Three years ago, The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 24 January as International Day of Education, in celebration of the role of education for peace and development. This year's theme, Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation is a stark reminder that education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility. This week, GOFAD explores the context of this theme and plans a subsequent focus on actual examples toward achieving its aspirations.
An Evolving COVID-19 Generation
Functioning during the current pandemic has taught us that Education for the COVID 19 generation is not only linked to formal institutions and general sources like books but also that in times of crises, education must not be paused. Hence, through online engagements and devices like mobiles and computers, there was little risk of getting contaminated with the virus. It demonstrated that through innovative applications, education provides hope of what works to stimulate the mind. Children suffered from the lack of 'community' stimulation in the formal school system but online education provided alternative ways to meet their demands. Education was sustained in the form of new modes of working and new avenues for exploring historical, artistic and cultural geo-spaces that brought people out of depression and anxiety.
Yet the experience of adopting to educational requirements during a pandemic has illustrated that without inclusive and equitable opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that are leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind. UNESCO's Global Education Monitoring Report 2020 shows that 258 million children and youth still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school. Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable.
Value of Schools and links between Health and Education
The purpose of the 2021 theme is to strengthen and welcome the revival of education whose normal modes were frozen with the wave of coronavirus starting from china and encapsulating the whole world. The pandemic gave new meaning to globalization. Now, a ray of hope has appeared with the discovery of vaccines inspired by global efforts of the scientific community . The looming impediment to a hopeful reality is whether or not the global governance of vaccines would permit equitable access and equal opportunities for the Covid-19 generation in the North and South to start going to school, college and universities.
A recent article in the Lancet Journal, "Supporting every school to become a foundation for healthy lives" (January 21, 2020) warns of the consequences of these inequities and shows in particular, the intrinsic link between education and health. Schools are identified as a setting where children and adolescents live and learn, linked to the family and embedded within the wider community. They have an important influence on every student's health. Many health interventions have used schools as a platform, often for standalone programmatic initiatives to reduce health risks, and sometimes for more comprehensive approaches. The authors provide evidence to show that the interventions, uptake, and sustainability of these approaches are generally disappointing. They argue that to improve health and to reduce inequality, all students must attend school from a young age and for as long as possible, and their educational success therein must be maximized. Thus, beyond educational benefits, schools are also important for health. Coherence between each school's policies, structures and systems, human resources, and practices is required to advance both academic and health outcomes. "Beyond simply implementing ready-made programmes into schools, health professionals can position themselves as catalysts for structural change as they have many opportunities to advocate for, and participate in, the intersectoral implementation of reforms and innovations in school systems to promote the health of all students".
In support of this view, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres aptly proclaims that education is a basic need of every person. Its importance is described in the SDG #4 ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. Through this aspirational goal the UN General Assembly promotes a message of global vigilance to every corner of the world. It sounds the clarion call for the betterment and welfare that education keeps inside itself: " an educated individual, a civilized individual and hence a civilized society, blessed with opportunities and optimism"
COVID-19 and the Moral Imagination
Once again it is the Lancet January 22, 2021, and reference to the moral imagination that has placed the issue squarely on the agenda, It refers to a "cosmopolitan moment", when the existing order is destabilized to open up a new arena of moral and political responsibility.
In this cosmopolitan moment, the global community could come together
to create new institutions or mechanisms to address the structural causes
of global inequity and promote the wellbeing of people and the planet.
The argument is that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the dysfunctional system of global governance that exacerbate barriers and bottlenecks to achieving global reforms such as SDGs and the Paris Agreement. Why?: because they conflict with powerful global actors pursuing their own economic goals, national security, and sovereignty. Yet there is a possible recovery path through international cooperation and multilateralism which GOFAD previously addressed pointing to need for innovative approaches to debt relief , expanding funding for development assistance, and investments in technological solutions and emergency preparedness and response.
How to drive our moral imagination for the COVID -19 generation must preoccupy educators, health practitioners and policy makers. It must also draw on the perspectives of what Lancet refers to as 'Influential idea-generators', multilateral agencies, advocacy coalitions, and philanthropists. The aim is to achieve viable pathways to recovery for a healthier and more equal future for people and the planet while revitalizing education for the COVID 19 generation.
Prof Didier Jourdan, PhD Nicola J Gray, PhD Prof Margaret M Barry, PhD Sonja Caffe, PhD Christophe Cornu, MA Fatou Diagne, "Supporting every school to become a foundation for healthy lives" The Lancet: January 21, 2021
Mahomed Said Patel, Christine Beatrice Phillips "COVID 19 and the Moral Imagination" The Lancet, January 22, 2021
Garfield Barnwell, " As the UN Celebrates its 75th Anniversary Multilateralism at the Cross Roads" GOFAD Blog September 7, 2020
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.