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Act now to protect education, governments asked

Governments must act quickly to keep millions of children in education, a group of former ministers of education and heads of government has warned
An illustration of a coronavirus by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention
An illustration of a coronavirus by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention

BY THE ATLANTIS GROUP

Governments around the world should heed global calls to protect education systems from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Atlantis Group of former education ministers and heads of government said today.

In its continuing deliberations on COVID-19, the group stressed the importance of action from finance ministries to protect education budgets from the global economic downturn. Members also spoke of the need for action from education ministries to improve the quality of learning worldwide, including rebuilding key relationships with teachers and students, as well as establishing strong policy frameworks for the use of educational technology.

Without more action from governments, the COVID-19 pandemic may deal extensive damage to education systems. World Bank projections seen by the Atlantis Group suggest that a “double shock” of school closures and economic recession may result in a precipitous fall in learning around the world, particularly in low and lower-middle-income countries. Up to 10 million children may not return to school at all, the Bank’s projections have suggested. The crisis will likely affect the most disadvantaged learners, and may disproportionately affect girls and young women who are the most likely to be excluded from education.

Without more action from governments, the COVID-19 pandemic may deal extensive damage to education systems.

There is also rising concern that the pandemic has stalled global progress towards sustainable development, and hamstrung international efforts to deliver equitable access to quality education for all by 2030. Analysis by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report estimates that the disruption caused by COVID-19 may increase the cost of reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal on education in the poorest countries by over US$200 billion.

If these projections come to pass, the COVID-19 pandemic will have effectively reversed decades of global progress on education and put the dream of a good education out of reach for millions of the world’s most impoverished children. Save Our Future, a newly launched global campaign for education led by multilateral organizations in partnership with civil society organizations, has made an urgent call for governments to protect education budgets amid a sharp economic contraction.

The Atlantis Group welcomes the efforts from the international community for education, and hopes that governments will heed the call to protect education budgets as well as vital international aid to education. However, the growing threat to education goes far beyond funding streams. The Atlantis Group has further expressed concern that COVID-19 may be eroding the fundamental partnerships that make education systems function. During its recent deliberations, several members of the Atlantis Group reported growing rifts between teachers and policymakers over the issue of reopening schools in their countries.

Such a breakdown between key stakeholders in education should be cause for alarm. As former ministers of education and heads of government, the Atlantis Group thinks that it is critical for ministers of education to consult and work extensively with teachers, teachers’ unions and parents over the issue of reopening schools, to ensure that effective measures are taken to protect health and facilitate pedagogy. In this respect, the group notes key international standards over reopening schools, such as the Framework For Reopening Schools developed by UN institutions and the World Bank.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also shone a spotlight on the growing role of technology in education. It is now clear that information and communications technologies will be critical in shaping education’s future. However, a lack of clear policymaking for the use of such technologies in education meant that most governments were woefully underprepared for their mass deployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Atlantis Group has said. The group’s own review of the state of educational technology, conducted last year, concluded that few governments had any coherent policies for EdTech or substantive evidence as to its efficacy while most teachers had little to no training in the use of digital technology in their pedagogy.

As the pandemic has continued, the Atlantis Group has also expressed concern at the widening gulf in access to technology between the richest and poorest countries and communities, with the poorest largely reliant on remote learning delivered through television and radio. With technology now playing a critical role in delivering continued access to education during system-wide school closures, it is now more important than ever that policymakers put in place clear frameworks for its procurement, deployment and use. A policy toolkit, published by the Atlantis Group late last year, makes a number of recommendations to education authorities about how to think about EdTech and plan for its use across education systems.

With the number of cases of COVID-19 rising again in many parts of the world, it is clear that there are difficult days ahead. As former ministers and heads of government, every member of the Atlantis Group is acutely aware of the challenges of making effective decisions in crisis. The sharp economic contraction seen globally in the last year also presents policymakers around the world with significant funding challenges. It is clear that many difficult decisions need to be made. But in such times education matters more than ever.

It is now clear that no one country has established a monopoly on the policies and interventions needed to mitigate the damage wrought by the pandemic on education systems. The solution will only be found through continued international cooperation, with all coming together for the cause of education. During this time, the Atlantis Group stands ready to assist governments and serve education ministers around the world, and its members are willing to provide advice and further thinking on these issues as required.

About the Atlantis Group  |

Bringing together former education ministers worldwide

The Atlantis Group is a body of 26 former ministers of education and heads of government from around the world. Its members have over 90 years of combined experience in managing public education systems. The group advocates for action by the international community to address global issues in education. The Atlantis Group was established by the Varkey Foundation, a global education charity, and launched at the 2017 Global Education & Skills Forum at the Atlantis The Palm hotel in Dubai, UAE.

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