Solidarity is key to universal education access: ECOSOC president

A report released by UNESCO reveals that, Just 1 in 6 countries are on the right track to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 and achieve universal access to quality education by 2030.

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The report which was launched at a side event of the ongoing High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals, found that even if governments meet their national education targets there will still be an estimated 84 million children and young people out of school by 2030.

The HPLF, which is convened every year by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, is the U.N. platform to track progress on the 17 SDGs. This year, the forum will measure the impacts of the covid 19 pandemic on the SDGs and also review in depth five SDGs including SDG 4.

Collen Vixen Kelapile, the president of ECOSOC, said SDG 4 is one of the goals “most severely affected” by the COVID-19 pandemic and that technological transfers, increased investment, and political will are all needed in order to reverse some of the losses.

What role has COVID-19 played in derailing progress towards achieving universal access to quality education?

Reports on the impact of COVID on the SDGs as a whole seem to show that SDG 4 is one of the most severely affected.

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About 147 million learners actually missed half of their in-class instructions over the past two years. That is already a huge number pointing to a serious problem.

There have been other high citations of a percentage of up to 70% or so of those who, as a result of not having regularly attended classes, are unable to really even answer some of the basics.

Has the impact been greater in the developing world and low-resource settings?

Pandemics of this nature where you have to shut down schools, only those who had the ability to continue otherwise, were able to do what they can using online learning and other means.

The problem for the less privileged, is that the disparity in learning between the developing and developed countries is going to worsen. Africa, in particular, is the most vulnerable. So even if we went online now, the means of doing that technologically for our countries are not there. So in a way, we would be worsening the disparity between the developed and developing countries, as far as discharging education is concerned.

Take a look at some of the other basics. For example, one of the issues that come out clearly is the issue of connectivity, and owning the gadgets to be able to connect. If we decide to go online or use other means now, we will be running — according to the statistics that are there — at the risk of excluding at least one-third of the students from pursuing learning remotely. All this is resulting in a situation that is impacting mainly … the developing world, especially the most vulnerable communities.

Is it still possible for those countries to meet the SDG education goals in the next eight years?

The challenge of meeting the goals had already been there … even before COVID. So we are talking of a situation that has really been compounded by COVID. But in terms of what needs to be done, it can’t be done by the developing countries on their own.

Education sector has been so underfunded in many of our developing countries. So we will need to step up on the financing. And that means pursuing the two components together — the domestic resource mobilization from our own countries … and for partners to also step up the support they can provide.

“The disparity in learning between the developing and developed countries is going to worsen. Africa … is the most vulnerable.”

You spoke about the need for partnerships and coming together. What are your expectations for the upcoming Transforming Education Summit?

Political ambition must be stepped up. This is a place to really rethink. That’s why it’s called the Transforming Education Summit — we have to come out with transformative ideas.

Unfortunately, our platforms are known for giving directions on correct things on correct things to be done — but actually, implementation has been the problem. After we give the way forward, bringing all these political high-level people, they go back and just sit without acting. So we expect action. We expect concrete solutions and plans that are much more ambitious.

And of course, we already spoke about the partnerships. This is a common endeavor — not only for the developed world alone to deal with — we need to demonstrate solidarity. We have already seen how that solidarity went lacking during the pandemic itself — with the vaccine. I think we should take lessons from that in approaching any collective activities like redesigning or transforming education. Solidarity will need to be part of the mix.

We also want countries from all geographical zones, whether they are the most affected or least affected, to come here to champion inclusivity in many areas. … We can only make a difference if we accept that we have to be inclusive and that inclusivity will need to have those who have the means to agree that they should share the means with others. That is the only way.

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