Covid-19 crisis amplifying education iniquity, WISE event warned

Hosted by the World Innovation Summit for Education and the Qatar Foundation, the three-day “Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined, Part II” conference saw calls for more effective education funding strategies to minimise the widening social inequalities made worse by the pandemic.

UN special envoy for Global Education and former UK prime minister Gordon Brown stated financing education has to “be taken seriously”.

“Inclusion has to be central to the future of education”

“We now have not just a health emergency, we also have to recognise we have an education emergency that will mainly affect, and affect in a long lasting way unless we do something about it, the life chances of millions and millions of young people around the world,” he said.

According to the Global Education Monitoring Report, 40% of poorer countries were not targeting at-risk learners in their response to the pandemic.

The understanding of the importance of inclusive education needs to be widened, and funding should be focused on “those left behind”, said GEM Report director, Manos Antoninis when he presented the findings of the 2020 iteration.

“In a world increasingly faced with uncertainty and precariousness, inclusion has to be central to the future of education,” Antoninis suggested.

While around $180 is spent a year on education for a sub-Saharan child, in many Western countries this can be $5,000-$7,000, Brown continued.

Similarly, 70-80% of students in countries such as Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore pursue a form of a higher education, in an African country it is less than 5%, he said.

Citing the previous Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Brown warned that child marriage, child labour and child trafficking may increase as a result of the pandemic.

Children who missed three and a half months of education in Pakistan following the 2005 earthquake lost 1.5 years of education due to a lack of catch up facilities, he added.

While some 500 million children may have access to the internet, the special envoy explained many cannot benefit from online learning.

Speaking in another of the event’s 30+ sessions, co-founder & managing director of HolonIQ, Maria Spies noted there was no slowdown of investment in education.

Presenting findings from a HolonIQ survey, Spies said that technology has an opportunity to “play a greater role going forward in education”.

“We have seen the power of technology in this crisis,” Brown added. “But sadly that technology has been available to only some of the children of our community.”

Effective ‘High Touch High Tech’ personalised learning is something that should be extended to all, he added, “particularly to those who have been left behind who need to catch up, who need the one to one personal experience”.

The anticipated global recession due to the Covid-19 pandemic meaning education budgets lose up to $150bn is a “recipe for disaster in education”, he noted.

“As well as persuading countries that they cannot build for a long-term future without investing in education, we have to remind them that education unlocks opportunities for employment,” Brown said.

“We must persuade them that not cutting education budgets is not just in the interests of education, it is in the interests of quality of life.

Financing education has to be taken seriously, Brown continued, “because we cannot send teachers into classrooms without the resources they need, and children into schools without the necessary backing”.

“A human tragedy is unfolding if we do nothing and leave education completely underfunded, lacking the resources to enable children to flourish in the future,” he added.

A host of famous profiles have also joined the calls to make education more inclusive. These include Shakira, Pele, Hilary Clinton and Jean-Paul Gaultier.


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