Get children back to school, but business as usual is no option

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Get children back to school, but business as usual is no option

“A child, a teacher, a book, and a pen can change the world.” Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s words couldn’t be more true. Ensuring that boys and girls all over the world receive high-quality education is how we will build a better, more sustainable, more equal and more peaceful world.

The closure of global schools in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented destruction of children’s education, with more than 1 billion students being affected to some degree.

Those who return to school face new challenges: face masks, social distancing, inability to use hand washing facilities and parents fearing another outbreak. Most importantly, as the digital divide deepens, most people have missed the opportunity to study at home in the past few months. As a result, they will fall behind, which makes the prospects for them and their teachers back to school even more difficult.

However, in many ways, they are still lucky. The new challenges they face are overshadowed by the long-term catastrophic impact of disappearance on education, especially in the most vulnerable countries and countries that have been affected by conflicts or crises. Today, about six out of ten school children in the world have not yet returned to the classroom.

We know from previous crises that when education is interrupted, the poorest and most vulnerable children may never return to school, exposing them to terrible risks. They may be forced to engage in child labor, be trafficked or be sexually exploited. Due to the interruption of basic health care, nutrition, immunization and child protection services, they are more vulnerable to malnutrition, disease, mental health problems, and abuse. Girls have an increased risk of early marriage and pregnancy.

In these most difficult situations, can we still win the battle to educate our children? The answer is yes, yes. But, for this, like model students, we will need to work harder to get the desired results.

The European Union’s cooperation with its member states (the European team) proves the power of working together to achieve better results. Given our proven track record of achieving results from partnerships, the EU and UNICEF can work together to make a lasting impact on global education outcomes.

We can take concrete steps to protect the future of our children. Take steps on the basis of existing work and move in a new and innovative direction. This means investing now so that the most disadvantaged children can be re-educated. This means ensuring that their school is safe and their teachers can respond to their needs. This means reshaping the education system to equip children with 21st century skills and prepare them for the new world they face.

Recently, we have seen remarkable changes. Many governments provide education through online, TV, radio and mobile phones. For example, in Somalia, offline recorded lessons are uploaded to solar-powered tablets and provided to children. In Kyrgyzstan, children can access distance learning for free through an online platform, three national TV channels and two mobile web applications. In Vietnam, certain exams and modules have been removed from the curriculum, while other exams and modules have been postponed to the next academic year, so that students can make up for missed learning opportunities throughout the next year and reduce academic pressure and psychosocial pressure.

Therefore, the green shoots of recovery are there. It’s time to train them. Now is the time to reimagine the education system, embrace technology, remove barriers for the poorest people, and provide all children with equal opportunities in a modern education system. This includes innovative methods of mentoring and internships to achieve a bridge from education to the labor market. Children must have 21st century skills, such as digital skills and entrepreneurial training.

The European team is ready to play its part. This reflects our belief that education is the top priority of the Covid-19 recovery plan. Education is the key to society’s progress in priority areas of the EU, including employment and growth, technological progress, equality, and a green economy.

Over the past 20 years or so, thanks to the huge investment in our partner countries, the tremendous progress of our partner countries shows how education can provide a way to escape poverty and crisis, to prosperity and good governance, to empower women, and to improve health and nutrition outcomes.

Education is essential to human development. It is the basis for all EU investments in international cooperation, which will be strengthened in our development financing in the next period.

Indeed, with the outbreak of the global economic crisis, education budgets must be protected from cuts. Education must be seen as part of the Covid-19 recovery plan: more investment must be used to strengthen the education system, not to transfer funds from education. Better reconstruction applies not only to education but also to any other aspect.

The scale of this crisis requires a coordinated global response. The EU and UNICEF intend to be at the forefront of this response. The education community must jointly develop a global action plan to pave the way for fair and quality education for all.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand out from this once-in-a-lifetime crisis and solve inequality through a more sustainable social system.

Embarking on this difficult task means that you can’t do business as usual. If we learn the right curriculum now, we can really rebuild our children and their children better.

 

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Last Updated on 10/26/2020

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