As a second-semester student of International Relations at Karlshochschule, I like many of my colleagues, have been using much of this sequestered time at home, to reflect on the state of the world. Everything has quickly grown unfamiliar and the problems, which once regularly overwhelmed our news feeds, now seem trivial and far away. Yet, the world will still be here and in desperate need of care, once this trial has passed. So, what can we take away from the crisis, to help us better prepare for the new world that lies beyond?
The COVID-19 Crisis and the Future of “Education for All”
Whether we are sitting in a shared dorm, isolated alone in an apartment or back in our hometown with family, many students across Karlsruhe, Germany, and the wider world are adapting to a new digital campus landscape, courtesy of COVID-19. The technology, that allows online classes to function at this scale, is still somewhat new, and its widespread accessibility is entirely new. Despite decades of wars, widespread natural disasters, and even other biological catastrophes, education access has never been treated with the level of priority that it is now receiving. Considering that “Education for All” has long been a declared human right and goal of the United Nations, one cannot help but wonder whether this current wave of investment is just for show, or if it could perhaps leave a lasting impact on how we address education shortcomings in less privileged communities, near and far.
Status of Access to Quality Education
According to the UN Economic and Social Council’s most recent progress report, the past several years of effort towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) have shown a lack of progress in the pursuit of truly providing “education for all.” Despite significant advances in technology and a concerted international effort to bring educational opportunities to every community, the resulting attendance and performance statistics have been less than ideal: more than half of the world’s school-age children still struggle with reading and basic mathematics, and approximately 750 million adults remain illiterate (UN-ECOSOC 2019).
Yet, the current global pandemic, while tragic and challenging in its own respects, may also offer an unexpected opportunity to overcome past education stagnation, and finally bring some fresh solutions to the table.
With UNESCO monitoring services reporting coronavirus-related school closures in over 165 countries, affecting more than 87% of the world’s student population (over 1.5 billion learners), now, more than ever, nations around the globe have been forced to quickly devise and implement plans for providing alternative education options (UNESCO 2020).
A Silver Lining?
Besides being recently used to call for a global ceasefire in the face of the virus (News 2020), radio and television broadcasts still have a role to play in our modern online world, as international organizations issue guidance and assistance for less connected areas to begin broadcasting classes via traditional media routes (UNICEF 2020). Meanwhile, those communities with adequate internet connectivity have seen an almost instant surge in the number of methods and resources available to implement distance learning solutions (Chang and Yano 2020).
From Facebook, Google and Microsoft to a whole host of international organizations, a Global Education Coalition has been created, under the UNESCO banner, to create new and innovative education solutions during this crisis (UNESCO 2020). With so much attention, motivation and money suddenly being poured into tackling learning obstacles for students around the world, the leaders of organizations who have been tackling SDG4 are hopefully poised to take advantage of this silver lining.
Although it is highly disappointing, that such a unified response to educational issues, has only been made possible by a viral catastrophe, it offers a unique opportunity, nonetheless. Never before, have so many tech industry giants and influential organizations come together so quickly to pursue a single goal: bringing free distance education resources to communities around the world. One can only hope, that when we emerge from the other side of this pandemic disaster, the interest, innovation, and investments made now will not simply dry up, but will continue paying dividends for children and young adults for generations to come.
Article by Christopher Tripp (2nd-semester student of International Relations)
Chang, Gwang-Chol, and Satoko Yano. 2020. How are countries addressing the Covid-19 challenges in education? A snapshot of policy measures. GEM Report, UNESCO’s Section of Education Policy. https://gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2020/03/24/how-are-countries-addressing-the-covid-19-challenges-in-education-a-snapshot-of-policy-measures/.
GEM-Report. 2020. Could coronavirus shape the way assessments work forever? UNESCO. https://gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2020/03/20/could-coronavirus-shape-the-way-assessments-work-forever/.
News, UN. 2020. COVID-19: UN chief calls for global ceasefire to focus on ‘the true fight of our lives’. https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059972.
UN-ECOSOC. 2019. Special edition: progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals:. Report of the Secretary General, United Nations Economic and Social Council. https://undocs.org/E/2019/68.
UNESCO. 2020. COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response. March 27. https://en.unesco.org/themes/education-emergencies/coronavirus-school-closures.
UNESCO. 2020. UNESCO rallies international organizations, civil society and private sector partners in a broad Coalition to ensure #LearningNeverStops. https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-rallies-international-organizations-civil-society-and-private-sector-partners-broad.
UNICEF, WHO and IFRC. 2020. “Key messages and actions for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) prevention and control in schools.” Action Report. https://www.unicef.org/reports/key-messages-and-actions-coronavirus-disease-covid-19-prevention-and-control-schools.