A new study released last Friday 26th March by the United Nations, reveals that more than 100 million more children than expected, are falling behind the minimum proficiency level in reading, due to COVID-related school closures.
According to the study from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) ‘One year into COVID’: Prioritizing Education recovery to avoid a generational catastrophe, is key as even before the pandemic, the number of children lacking basic reading skills was on a downward curve, globally.
In 2020, the previously reported 460 million children experiencing reading difficulties, jumped to 584 million. The rise of more than 20 percent, wiped out two decades of education gains, the agency said.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, complete or partial closures have disrupted schooling for an average of 40 weeks, says the report, with the highest learning losses projected to be in the Latin America and Caribbean region, and in Central and Southern Asia.
According to new data from a joint survey conducted by UNESCO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), only a quarter of students are benefiting from remedial education. While ’One year into COVID’ finds that a return to the pre-pandemic pathway may take a decade, it underscores that recovery could occur by 2024.
To tackle what UNESCO has called a potential “generational catastrophe”, it is calling for schools to reopen with greater support for multiple stakeholders, not just educators but digital innovators and strategists creating initiatives to prevent students dropping out, and an acceleration of the availability of digital learning tools.
Yesterday, UNESCO convened a meeting with education ministers from all over the world to evaluate COVID-19 learning disruptions and unravel solutions on how to prioritise education recovery to avoid a generational catastrophe.
UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition shared its first progress report card:
Launched one year ago to support learning continuity, the Coalition has 170 public, private and civil society partners in some 100 countries.
At least 400 million learners and 12 million teachers are benefitting directly or indirectly from the Coalition’s actions, including through access to newly established online platforms, educational resources, digitised curricula and training, according to UNESCO.
From keeping schools open to bridging the digital divide – from addressing dropouts and learning losses to calling for more education funding - UNESCO has been leading the way through intensive partnerships and innovations during the past year to prevent a “generational catastrophe” and build more resilient and inclusive education systems.
Reducing disruptors and supporting teachers
Protecting the physical and mental health of students, teachers and school personnel is essential. School closures have brought a major disruption in the lives of children and youth, affecting their socio-emotional development and well-being, as well as their social life and relationships. As two-thirds of the world’s student population is still affected by full or partial school closures, the pandemic is taking a rising toll on their mental health.
To enable a safe return to school, the world’s 100 million teachers must be given priority in vaccination campaigns. The pandemic directly affected 63 million primary and secondary teachers. During school closures, they were required to conduct distance teaching with no time to prepare and often with limited guidance and resources. Teachers had to modify curricula and adapt lesson plans to carry on with instruction using low and no-tech solutions. They need continued training on remote teaching, available technologies, and alternative flexible pedagogies for online, blended and offline learning during future school closures.
Digital transformation and the future of education
Approximately half of the world’s population, some 3.6 billion people are still lacking an Internet connection. This means that at least 463 million or nearly one-third of students around the globe cannot access remote learning, mainly due to a lack of online learning policies or lack of equipment needed to connect from home. Most students do not have the appropriate connectivity, device and digital skills required to find and use educational content dependent on technology.
According to the UN, nearly 500 million students from pre-primary to upper-secondary school did not have any access to any remote learning—three quarters of those lived in the poorest households or rural areas. This enormous digital divide shows how connectivity has become a key factor to guarantee the right to education. Digital skills and learning must be incorporated into education systems in order to address the injustice of the digital divide. This crucial issue is among many currently being debated through ‘UNESCO’s Futures of Education Initiative’, a global conversation to reimagine how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity and the planet. The report is due to come out in November 2021.
We must adapt with the digital transformation by putting in place new methods and new innovative tools. Acquiring knowledge has never been as possible as it is today with the Internet but we must be aware of the inequities and ensure that “No child is left behind!”
Check the link below for more information on UNESCO’s Global monitoring of COVID-19 Impact on Education