Global education in the “worst crisis of the century” following the pandemic

School closures during the pandemic – with those in some areas closed for up to two years – have exacerbated poverty in learning, mental health, as well as young people losing out on school meals.

“Learning poverty in the years before the pandemic was stable, but now we see an increase by 2022,” said Jaime Saavedra, global director of education at the world Banksaid in front of an audience of ministers, government officials and other education stakeholders.

“It should be zero by 2030. We need to accelerate a downward trend that we don’t see today.”

Before the pandemic, the World Bank calculated that in low- and middle-income countries, by age 10, 53% of children lacked the basic reading skills to understand a simple story. That may now have reached 70%, Saavedra warned.

“Schools should have been the last to close”

“Imagine if distance learning would have worked like a charm… maybe kids could go to school once a week. But that’s not the conclusion,” he added.

It is a man-made crisis, Saavedra continued. The decision to close schools was a political mistake, he said, adding that over time it was clear the benefit of school closures was “small”.

“Schools should have been the last to close,” acknowledged HE Hamad bin Mohamed Al Sheikh, Minister of Education of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“A lot of countries have done it. This should have been specific to schools [and classrooms] if there are any cases,” he said, noting that the country was not an “exception to the disruptions.”

“No other group has been impacted by public policies [as children]», Andreas Schleicher Director of Education and Skills at the OECD says school closures.

However, the pandemic is also seen by the Kingdom as an opportunity to implement education reform, he added. The key to success is ensuring young people are prepared for the jobs of the future, Al Sheikh said.

“Some of the changes we made would have taken more than 10 years, but it was done in two years,” he said of distance learning and digitizing education.

Peter Phillips, Managing Director of Cambridge University Press and Evaluationhighlighted the impact on mental health and the situation in Ukraine.

“We feel a constant sense of urgency [as a result of multiple crises],” he said. “We have the opportunity to strive for betterment…and we can put wellness at the heart of everything we do.

“Wellbeing is the foundation of everything we do,” he said, explaining that it continues to be an issue beyond the pandemic.

However, beyond the pandemic, there are “great forces” shaping education that ministers and governments must take into account, Schleicher added.

The OECD Education Fast Forward: Building a future that works for all report emphasizes the long-term impact education can expect from issues such as digitalisation, labor market developments, equality and access to education, and climate change.

“The biggest risk is that short-term challenges, like a pandemic or wars, mask much bigger kinds of challenges,” Schleider said.

“This pandemic has been totally exaggerated and it’s a bit because it has been mismanaged by education. These industrial systems have not reacted well to this, we have closed schools, we are paying the consequences ” , he noted.

“This response to the pandemic has enormous costs and has clouded our view of these greatest challenges. Obviously, you know, climate change is going to disrupt your life much more than the pandemic…we always prioritize the urgent over the important.

Educators and governments need to think better in terms of “alternative futures”, he continued.

“We are running behind the pandemic, we are not looking at what digitalization, automation, artificial intelligence are going to do to us. Watch how climate change will change it. Look at how demographics impact it,” he urged.

“Most countries are not on track to achieve SDG4 by 2030,” said Amel Karboul, CEO of Education Results Fund, said. “Let’s face it, these are also rich countries.

“We must reduce waste and spend better”

“We have to spend money. We need to reduce waste and spend better,” she told ministers.

Speaking to The PIE, director of Global Education Monitoring at UNESCO, Manos Antoninis explained that an initiative to engage countries on SDG4 targets is currently being developed. For many, the goals set in 2015 were too high to begin with.

“For example, you [could] tell Niger that they won’t make it [the target] in secondary education, of course they won’t, because the 20% isn’t really possible. But that doesn’t mean all countries shouldn’t try.

The nations establish intermediate landmarks for 2025. A report earlier this year, two out of three countries participated directly or indirectly in setting national SDG 4 benchmarks to do their best.

All regions will achieve or be very close to achieving universal primary education, according to the document, but challenges will remain in sub-Saharan Africa where 8% of children of primary school age are still expected to be out of school in 2030 .

It’s something similar to what people have done with climate change,” Antoninis explained. “You have a 1.5 degree target, but each country comes with their own nationally determined contributions on what they’re going to achieve and what their contribution will be to getting there,” he said.

We are now trying to get the remaining third of the countries to commit.

The United Nations High Level Political Forum on sustainable development, covering SDG4 this year, and the Transforming Education Summitfeaturing heads of state, both hope to give impetus to the goal of education development.

We will no longer say whether the country will receive 100% or not, which is unfair, but whether the countries are progressing at a rate that differentiates them from what they were doing before. It’s much more appropriate,” Antoninis added.

“We are trying to bring the debate back to something that can engage countrieswe are trying to change the terms of the dialogue.