COVID-19: A wake-up call to invest in literacy

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the least advantaged the hardest and highlights the harsh reality of educational inequality. As we look to rebuild, we must ensure that the global literacy challenge is finally and decisively met, writes Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, UNESCO Special Envoy on Literacy for Development.

© Princess Laurentien

COVID-19 has disrupted education worldwide in an unprecedented way. Millions of students have not been able to continue learning in schools, universities, vocational training institutions and adult learning programmes. Many governments responded to the pressing need to provide school children with learning possibilities via online and distance learning. Virtual lessons were adopted, home learning materials distributed and education provided through TV and radio or in open air spaces. These efforts were essential and undeniably very challenging for many governments, teachers and students alike as it demanded a reshuffling not only of delivery mechanisms but also of roles and responsibilities.

The crisis also shows us, with a frightening clarity, what consequences a lack of basic literacy skills can have. Some 773 million youth and adults globally lack basic levels of literacy and numeracy, two-thirds of them female. Most of these youth and adults face multiple disadvantages. They are often unable to acquire decent jobs, suffer from hunger and bad health, cannot make informed choices, and are excluded from social interaction and full participation in society. 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

Making the global goals our own

Global citizenship education should be central to efforts to encourage people to take ownership of the Sustainable Development Goals and make the next 10 years a true ‘Decade of Action’, writes Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

© UNESCO

The start of the last decade of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides an important moment for reflection on what we have achieved to date and how far we have still to go in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, took the opportunity to call for a ‘Decade of Action’ to accelerate sustainable solutions to ‘the world’s biggest challenges, ranging from poverty and gender to climate change, inequality and closing the finance gap’. He emphasized action on three levels: global, securing greater leadership and resources for the SDGs; local, embedding solutions in policies, budgets and regulatory frameworks; and people, in order to generate an ‘unstoppable movement’ for transformation.

Progress has been made on many fronts since the SDGs were launched in 2015, with governments integrating them into national strategies, and civil society and young people, in particular, increasingly involved in lobbying for change. The opportunities are enormous, but there remain some substantial challenges. Among these are social and economic exclusion, poverty, violence, radical extremism, cybercrime and fake news, pollution and climate change. Responding to these challenges demands individuals who are tolerant and able to live cooperatively with others, who judge critically, who are ethical users and producers of digital information, and who are actively involved in finding solutions to these problems, both locally and globally. This is why the importance of global citizenship education (GCED) is increasingly recognized. It represents a means for individuals to learn to be active in a culture of human rights, justice, democratic values and sustainability. Continue reading

Transforming education

As we mark International Youth Day, David Atchoarena reflects on the challenge of ‘transforming education’ for young people and on how we can gear their leaning not only to employment but also to sustainable development

© UNESCO

‘Transforming education’ is the theme of International Youth Day 2019, celebrated on 15 July. The focus is on making education more inclusive and accessible for all youth, in particular young women and young people from disadvantaged groups. Taking place within the framework of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, the theme chosen for this year’s International Youth Day goes beyond the usual meaning of education to embrace a vision of learning throughout life, so that youth can fully take part in a lifelong journey for sustainable development.

Although there are variations between countries and between different categories of young people, work continues to constitute an important dimension in the way in which young people see their future. However, beyond their individual situation, young people also increasingly express a concern for the future of the planet. This is reflected in their attitude and participation in society, as citizens and as workers. The meaning of work and its contribution to a sustainable path are important considerations in the way in which youth see employment. Hence, the debate about youth skills is not only about skills for work and life, it is about skills for sustainability and social participation. Continue reading

Making hope possible: Democracy, sustainability and lifelong learning

Lifelong learning has a key role to play not only in achieving SDG 4 on education but also in creating a climate in which progressive change is possible, writes Paul Stanistreet

© UIL

Last week, the Comparative International Education Society (CIES) convened in San Francisco for its annual conference, which this year focused on ‘Education for Sustainability’.

Jeffrey Sachs, the economist, UN adviser and sustainability advocate, gave the keynote lecture. He demanded urgent action to address the challenges of sustainability and specifically to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development targets for education. Without a major change of pace or direction, he warned, the targets for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 would not be met.

Sachs is right to urge educators to ‘raise their voices’ and’ fight harder for resources’. However, the contribution of education to the sustainable development agenda will not be realized simply by raising more taxes from the very wealthy or by demanding or securing more funding for schools, important though this is. We need to think too about the role of education in shifting the cultural and intellectual climate to a place where political will can be moved and meaningful change in the face of powerful, entrenched interests is possible. Continue reading

Realizing the potential of lifelong learning

Lifelong learning has a major contribution to make to helping countries such as Greece rise to the development challenges they face. But, far too often, it is overlooked, writes Christiana Nikolitsa-Winter

A Syrian man and his daughter at a refugee camp in Idomeni in northern Greece.
© Giannis Papanikos/Shutterstock

In Greece, my native country, high unemployment and the ongoing financial crisis are combining with mass population movements of migrants and refugees to create huge development challenges for the country. Greece is also undergoing major demographic changes, with its ageing population reducing the number of young people entering the labour market and obliging those already in the workforce to work for longer and move between jobs more often.

These facts point to an urgent need for a much stronger investment in lifelong learning, and particularly in adult education. By supporting adult education and adopting lifelong learning as the key educational paradigm for inclusive and sustainable learning societies, nation states can build populations that are resilient, adaptable, creative and highly skilled. Yet, in far too many cases, lifelong learning and adult education continue to be neglected.

A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Getting skills right: Future-ready adult learning systems, shows that Greece’s adult learning system performs poorly across several dimensions of the Priorities of Adult Learning (PAL) dashboard. The PAL dashboard indicates that my country has the weakest overall performance in terms of coverage of job-related adult learning. In addition, according to Eurostat, only a few adults re-skill through adult education courses in Greece. In 2017, less than 5 per cent of 25 to 64 years olds participated in such courses. Where these courses are offered, often they are often under-resourced and ill-equipped to address the challenges faced by these students. Continue reading

Making the most of lifelong learning

Malak Zaalouk, Chair of UIL’s Governing Board, explains why lifelong learning is at the heart of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – and why it should be central to the plans and policies of nation states

© Asian Development Bank

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 puts lifelong learning at the heart of the global education policy-making agenda by enjoining Member States to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

This is already important recognition. However, we have yet to fully realize the potential contribution of lifelong learning either to SDG 4 or to the wider 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This demands the development of inter-sectoral solutions to challenges such as social exclusion, poverty, climate change, mass migration and technological transformation.. Continue reading

Lifelong learning and the Sustainable Development Goals

UIL Director David Atchoarena on the challenge of raising the profile of lifelong learning and realizing its potential contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Earlier this month I attended the Global Education Meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to join with colleagues from across the world in reviewing progress towards the commitments on education made in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Brussels Declaration, the outcome document of the meeting, acknowledged the ‘fundamental role’ of lifelong learning as a key driver of sustainable development and reinforced the commitment of Member States to the eradication of illiteracy through formal and non-formal education and training. Continue reading