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Educational progress during COVID-19 requires political will and multilateral collaboration

ByMicheal Johnson

Oct 22, 2020

António Guterres shared these reflections in a video message sent to the extraordinary session of the UNESCO Global Meeting on Education 2020, which has been held in Paris for two days.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, at least a third of the world’s students have been deprived of some form of learning. School closures currently affect about 500 million students. The most marginalized group – at least 11 million girls – runs a high risk of never going back to school again ”, explained the UN head at the meeting co-sponsored by the governments of Ghana, Norway and the United Kingdom with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Guterres indicated that the statement approved during the meeting, based on your policy report dedicated to education and a White Paper presented today indicates the intention of the attendees to end “with these negative effects and avoid a generational catastrophe.”

However the General secretary clarified that making this document a reality will depend mainly on three factors: political will, innovation and efficient multilateral collaboration.

“The application of this Declaration requires reimagining education; a drastic push to train millions of teachers, especially in Africa; the urgent expansion of alliances to connect all schools, teachers and students to the Internet; and seize every opportunity to make education systems more open, flexible and creative, both in the way they teach and in the content, equipping young people with the skills they need to thrive in a complex and rapidly evolving world . “

Greater investment in education

In the declaration, which includes heads of state and government; ministers and delegates; and representatives of UN agencies, international and regional organizations, civil society and teachers, among other actors in the sector, it was agreed to maintain the commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially with the goal number 4 dedicated to quality education.

In addition, to reduce the impact of COVD-19, estimated to be up to $ 200 billion annually in low- and lower-middle-income countries if action is not taken and global cooperation in education is strengthened, it was agreed to invest immediately in inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning.

The declaration’s commitments also seek to increase or maintain the share of public spending on education towards international benchmarks of at least 4% to 6% of GDP or from 15% to 20% of public spending.

UNICEF / Chansereypich Seng

Teachers and students in a Cambodian school come to school wearing masks and keeping their physical distance from COVID-19.

Angelina Jolie: Education cannot be held hostage to the economy

The event also featured the participation of the Goodwill Ambassador of UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), American actress Angelina Jolie.

The Californian interpreter highlighted that public health is as important as children’s education for the future of countries and affirmed that these cannot be separated since “a child without education is a vulnerable child wherever he lives.”

Jolie underlined the need to involve young people in this type of debate, “and not only children from safe and stable countries, but also the most disadvantaged children”, since digital tools allow establishing “a two-way conversation between leaders, educators and youth ”, the people who best know the challenges they face.

He also pointed out the need to have adequate funding because “we cannot talk about protecting education without defending it”, and indicated that despite the economic pressures that countries suffer “trying to balance the balance sheets at the expense of education would be completely self-defeating and morally indefensibleand”.

The American actress recalled that before the COViD-19 pandemic, funding for humanitarian aid was already at minimal levels and that no one hears the warnings of “the unsustainable crisis” that causes the annual increase in the number of displaced people.

“Families are expected to survive indefinitely despite the decline in aid, with no prospect of return, without solutions and without the obligation to render accounts,” he explained.

Finally, Jolie stated that the biggest problem “is not the lack of awareness or ideas”, but “the lack of will.”

“Experts, including the International Commission on the Future of Education, have put forward proposals to deal with this crisis. We know what to do. And we know the consequences if we don’t act. The real question is whether we are willing to do what it takes. “

Spain and Colombia fully and involved with education

Among the multiple leaders attending the event, the President of the Government of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, highlighted the need to modernize the educational system to achieve an education without gender, age or territorial gaps.

“From the government of Spain, through the Recovery and Resilience Plan, we must develop digital skills for all professionals in all sectors in the next three years. And, for this, we will turn education and training into a cross-cutting policy that will involve all government ministries ”, he proposed.

For his part, the president of Colombia, Iván Duque, said that his country has faced the pandemic with creativity and innovation.

“We have expanded virtual education like never before and we have also made a great bet so that many young people in vulnerable conditions receive food and nutritional support at home, and that they can also extend sharing it with the rest of their family,” the leader.