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

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

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

Make the right to education a reality for all

As we mark International Day of Education, David Atchoarena urges countries to redouble their efforts to ensure no one’s right to education is denied

Today is International Day of Education, a moment not only to celebrate education’s powerful contribution to sustainable human prosperity, progress and peace, but also to assert its wider value – as a human right and as an important public good.

It is an opportune time to consider both what we have achieved in realizing the right to education and how far we have to go to ensure this right is realized for every woman, man and child, wherever they live in the world, whatever their background or personal circumstances.

The global challenges we face are enormous. Some 258 million children and youth still do not attend school, four million children and youth refugees are out of school, and 773 million adults around the world cannot read or write, most of them women. In too many cases, disadvantaged and marginalized groups remain excluded from participation in adult learning and education, as the new UNESCO Global Report on Adult Learning and Education points out. Their right to education is being denied. This is unacceptable. Continue reading

It’s time we lived up to our commitments on adult education

The fourth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education represents a wake-up call to countries to do more to advance participation in adult education – we need to heed it, says David Atchoarena

Published by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), the new Global Report on Adult Learning and Education GRALE 4 – is a landmark publication in the field of adult learning and education (ALE) for the international education policy community.

The report charts UNESCO Member States’ progress against the commitments made at the sixth International Conference on Adult Education in 2009 and codified in the Belém Framework for Action, with a special emphasis, in this report, on participation in ALE. The story it tells is in some ways a positive one – more than half of responding countries reported an increase in overall participation between 2015 and 2018 – but the overwhelming message is that participation is still far too low, and that progress, overall, is insufficient, particularly among disadvantaged groups. Investment too is far from where it needs to be, with one in five countries reporting spending less than 0.5% of their education budgets on ALE and a further 14% spending less than 1%. Continue reading

Leave no one behind: Fighting poverty through lifelong learning

Konstantinos Pagratis reflects on how education can support the global struggle to end poverty

© UNESCO/Iason Athanasiadis

Last week, the world marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 – to end poverty in all its forms everywhere – and to highlight the complex, multidimensional nature of the challenges we face in achieving it.

Education is not a silver bullet when it comes to ending poverty, but it has a crucial role to play, both in securing SDG 1 and in fulfilling the commitment made by Member States in signing up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: to leave no one behind.

UNESCO believes that the fight against poverty demands the strengthening of individuals’ capacities through education, which represents a source not only of employment but also of pride, dignity and agency. As Audrey Azoulay, the Director General of UNESCO, observes, ‘for each year a girl spends in the classroom, her future income will increase by 10 to 20 per cent’. Continue reading

A family affair: Recognizing the potential of intergenerational learning

Adult participants in a family and intergenerational literacy and learning course in the Gambia @UIL

Qiongzhuoma Heimbel explains how family and intergenerational literacy and learning programmes can improve literacy rates around the world

Despite a rise in literacy rates in the last quarter of a century, more than 781 million adults around the world still lack basic reading and writing skills. Low levels of literacy prevent people from securing decent work and improving their lives. The 2014 United Nations General Assembly resolution, Literacy for life: Shaping future agendas, reaffirmed literacy as ‘a foundation for lifelong learning, a building block for achieving human rights and fundamental freedoms, and a driver of sustainable development’. In response, Member States began promoting more basic adult literacy programmes, especially for disadvantaged groups.

Quite often, the motivation for the adult learners who take part in these programmes is to improve their literacy skills in order to support their children’s learning. These adults, many of whom have never been to school or dropped out, understand that literacy can lead to a better life for their children. However, despite a desire to see their children progress at school, many parents who see themselves as ‘uneducated’ or ‘illiterate’ are reluctant to take part in learning programmes. Continue reading

Linguistic diversity should not be a cause for exclusion

cropped-30029182-copieRespect for linguistic diversity is a precondition of authentic dialogue and cooperation, writes David Atchoarena on International Mother Language Day

First published, 21 February 2018

It is sobering to reflect that some 40 per cent of the global population do not have access to education in a language they can speak or understand. Many millions of children are taught in a language they do not speak at home, while, for equally huge numbers of adults, the unavailability of learning programmes in their mother tongue remains an insurmountable barrier to furthering their education.

This is why International Mother Language Day, observed worldwide each year on 21 February, is so important. Everyone has a right to speak and learn in their mother language and that right should be reflected in national education systems around the world. Continue reading

We need to talk

Confintea - Kabir Speech (2)

Kabir Shaikh on the power of conversation in a fragmented world

First published, 29 January 2018

It has been a joy and an honour for me to serve as interim director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) over the past five months. I leave with a strong impression of the wide significance of UIL’s work, and of lifelong learning more generally, and a powerful sense of an organization with a brilliant future, staffed by talented, enterprising people and guided by a committed and far-sighted board of governors.

I have two main observations from my time at UIL. First, lifelong learning has a hugely important role to play across a range of platforms and in the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, yet understanding of this contribution is often low among policymakers, despite its growing prevalence in education discourse. And while there are many local and national politicians who get it, there are many, many more who do not. Continue reading