth are at risk of not retuning to schools next year, also making a reference to the findings of the latest Global Education Monitoring report that estimates that about 40% of poorest countries failed to support learners at risk during COVID-19 crisis. UNESCO Education chief made a strong call on Member states to support the provision of education, as crucial for the entire 2030 Agenda, and reaffirm collective commitment to ensure that no one is left behind.
Education is a foundation of sustainable development and peace. It should be at the core of the political agenda of the governments towards sustainable and inclusive recovery- Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO.
Having education as one of his key priorities, the President of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Tijani Mohammed Bande, underscored that the disruption in education caused by the pandemic did not just affect the basic literacy achievements of students, but threatened their analytical skills and critical thinking enabling them to practice intercultural dialogue and tolerance for different beliefs, cultures, and values. He urged donors to bridge the annual financing gap regarding education, and mainstream education in their response to mitigate conflict, hunger, poverty and instability, which weaken a child’s ability to learn. The President of the General Assembly encouraged countries to recommit at least 4% of GDP or at least 15% of public expenditure to education, and donors to meet the UN target of 0.7% of gross national income to foreign aid and allocate 10% of that aid to primary and secondary education.
Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General and Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group, briefed Member states on the efforts of the UN system to tackle the adverse affects of the pandemic. In particular, she commended all of the education partners for stepping up during this crisis and coming under the UNESCO-convened COVID-19 Global Education Coalition to provide better data, policies, practices and practical advice for governments. The Deputy Secretary-General outlined the need to reimagine education and ensure it is front and central in the global COVID-19 response and recovery efforts in order to accelerate action towards our 2030 goals and equip young people with 21 century skills.
Robert Jenkins, Global Chief of Education, UNICEF, stressed the emphasis on reaching the most marginalized. As schools in many countries start to re-open, he brought the attention to the Framework for reopening schools, developed by UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Bank. This framework is already used by many countries to guide discussions on reopening worldwide. Mr. Jenkins also outlined the need to improve skills and learning outcomes of all learners through improved pedagogy and support to teachers. Finally, UNICEF representative underscored the importance of a holistic approach, that takes into account socio-emotional wellbeing of children, schools’ safety and sanitation.
Alice Albright, Chief Executive Officer, Global Partnership for Education, focused her intervention on the important aspect of mobilizing the support for the continuity of learning for all children and youth, especially those in the most vulnerable settings. She urged Member states and partners to keep education at the top of the agenda in terms of financing, by investing in education, partnerships, bridging the digital divide and integrating innovative financial instruments.
Bringing the perspective of teachers and educators, Haldis Margrete Holst, Deputy General Secretary, Education International, requested that teaching professionals are invited on the table with the policy- and decision-makers in shaping the education response. She underlined the importance of trusting and supporting education professionals on the ground with needed tools and technology, while stressing that the later is a tool but not a replacement for teachers.
Participants also heard a briefing from Salman Khan, Founder of Khan Academy, one of the world’s leaders in distance learning and one of the major partners in the Global Education Coalition. Stressing the importance of teachers, he revealed the potential of the innovative technological solutions to be at service of teachers, partners and students. Moving forward, he stated that it is crucial to make education and lifelong learning as interactive and human as possible.
Brining the perspective of private sector, Thierry Coilhac, Director of e-Education, Groupe Orange, shared how the company was supporting developing countries by providing low cost solutions for continued learning. More than 1000 schools in 50 countries have been provided with tablets, projectors and servers.
Following the panellists’ interventions, Member states, engaged in an interactive discussion with the speakers. Participants shared key lessons learned from the crisis, national experiences in applying new and alternative learning delivery models, and highlighted the essential role of partnerships to develop inclusive solutions. Key agreement remained that financing education should be part of recovery measure from the COVID-19 pandemic, given that education is a global public good and development imperative.
The Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning, co-chaired by the Permanent Missions of Argentina, the Czech Republic, Japan, Kenya and Norway, provides an informal platform for the Member states’ delegations and major education partners to deliver on agreed messages on education, in particular those on the transformative power of education within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.