COVID-19: Act now to prevent a lost generation of learners

Jamal Bin Huwaireb reflects on the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to lifelong learning in the Arab region

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The Arab region, in common with many other parts of the world, faces significant challenges in achieving lifelong learning, notably high levels of illiteracy and education systems damaged by poverty and conflict. The toppling of governments during the ‘Arab Spring’ and conflict between and within countries have destroyed education systems in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, while seriously damaging opportunities for learning in other Arab countries. The COVID-19 pandemic is now undermining the economic activity on which individuals, families and communities depend. While people are struggling to earn, they cannot use their resources to learn. And, without learning, they are condemned to a life focused on subsistence only, with young people increasingly exposed to the temptations of criminal behaviour and terrorism.

Communities and governments seek to provide social support in the form of health and education, as well as routes to gainful employment or entrepreneurship for youths and young adults. Even in wealthy countries, there are challenges in providing sufficient resources for health, education and employment. The pandemic is placing yet more strain on budgets and institutions, and creating additional challenges and demands. Continue reading

COVID-19: Building a sustainable and just future for all

While the long-term impact of COVID-19 on education will be dramatic, the future will be much more precarious if we do not focus on building systems for lifelong learning that safeguard quality and inclusiveness, writes Per Magnusson

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The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed an unprecedented global crisis affecting societies and communities in a multitude of ways for which few of us were prepared.

Closing schools has been part of the strategy to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus in almost all countries around the world. With a peak of 1.5 billion children out of school in April, the number is still estimated to be around 1.2 billion, or 70 per cent of total enrolled learners (13 May). Even if many countries have simultaneously introduced programmes to allow for continuity of learning and distance learning, in varying levels of digitalisation, we can be certain this will not compensate for the learning lost when schools and education institutions are up and running in ‘normal’ times.

The school closures will undoubtedly have long-term effects for both individuals and societies. We also know that school closures will have an even more intense impact for girls, especially from the poorest and most vulnerable groups because they are the ones most exposed to domestic violence and sexual harassment, including pregnancies and early marriages. Continue reading

COVID-19: Working together to get everyone learning

Sarah Anyang Agbor reflects on the challenges posed by COVID-19 in Africa and asks how lifelong learning can help the continent respond

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Lifelong learning has an essential part to play in shaping the future of our societies. This ambition is reflected in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 vision of ‘an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by competent citizens able to play in the global arena’. One of the aspirations of Agenda 2063 is to catalyze an education and skills revolution and actively promote science, technology, research and innovation, with the ultimate aim of building knowledge, human resources, capabilities and skills for Africa’s future. By making universal, lifelong access to quality education a reality, it aims to drive Africa’s economic and technological transformation.

The spread of COVID-19 across Africa has prompted countries to introduce mitigation measures such as border closures and social distancing. These interventions are having a negative impact on already-weak health and education systems, not to mention supply chains, markets and food systems. The lockdown has also affected day-to-day social life in African, particularly in rural areas where means of online communication is limited. Continue reading

COVID-19: The future of open online learning

The COVID-19 crisis has made online distance learning the new norm for many. It has also prompted stakeholders to be more creative and agile, in ways that could make open and online learning better and more inclusive, writes Jonghwi Park

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COVID-19 has been with us for a little over four months now. Its impact on the world in that time has been remarkable and unprecedented – a third of the world’s population have been living under lockdown, as many as 91 per cent of school students have faced schools closures in April, and 195 million people are projected to lose their jobs.   

Few areas of human life are untouched by the crisis. From techniques to prevent back pain when working from home to the challenges of home schooling, the demand for new knowledge has created an urgent need for learning, unlearning and relearning to deal with new normalcies. For those at risk of losing their jobs, reskilling or upskilling is not a choice but a necessity. Many of us face a steep learning curve in adapting to these new circumstances. This new learning, while undoubtedly challenging, is, however, critical if we are to emerge from this crisis into a better future. Continue reading

COVID-19: ‘Every crisis is an opportunity’

As the world marks the defeat of Nazism and the end of the Second World War, Paul Stanistreet asks what lessons we can learn in our current crisis from the mass programmes of social reconstruction that followed the war

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The end of the Second World War was marked around Europe by national programmes of social and economic reconstruction, as nation states sought both to rebuild and to address long-standing inequalities.

In France, the De Gaulle government put in place a massive programme of nationalization and social reform, granting women the right to vote and laying the foundations of the modern French welfare state. In the UK, fees for state secondary education were scrapped (through the 1944 Education Act) and a progressive Labour government was elected with ambitious plans to transform social security, including universal free healthcare for all (the National Health Service). Moreover, in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), following the period of occupation, a programme of economic reconstruction ensued, followed by the creation of the German ‘social state’.

The solidarity and sense of shared responsibility and sacrifice engendered in the war appears to have spurred the people who survived these cataclysmic events to reject the way things had been done before and to demand a world that was better – not just for a few but for everyone. There was a desire to recognize sacrifice by humanizing social policy, including in education, and extending people’s rights. Furthermore, there was a new appreciation of the power of the state to act for the common good. What is remarkable about this is that it was achieved at a moment when most of the countries of Europe were in economic disarray, poverty was rife and food rationing common, and governments were loaded with huge amounts of debt. Continue reading

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

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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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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