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.