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Leaders at the United Nations confront the impact of COVID on global education

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With COVID-related school disruptions set to bring children back around the world, activists on Monday asked world leaders to prioritize school systems and restore educational budgets when the pandemic hits.

The Summit on Transforming Education, held at the United Nations General Assembly before the annual leaders’ meeting, was expected to produce commitments from countries of the world to ensure that children everywhere, from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States, were very Don’t be behind ,


Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai said, “Seven years ago, I stood on this stage in the hope that the voice of a teenage girl who was shot in standing up for her education would be heard.” United Nations Ambassador for Peace. “On that day, countries, corporates, civil society, we all committed to work together to see every child in schools by 2030. It is heartbreaking that by half the target date, we will have an education emergency. are facing.”

Nigerian youth activist Karimote Odebod was more pointed. “We demand that you take responsibility,” Odebode told the General Assembly. “We will not stop until everyone in every village and in every highland receives an education.”

According to a report by the World Bank, UNESCO, the percentage of 10-year-olds in poor and middle-income countries who cannot read a simple story has risen to an estimated 70% – 13 percentage points before the pandemic closed classes. and UNICEF.

Will world leaders do enough to help their youngest citizens acquire the reading and other skills they need? Dignitaries and students say that the systemic problems that existed before the pandemic will need to be addressed. Countries will need to increase spending, change policies to increase access for girls and students with disabilities, and modernize directives to emphasize critical thinking rather than rote.

“This is a one-time opportunity for us to fundamentally change education,” UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed told reporters ahead of the Education Summit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. “If we don’t want to see the emergence of one generation of misfits, we owe it to the next generation.”

When COVID-19 closed schools around the world In spring 2020, many children stopped learning – some for months, others for longer. For many there was no such thing as distance education. According to a study by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union in December 2020, more than 800 million youth worldwide lack internet access at home.

More recent studies underscore the lasting effects of the pandemic. “The learning loss from COVID was huge,” Mohamed said.

Worldwide the amount of closure of school buildings due to COVID-19. Extremely, schools in parts of Latin America And South Asia was locked down for 75 weeks or more according to UNESCO. In parts of the United States, including cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, schools operate remotely during most of the 2020-2021 school year from March 2020,

There were also huge variations in the availability and quality of distance education. In some countries, students stuck at home had paper packets, or access to radio and television programs, or almost nothing. Others had access to the Internet and video conferencing with teachers.

According to an analysis by consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the average estimated learning delay ranges from more than 12 months of school for students in South Asia to less than four for students in Europe and Central Asia.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, citing data from the United Nations Education Agency, said most of the world’s classrooms have now opened back, but 244 million school children are still out of school. The vast majority of those children – 98 million – live in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by central and southern Asia, a reminder of the deep inequalities in access to education, she said.

In many places, money is the key ingredient to averting the crisis, while not fully reaching the lofty goal of leaders to “transform education”. “Education funding should be a priority for governments,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the General Assembly on Monday. “It is the single most important investment any country can make in its people and its future.”

According to a report by UNESCO and Global Education Monitoring, wealthier countries invest an average of $8,000 per school-age child per year, compared to some upper middle-income countries such as Latin America, who invest $1,000 per year. Huh. Low-income countries allocate around $300 per year and some poorer countries only $50 per year per student.

Guterres said, rich countries should also increase spending. In recent years, Germany, France and the United States have provided the most international aid to education in low-income countries, according to the 2021 Center for Global Development report. According to the report based on the latest available data, the United States has invested more than $1.5 billion annually from 2017-2019.

As top dignitaries urged individual countries to prioritize their youngest citizens, it was some of the youngest attendees at the summit who expressed the most skepticism of any possibility of change. did. After all, the United Nations has no authority to force countries to spend more on schooling.

Yousafzai urged countries to devote 20% of their budgets to education. “Most of you know exactly what needs to be done,” she said. “You must not make small, stingy and short-lived vows.”


The Today Nation News education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. TN is solely responsible for all content. Follow Bianca Vazquez Toness on Twitter at and Jocelyn Gecker at


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