COVID-19: Rehumanizing education and lifelong learning

The current crisis need not result in a further erosion of social and economic rights and the widening of inequalities – it also represents an opportunity to appeal to global solidarity and rehumanize lifelong learning, writes Maren Elfert

© UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Educators around the world are alarmed about the consequences of the COVIID-19 crisis. A lively debate has emerged on what the world might look like in the aftermath of the crisis in relation to education and more broadly. I would like to add my voice to those who emphasize that our perspective must be bigger than COVID-19 and that we should take the crisis as an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and rethink our approach to education. As a recent article argued in relation to schools, ‘When the Covid crisis finally ends, schools must never return to normal’ (Sweeney, 2020), referring to the need to abandon harmful practices such as deprofessionalizing teachers, excessive testing and the culture of rankings. This discussion, of course, is related to how we organize our society and how we deal with the larger environmental, economic, social and political crisis of which COVID-19 is a symptom.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, there is potential in this crisis for the best of times or the worst of times. The crisis could offer us an opportunity to rethink and innovate our societies or to move further down the path of dehumanization of education in terms of ‘one size fits all teaching’ in schools and lifelong learning as a market commodity. Among the questions and issues that are raised in the current debates are: In light of the public health and ensuing economic crisis, will global inequalities in access to education widen, disrupting progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) (UNESCO/IIEP, 2020)? Distance education is being pushed by corporate interests (Williamson, 2020), but it bears the risk of further marginalizing disadvantaged students who do not have access to technology and who depend on teacher-student relationships (Srivastava, 2020; Parramore, 2020). For many students, school represents a place to socialize and often get the only meal of the day (UNICEF, 2020). Higher education institutions around the world are preparing for significant drops of international students, and quite a number of them will probably not survive. Will this lead to a reconsideration of education as a market model, or just to even more tightened competition? Some thinkers, such as the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben (2020a; 2020b), are concerned about the de-humanization of human beings as a consequence of ‘social distancing’. Arjun Appadurai, in a recent keynote panel of UNESCO’s ‘Futures of Education’ initiative, warned of the risk that education might be considered unimportant in these times of crisis (UNESCO, 2020). This might translate into cuts to education. Continue reading

Stories beyond bars: Family literacy in prisons

As we mark World Book Day, Lisa Krolak highlights the transformative potential of providing incarcerated parents with the opportunity to practice literacy skills while bonding with their children

© Storybook Dads

What better way to engage a non-reading, hard-nut prisoner who lacks parenting skills and has lost contact with his kids than getting him to read Cinderella? Sharon Berry, Storybook Dads

Many prisoners are also parents, meaning that countless children worldwide are growing up with the stigma and trauma of a parent behind bars. For children forced into isolation at home by the COVID-19 pandemic, this absence can feel even more acute. Imprisoned parents also struggle with separation, particularly as they are currently not allowed to see their families in most countries. Not being able to stay in touch with their children and families can have a very negative effect on their mental health.

Programmes are needed that provide opportunities for incarcerated parents to maintain strong family connections, enabling them to play an active role in the education, learning and development of their children. Often, such programmes offer crucial learning support to prisoners, who are more likely than the rest of society to have had limited educational experience, and to have difficulties with reading and writing. Continue reading

COVID-19: Finding solutions that work for all

Educational interventions to address the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic need to acknowledge the realities of life in the most disadvantaged communities if they are not to exacerbate existing inequalities, argues Rakhat Zholdoshalieva

©UNESCO/Iason Athanasiadis

The magnitude of the global health crisis, and the long-term impact it is likely to have on the economy, society and education, was unimaginable just a few weeks ago. Such crises spark understandable fear and anxiety, as we come to terms with the impact both on our physical and psychological health and on our economic, financial, environmental and social life in the months and years to come.

As someone who works in adult learning, with a focus on youth and adult literacy and people who experience multiple forms of discrimination and disadvantage, I observe that many of our evolving solutions, advice, lessons and reflections ignore the reality of life for many children, youth, adults, families, communities and regions around the world. In times of massive disruption, disorientation and anxiety at global level, it is more important than ever that we do not lose sight of those who historically have been out of sight and out of mind when it comes to policies and actions. Continue reading

COVID-19: From global crisis to global citizenship

Global citizenship education has an important role to play in ensuring that the world that emerges from the COVID-19 crisis is safe, fair and inclusive, argues Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

© Shutterstock

The spread of COVID-19 represents an unprecedented challenge for humanity. As well as taking a huge toll on healthcare systems around the world, it is also having a major negative impact on labour markets and economies. People get ill, many will die, but very many will also lose their jobs, and a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises will close.

The heaviest price will be paid by those who are already worst off, whose jobs are the most precarious and least well paid. While the virus does not discriminate, there is a danger that it will impact disproportionately on poorer people and poorer communities, thus exacerbating existing inequalities. Continue reading

COVID-19 and the future of lifelong learning

The COVID-19 crisis obliges us to think deeply and creatively about the future of our societies and the role of education in shaping them, writes David Atchoarena

© UNESCO

Much has been said and written already about how educational institutions are responding to the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically through online and distance learning. This is important and UNESCO is playing a critical role, with UIL making a significant contribution. Beyond the emergency response, it is equally necessary to reflect on the world that will emerge from the crisis and the role of lifelong learning in supporting social recovery and in shaping a sustainable future.

The crisis not only raises important technical and practical issues about the delivery of education, it also poses critical questions about the kind of society we want to live in, our approach to economic growth, our tolerance of economic and social inequalities, globally and within nations, and our relationship to nature. Continue reading

COVID-19: The case for prioritizing adult education

Since the start of the pandemic, crisis management in education has focused on children and young people, but adult education is just as critical in times of crisis, argues Daniel Baril

Credit: Pixaby

The COVID-19 pandemic is shaking our societies, and testing our capacity to act, to the limit. Each major sector of society must contribute, whether through caring for and supporting those infected, stopping the spread of the virus or ensuring the supply of essential goods and services to cloistered families. Much is demanded too of the education sector, especially given governments’ decision to close schools and other educational establishments.

Ministries of education have encouraged educational institutions to use online and distance education to ensure ‘continuity of learning. However, adult education has not yet caught the attention of governments. Public adult education services are conspicuous by their absence from the first wave of government decisions, and concern about continuity of learning for children and young people has not been extended to adults. Continue reading

Lifelong learning in dangerous times

As COVID-19 closes schools, colleges and universities around the world, it is critical that educational solutions, such as online and distance learning, do not widen the digital divide, argues Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

© UNESCO

The COVID-19 developments have urgent implications for educational institutions worldwide, and ask serious and urgent questions of education ministers, leaders, teachers and learners.

As closure notices go up outside schools and other places of formal and non-formal education, the challenge we face is how to ensure the continuity of learning through a period of unprecedented disruption.

We need to offer learners robust, innovative solutions relatively fast and to create opportunities for online teaching platforms to reach all, rather than only a small group of learners. Continue reading

Breaking through: Increasing women’s participation in ALE

Prioritizing women in ALE funding can be key in overcoming the barriers they face in participating in learning, argues Samah Shalaby

@UNESCO

Providing educational opportunities to girls and women is both a prerequisite and a driver of successful development. The fourth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE 4), published in December 2019, highlighted significant global progress in women‘s participation in adult learning and education, with 59 per cent of responding countries reporting improvement since 2015.

On a regional level, however, GRALE 4 data indicate significant disparities in women’s participation in ALE. In some regions, notably the Arab States and sub-Saharan Africa, a large majority of countries (82 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively) reported an increase in the participation of women in ALE. In other parts of the world, Western Europe and North America (37 per cent), for example, progress was significantly slower, albeit from a generally higher base (see Figure 1). What then are the factors driving women’s increased participation in ALE in some regions and why does it appear to be stalling in others? Continue reading

Fostering joyful learning in Espoo

Espoo, in Finland, was one of 12 cities to receive the UNESCO Learning City Award at the second International Conference on Learning Cities in Mexico in 2015. Annica Isacsson and Annika Forstén explain what makes Espoo special

© Jussi Helimäki/Espoo
Espoo cultural centre and tower in Tapiola

In 2015, UNESCO recognized the Finnish city of Espoo for the outstanding progress it had made in implementing the ‘Key Features of Learning Cities’ since the first International Conference on Learning Cities in 2013. The Key Features describe a learning city as one that effectively mobilizes, creates and reinforces individual empowerment and social cohesion, and economic and cultural prosperity, in addition to sustainable development. In fact, the United Nations has invited Espoo to become a pioneer of sustainable development by attaining the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2025, five years ahead of schedule.

Espoo aims to ensure that all citizens can fulfill their potential, succeed in the uncertain world of the future and participate in the development of their local communities. Learning, creativity and innovation are fostered from an early age. For example, in 2019, Tapiola Sinfonietta, the city’s orchestra, invited all expectant parents in the city to its regular concerts so that their children could experience the positive influence of music while still in the womb. And Espoo’s systematic approach to collaboration between artists and schools has been extended to early education centres, giving all children the opportunity to interact with professional artists and foster creative minds. Continue reading

Multilingualism: The language of sustainable development

In a world increasingly globalized, multilingualism is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Supported by mother tongue-based multilingual education, linguistic diversity brings a number of benefits to learners but also to society as a whole. Growing evidence suggests that multilingualism can effectively contribute to sustainable development and to peace, argues David Atchoarena

© UNESCO/Monkatan Suvarnatap

Since the year 2000, the world has been celebrating International Mother Language Day on 21 February. Linguistic diversity is an invaluable part of the heritage of humanity. About 7,000 languages are spoken around the world. Yet, 2,680 of them are in danger of disappearing, and many more are already gone.

In that context, offering education and learning opportunities in the mother tongue is essential to transmitting and preserving traditional knowledge and culture in a sustainable way. Children, youth and adults require learning opportunities that are relevant to their lives and needs. This also includes having access to an education in their own language. Evidence shows that such provision contributes to improving learning and developing confidence and self-esteem. Continue reading