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Pandemic disruption to learning is an opportunity to reimagine, revitalize education

January 24, 2021


A teacher and her students practice COVID-19 school re-opening guidelines by wearing face masks and maintaining physical distance at a primary school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. — courtesy UNICEF/Seng
A teacher and her students practice COVID-19 school re-opening guidelines by wearing face masks and maintaining physical distance at a primary school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. — courtesy UNICEF/Seng

NEW YORK — To mark the third International Day of Education on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres paid tribute to the resilience of students, teachers and families in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic that, at its peak, forced almost every school, institute and university to close its doors.

“When education is interrupted, it affects everyone,” he said, and “all of us pay the price,” stressing that education is the foundation for expanding opportunities, transforming economies, fighting intolerance, protecting our planet and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Although this disruption has led to learning innovations, he said, it has also dashed hopes of a brighter future among vulnerable populations.

Avert generational catastrophe

With that in mind, the UN chief said that as the world continues to battle the pandemic, education — as a fundamental right and a global public good – must be protected to avert a generational catastrophe.

Even before the pandemic, some 258 million children and adolescents were out of school, the majority of them girls. Indeed, more than half of 10-year-olds in low and middle-income countries were not learning to read a simple text.

“In 2021, we must seize all opportunities to turn this situation around. We must ensure the full replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education fund, and strengthen global education cooperation,” the secretary-general explained.

“We must also step up our efforts to reimagine education — training teachers, bridging the digital divide and rethinking curricula to equip learners with the skills and knowledge to flourish in our rapidly changing world”, he said, adding: “Let us commit to promote education for all — today and every day.”

Struggling at home

Volkan Bozkir, the president of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, commended all teachers, who have adapted their classrooms and undertaken remote lessons in order to ensure continuity in education. He also applauded parents, who have done their utmost to facilitate learning at home.

“Above all, I am thinking of all students around the world who are struggling to learn at home, perhaps missing their friends, feeling frustrated or despondent about the future. Do not despair. You will get through this difficult period and you will pursue your dreams,” the Assembly president said in a video message.

He said that it is up to UN member states to ensure this becomes a reality.

“We need to take urgent action in this Decade of Action and Delivery to invest in our education systems, including improving access to technology so that we can recover from this tumultuous period,” Assembly President Bozkir said.

He explained that if the UN and wider international community are to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, “we need to build resilient, inclusive education systems that allow all students to return to school.”

“To do so, we must meet the needs of those at risk of being left behind. Including children with disabilities and those living in conflict-affected areas, as well as the 11 million girls who are at risk of not re-entering the classroom.”

‘Recover and Revitalize Education’

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will co-host an event on Monday, Jan. 25, planned around three main segments: learning heroes, innovations, and financing.

The agency says that as a new year begins, now is the time to step up collaboration and international solidarity to place education and lifelong learning at the center of the recovery and the transformation towards more inclusive, safe and sustainable societies.

In a concept note on the event, UNESCO says it is the time to invest in better gearing education systems everywhere to the reality of interdependence that the pandemic has made necessary, and to making education a vehicle to foster social justice, peace, respect for diversity, human rights and democratic values. — UN News


January 24, 2021
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