Guyana’s tenure as Chair of the Group of 77 (G-77), the largest intergovernmental organization of developing countries in the United Nations system ended in mid-January 2021. When it assumed the chair in January 2020, over a week after St Vincent and the Grenadines became the smallest country ever to be appointed to the UN Security Council, the GOFAD blog (January 9, 2020) heralded ‘Caribbean Leadership at the UN as grasping opportunities to enhance the region’s profile and influence’. Apart from some official statements and reports in the media very little is known to truly assess Guyana’s performance and impact. A report will no doubt be disseminated nationally and regionally. It will hopefully be the basis of national and regional discussions that would provide useful observations and lessons learned. Herein lies an opportunity for fostering civic engagement and fulfilling one of the goals of functional cooperation by contributing to foreign policy coordination in the CARICOM Community.
Some Areas of Interest
At the start of the new Decade of 2020, the international arena is consumed by mandates to achieve the comprehensive targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Within this framework for action, the most prominent for both the Security Council and the G-77 are peace and security, climate change, equality and inclusiveness and financing for development. Within the G-77, Guyana as Chair would have had greater leverage than St Vincent and the Grenadines as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. This has more to do with the structure of the G-77 and the more flexible scope of its programmes than with the competence of the diplomats involved. On 13 March 2020, UN Headquarters entered into a complete lockdown due to the rapid spread of the Novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City and around the world.
COVID-19 : A Constraint or Opportunity
Like most organizations, COVID19 accelerated the UN's adaptation of telecommunication and online platforms. The issues of concern are: How much did the change in method of work effect of the UN and G-77; the nature of consultations among G-77 members; the Chairpersons in the G-77 Chapters; and the channels of communication among the Guyana Coordinating Team in New York, other locations and the capital, Georgetown?. How did the Group stay engaged and active with its main mandates through the changing working methods? The Group reaffirmed that the imposition of unilateral coercive economic measures against developing countries are impediments to economic and social development and to dialogue and understanding among countries. But was there a call for more resources to be mobilized in a timely manner to accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? .
There are reports of two meetings of the Chairpersons of the G-77 Chapters, held virtually on 15 September and 11 December 2020, with a keynote address by H.E. Mr. Hugh Todd, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Guyana, at the opening of the first meeting. He stressed the need for deepening South-South cooperation and coordination within the Group, especially due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and noted that the long-term impacts of the pandemic were yet to be fully assessed. But there has been no elaboration on the divisions in opinions that prevailed within the G-77, nor updates on the outcomes of the Chapters' engagements for 2020, except echoes of the need to harmonize their work. What therefore was done to keep the channels of communication open between the Chapters, exchange of substantive ideas, share documents and disseminate relevant statements and agreements that needed to be highlighted? There are many more questions.
Biodiversity and Climate Change
It is widely recognized that climate change and biodiversity are interrelated. The United Nations and Britain co-hosted a Global Climate Ambitious Summit, virtually, on December 12, 2020 to mark the fifth anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement. It was viewed as a preparation for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-26) in Glasgow, Scotland in November-December 2021. The stage was set for Guyana to play a prominent role in the run up to the Climate Ambitious Summit. In September, 2020, H.E. Dr. Mohammed Irfaan Ali, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, delivered two statements on behalf of the Group of 77 and China at the Biodiversity Summit and the Climate Change Forum in Commemoration of the 75th Observance of the United Nations. President Ali sent a strong and positive signal on G-77’s commitment to multilateralism and its resolve to strive for peace, justice and development. He also advocated the importance of strengthening solidarity to address the development challenges. It would however be important to learn what were the strategies developed within the G-77 process to deal with the seven (7) interrelated thematic programmes established by the Conference of the Parties (COP), all of which are at the centre the Caribbean’s priorities. They include agriculture, dry and sub human lands, forestry, inland waters, marine, costal and mountain diversities. That the University of Guyana has established a graduate programme in Biodiversity will peek the interests of that community in particular, for possible partnerships with institutions in the G-77 countries. Biodiversity and Climate action are also high on the agenda of the CARICOM Community and is also of interest to businesses, local authorities and NGOs. Taken in context it is part of the quest to strengthen South-South Cooperation. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is closely allied to Guyana's promotion of the priorities of the Alliance of Small Island States. To what extent was this high on the agenda of G-77?
Intersection of G-77 and UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
ECOSOC is at the heart of the UN system to advance three dimensions of sustainable development -- economic, social and environmental. The intersection of G-77 and ECOSOC must focus on how, following the setback imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, developing countries can get back on track with the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. What was the nature of discussions on enhancing productive capacity, diversifying the productive base?
Conclusion: Toward Social, Distributive and Reparatory Justice
Barbados Prime Minister, Hon. Mia Mottley at the Virtual Pivot Event coordinated by the IDB, October 16, 2020 aptly frames the aspirational goal for Guyana’s role at the G-77, as “time to pivot the Caribbean as a global leader.” For grasping the opportunity to "pivot the Caribbean", we complement the Government of Guyana, the Guyana Permanent Representatives to the UN, H.E. Rudolph Tempow and his successor H.E Carolyn Rodriques-Birkett, and leader of the Guyana G-77 Coordinating Team, Ambassador Neil Pierre. We look forward to engagements in which the Coordinating Team will share the lessons learned from its experience in chairing the G-77 in these challenging times. Success is defined by how effective was the attempt to create a level playing field through the rules-based multilateral UN system, and promote the full participation by all peoples in the benefits of sustainable development. In this regard, the Coordinating Team stimulated global consciousness by leading G-77 to unanimously support the draft resolution on the World Summit for Social Development and the substantive amendments to Elimination of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance, a follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. These are fundamental pillars to social, distributive and reparatory justice.
The United Nations' (UN) World Day of Social Justice is annually observed on February 20. It encourages efforts to tackle issues such as poverty eradication, exclusion, gender equality, unemployment, human rights and social protection. This year the theme is A Call for Social Justice in the Digital Economy. The blurb put out by the UN states that the proliferation of digital platforms in the past decade, has penetrated several sectors of the economy and societies, transforming the world of work. This is especially the case with the expansion in broadband connectivity and cloud computing.
Since early 2020, the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to remote working arrangements. That many business activities could retain their operations was reinforced by the growth and impact of the digital economy. At the same time, this development has exacerbated the growing digital divide within, between and across developed and developing countries. Existing inequalities have deepened particularly in terms of the availability, affordability and use of information ICTs and access to the internet. The move to online learning has accelerated education inequality in an unprecedented fashion, especially where before the pandemic it was already high.
What therefore has surfaced from these circumstances, is that the digital divide affects distributive justice in the form of inequalities in access to knowledge, the distribution of income, assets, opportunities for work and enumerated employment, and for civic and political participation. These values, as well as being essential to social justice, are at the heart of human rights.
The International Labor Organization Report (2019) provides glaring examples of global inequities in decent living and poverty that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. Global unemployment was estimated at 172 million and 25% of the world’s population in low income countries lived in poverty. More recent indications are that the situation has deteriorated further since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, with higher levels of underutilization of labour, quality of work, gender inequality and unemployment .
The core issues raised here are embraced in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #10 aimed at promoting greater equality. This goal implies that there is no explicit distinction between international justice or justice among nations, and social justice or justice among people. In other words, justice with respect to international law is linked to the sovereign equality of all Members and to the maintenance of peace and security. In this context, digital inequality is a part of the wider social justice agenda.
Social Justice and the COVID-19 Vaccine Inequalities
The unequal access to the vaccine described as “vaccine apartheid” (referred to the GOFAD Blog 05-02-2021) not only relates to the disparities in global distribution between developed and developing countries, but also to disparities among varying demographics within countries. When combined with the inequalities conditioned by the digital divide, it fully dramatizes the link between social justice and human rights.
In the USA for example, across the 34 states reporting data on vaccinations by race/ethnicity in the CDC Dash Board (February 18, 2021) there is a largely consistent pattern of Black and Hispanic people receiving smaller shares of vaccinations compared to their shares of cases and deaths and their shares of the total population.
<img src="https://www.kff.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/featuredfeb16-newstate-vaccine-race-ethnicity-1.png" alt="" data-id="0" />
A Report on “Financing rights and social justice for persons with disabilities in the era of COVID-19 and beyond” has recently been produced by The Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities (February, 2021). It illustrates how persons with disabilities that comprise 15% of the global population have been hit particularly hard by the global pandemic. Yet proposals for financing the response rarely include this demographic. The Report provides very useful considerations for ensuring that “international economic policies that tackle the crisis always contribute to the enjoyment of human rights and social justice by persons with disabilities in their diversity, especially those in the Global South” You may read the Report here.
Social Justice and Public Health
Public health promotes and protects the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work, and play. Hence beyond biological factors public health professionals are increasingly pivoting toward recognizing that Social justice is central to public health. This is because research has shown that health disparities are created by social inequities. These 'social determinants of health’ include insurance status, access to health care, reliable access to food, safe housing, transportation, education, safety, and equal protection before the law. There is no better illustration in recent times than the public health response to HIV/AIDS.
Conclusion: Viewing Social Justice with a wider Lenses
It is fitting that we identify the contribution of John Rawls to this UN celebration that focuses on Social Justice. An American scholar and military veteran, he gained his PhD from Princeton University and emerged as one of foremost moral and political philosophers. He was awarded the US National Humanitarian Medal for his ‘contribution to the academic and political space’ by President bill Clinton in 1999. Rawls developed the Theory of Justice based on a social contract rather than the principles of 'the greatest good for the greatest number' propounded by the English utilitarian philosophers Jeromy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. He saw their views as rooted in a "state of nature" that could lead to tyranny. He argued instead that Justice holds that "every individual has an equal right to basic liberties and that they should have the right to opportunities and an equal chance as individuals of similar ability. His notion of social justice is based on two principles:
John Rawls 'two principles' of Justice reminds me of Isaiah Berlin, the British/Lavatian philosopher whose brilliant lecture Two Concepts of Liberty, revolved around 'negative' and 'positive' freedom. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberty-positive-negative/. Like Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls provides fitting moral codes for guiding policies and practices of social justice in this COVID era and beyond.
Having joined the policy making arm of a tertiary institution just prior to the advent of the coronavirus pandemic has increased my awareness of the magnitude of efforts of Vice Chancellors, Faculty, Staff and Students to pivot to online provision to ensure continuity of teaching, learning, exams, administration and management. I have been attracted by the extensive range of information that provides fascinating higher educational models for the COVID-19 generation. My interest was piqued by how some of these models may yet be embedded as templates for the future of higher education. The 5 models presented are drawn from a limited number of references and therefore may not represent the very best examples of possibilities. But, at least, they ought to trigger further discussion.
Inside Higher Education (February 10) has advertised a webinar on 'Overcoming Faculty Pandemic Burnout' for February 26, 2020. It will no doubt amplify that:
A case study by the World Bank on how tertiary educational systems in Europe and Asia are responding to the COVID 19 pandemic is very instructive. It provides key recommendations of how higher educational institutions successfully pivoted to COVID 19 requirements. It noted that the transition was comparatively easy for those countries like Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany that had invested in pre-crisis digitalization in a strategic way. Those countries that had not developed such strategic approaches toward digitalization and had in addition, been decreasing investment in higher education faced significant difficulties. These difficulties apply to specific issues like student financing, quality assurance, and the status of academic staff.
Other reports and studies like those of the Carnegie Foundation for Advanced Education, identified more broad based holistic concerns for the entire education system. They imply that R&D techniques provided by higher educational institutions may provide useful ways to address public/private sector policies for the COVID19 generation and beyond with specific relevance to community, national, regional and international arenas. These include:
Some outstanding Models
Of the many models that I have come across, five were selected, of which four seem to engender approaches in what is commonly referred to as "thinking outside the box". The fifth one, however is completely "without the box ".
Model 1: An Iterative Approach: Embracing Six Principles of Scientific Improvement
Last week's Blog introduced this approach. It identified the strategies required to evaluate, course correct, document, and scale new approaches that can help power up schools over time. These involve real-time teams of practice-oriented researchers working to scale up and sustain transformative change in education systems. However, this approach draws on six principles in The Harvard Study (2015) Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better. Subsequently, the Harvard Education Review’s comprehensive summary of the study, draws the significant lesson learned i.e. we cannot improve at scale what we cannot measure. The six related principles include :
Model 2: Make Equity and Inclusion a priority during the crisis and beyond
The current coronavirus pandemic is having a profound impact not only on people's health but on how they learn, work and live. While we have dealt with this issue previously, a recent OECD study (November 2020) using data from 36 countries in Europe , North America, Latin America, The Caribbean and Africa developed a combined profile of strategies for education continuity to support at-risk students who are particularly affected by the crisis. Successful outcomes of the strategies below depend on partnerships, parental and family engagement, information on health and education and additional finances:
Model 3: Expand on multilateral approaches revolving around Global Stars
A study by Ellie Bothwell in the Times Higher Education Supplement shows the importance of International Cooperation in research focusing on artificial intelligence and how leading institutions are focusing on becoming more comprehensive than specialists. It highlights historical ways of working in computer science in Europe over the past 30 years across different cultures and languages. Also, by bringing together expertise across different areas of artificial intelligence (AI), university alliances demonstrate that notions of academic excellence are increasingly linked to interdisciplinary orientations for solving global challenges. Most prominent in interdisciplinary research projects with high societal impact are the engineering and STEM fields. In addition the technology-focused institutions, not only attract research funding more quickly than many other fields but they also tend to relate as part of the immediate needs or "low hanging fruit" to government development policies and the area where industry is mostly looking for cooperation. Hence this provides the rationale for higher educational institutions to tap sources of public/private financing for equity and inclusion priorities during the crisis and beyond.
Model 4: Peer Observation is valuable even online
Anna McKie provides interesting results from a study on a development model of peer observation of teaching (December 2019). https://www.timeshighereducation.com/career/teaching-intelligence-peer-observation-valuable-even-online. She is of the view that while standard ways of discussing and improving teaching practices that have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, there are models of swift movement to online learning. The project, based on evaluation of medical staff and students consisted of four phases: a pre-observation meeting, the observation, the post-observation debrief, a report and group feedback process. According to feedback from participants who all had initial reservations about peer observations, the process contributed greatly to their development. Staff cited valuable changes in teaching methodology and the students referred to the steep and satisfactory curve of adapting to the new mode of engagement and assessment. However, they both agree that the importance of teaching skills has not lessened, and that peer observation – in essence, watching another teacher teach online, enforced by these socially distanced times will no doubt remain a useful tool beyond the COVID-19 era.
Model 5: Discover A New Education Model That Gives You Better Advantages Than A Harvard Degree For Under $500 A Year
This model is "without the box" which makes it exceptionally fascinating. It is the idea of Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley, an award-winning education movement acclaimed to have millions of students worldwide and growing fast. Mr. Lakhiani has spent over 15 years "reimagining the human experience by exploring the science of helping humans reach their fullest potential". It offers the following:
Last week’s blog presented the context of revitalizing education to benefit the COVID-19 generation in keeping with the theme of World Education Day (January 24, 2021). This week we explore some examples of approaches to achieve the aspirations of education as a human right, a pubic good and a public responsibility. For convenience, we start with examining the approaches at the Primary and Secondary school levels and propose to follow up in a subsequent blog on how the revitalization loop may be consolidated with transformative approaches at the Tertiary levels. In so doing, we draw in particular on a series of webinars most recently from the Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institute and UNICEF, and Reports from UNESCO and the Times Educational Supplement.
Vaccine Apartheid a setback to Education for All
Last week in placing the issues of revitalizing education in context, we referred to: (a) schools as a vital link between health and education, (b) the importance ascribed by the UN to the Sustainable Development Goal #4: ensuring inclusive and equitable education for all; and (c) the 'moral imagination' for reducing the structural barriers to inequality and promoting the wellbeing of people and the planet.
A blog by Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director (see link below) places in stark relief the global ‘vaccine apartheid’ which is putting profits before lives with the most appalling life-costing consequences in many low and middle income countries. She alludes to be sickened by news that South Africa, a country whose HIV history should have conveyed the most appalling of results of allowing pharmaceutical corporations to protect their medicine monopolies is experiencing a similar cycle of discrimination. South Africa, "has had to pay more than double the price paid by the European Union for the [Oxford] AstraZeneca vaccine for far fewer doses than it actually needs". Like so many other low- and middle-income countries, South Africa is today facing a vaccine landscape of depleted supply. Ending the vaccine apartheid requires converting 'moral imagination' into a radical reversal of the course of global action. Failure to do so she pronounces will cost millions of lives and livelihood around the world. According to the estimates by UNAIDS, nine of 10 people in the poorest countries will miss out on vaccines this year with severe effects on the progress toward reducing poverty, achieving the SDG educational goals and tackling health and economic security. Her ominous warning is: “Make no mistake, the cost of vaccine inequality will not be confined to those living in the poorest countries” https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jan/29/a-global-vaccine-apartheid-is-unfolding-peoples-lives-must-come-before-profit
Hope beyond the Threat of Inequality
A UNICEF report on the status in developing countries indicates that at least a third of the world’s schoolchildren – 463 million children globally – were unable to access remote learning when COVID-19 shuttered their schools. At the height of nationwide lockdowns, data with respect to pre-primary, primary, lower and upper secondary schools from a cross section of 100 countries show that 1.5B school children were affected by school closures. This is compounded by inequities where the estimated proportion of schoolchildren unable to access remote learning range from 48-49 % in East, Southern, West, and Central Africa; 40% in Middle East and North Africa; 38% in South Asia; 34% in Eastern Europe; 20% in East Asia and the Pacific; and 9% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to the Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institution, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in at least one positive thing: a much greater appreciation for the importance of public schools. The awareness of the essential caretaking role of schools skyrocketed as parents struggle to work with their children at home due to school closures. As young people struggle to learn from home, parents’ gratitude for teachers, their skills, and their invaluable role in student well-being, has risen. And as communities struggle to take care of their vulnerable children and youth, decisionmakers are having to devise new mechanisms for delivering essential services from food to education to health care.
Resolving four (4) Major Challenges
The question, how to tackle the challenges for revitalizing schools for the COVID 19 generation, is still the subject of much discussion and investigation. Responses to four of the major identifiable challenges are attempted here.
Accelerating Education Inequality: Education inequality is accelerating in an unprecedented fashion, especially where before the pandemic it was already high. There are some emerging lessons from COVID -19 that provide a vision for revitalizing education to emerge stronger from this global crisis . According to Emiliana Vegas, Co-Director - Center for Universal Education “It is hard to imagine there will be another moment in history when the central role of education in the economic, social, and political prosperity and stability of nations is so obvious and well understood by the general population”. Now therefore is the time to chart a vision for how reducing inequalities in education can emerge stronger from this global crisis than ever before and propose a path for capitalizing on education’s newfound support in virtually every community across the globe.
A Leapfrog Moment: Innovation has suddenly moved from the margins to the center of many education systems, and there is an opportunity to identify new strategies, that if sustained, can help young people get an education that prepares them for our changing times. This involves grounding actions on rigorous evidence of what works to improve student learning as well as how orienting school work toward critical thinking, ultimately should include a heavy emphasis on the heart of the teaching and learning process, what is often called the instructional or pedagogical core.
Rising Public Support: There is new found public recognition of how essential schools are in society and a window of opportunity to leverage this support for making their eco systems stronger. Illustrations from Chile and the United Kingdom show teachers coming together to rapidly lend their expertise to develop relevant remote-learning content for students. In Chile, the network of teachers dubbed La Radio Enseña, is supported by the civil society organization Enseña Chile, and the radio lessons developed by the network went from being distributed by a handful of radio stations to over 240 only one month after schools closed. Similarly in the U.K., a group of teachers concerned about learning continuity for their students when schools were about to close at the end of May, developed an online classroom and resource hub within two weeks by which educators and parents help their children learn. By the end of July, less than 2 months after, users accessed lessons 17 million times and this initiative called Oak National Academy, has been a significant feature of the UK government’s remote learning strategy.
New Education Allies: The pandemic has galvanized new actors in the community—from parents to social welfare organizations—to support children’s learning like never before. A large-scale surveys of parents by Learning Heroes Inc. focused on the ideas of their engagement in different and more active ways in the future. Perhaps the most important insight was the overwhelming support for a community powered-up school which challenged the mindset of those in the education sector that parents and families with the least opportunities are not capable or willing to help their children learn.
In a more recent OECD-Harvard survey of educators and education administrators across 59 countries on school reopening strategies, three-quarters of the respondents stated that the reopening plans were developed collaboratively with teachers, but only 25 percent said that collaboration included parents as well. That the latter resulted in more successful outcomes judging from overall students' performances and enhanced community participation and awareness is another major lesson learned.
Parents around the world are not interested in becoming their child’s teacher, but they are willing to help children to learn. Integrating parents into the revitalization process is important, not only because of their predominant roles in children’s lives but also the new ways in which they have been willing to support children’s learning amid the pandemic. The roll out of techniques and innovations will be followed up in the discussion of the role of tertiary educational sector in this process. In the meantime, the takeaways for revitalizing education with emphasis on ensuring inclusive and equitable education and lifelong learning for all include:
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.