Throughout history, periods of deep trauma have often been followed by periods of exuberant renewal. This notion makes me hopeful as we emerge out of lockdowns around the world to enter a watershed moment in global education.
It also couldn’t feel more apt for me personally, as I take up the role of director of partnerships for the Yidan Prize Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to promoting a better world through education through the Yidan Prize and recently established the Council of Luminaries – a multi-disciplinary council dedicated to building a global education system more responsive to the challenges of the 21st century and more inclusive for the millions of children marginalised by today’s systems.
So what can we all learn from the pandemic? And what kind of global education system can we create in the future, building on those lessons?
For me, the lessons revealed by the pandemic focus around three Rs:
- The RIGHT to education and how we think about it in a post-COVID world
- The benefit of putting RESILIENCE at the heart of any future system
- And the need for deep RIGOUR to underpin the creation of all future educational ideas, systems and practices
Lesson 1: education is a RIGHT
In the Global North certainly, tens of millions of us have taken our right to education for granted for too long. COVID has fundamentally changed that; worldwide, the pandemic forced school closures in 188 countries, disrupting learning for more than 1.7 billion children and young people, according to the OECD.
These figures are both staggering and sobering – especially when you take into account that, for many millions of children, disruption to learning amounted to a loss of learning, as they were unable to access the remote learning resources or lessons their schools creatively provided.
The pandemic threw a brutal spotlight on the digital divide as a barrier to the right to education. Even in the world’s wealthiest countries, millions sat on the wrong side of the divide and compromised their educational rights as a result.
“The pandemic threw a brutal spotlight on the digital divide as a barrier to the right to education. Even in the world’s wealthiest countries, millions sat on the wrong side of the divide and compromised their educational rights as a result”
In the US, one in four students don’t have access to reliable devices or adequate internet connections, while in the UK it’s estimated that between 1 million and 1.8 million children lack access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home, leaving children ‘locked out of education’, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
So the ‘right to education’ needs to be considered in light of our access to technology. UNESCO is rightly campaigning for a post-COVID expansion in our definition that recognises connectivity and access to information as crucial.
“UNESCO is rightly campaigning for a post-COVID expansion in our definition that recognises connectivity and access to information as crucial”
The loss of access to physical educational settings during the pandemic also threw other rights into sharp relief; the rights to health and nutrition, protection, development of a child’s full personality and capabilities to form and express views.
As the pandemic has made us increasingly appreciative of the multiple roles schools play in children’s lives, we need those diverse roles to be fully embraced in a child’s right to an education in the future.
Which brings me to the second lesson to be revealed by the pandemic…
Lesson 2: RESILIENCE needs to be at the heart of any future strategy
As well as shining an uncompromising light on inequality, the pandemic also revealed previously unimaginable depths of creativity, innovation, resilience and resourcefulness in our educators and in the young people they educate.
In doing so, it has revived an appetite for moving toward a more student-centred model of teaching and learning.
To meet the needs of the 21st century, our education model needs to be transformed into a fully rounded education for creative, empowered and resilient global citizens. One that socially, mentally and emotionally prepares future generations to contribute to the huge global challenges of the future.
To make this shift, mental wellbeing, the development of skills such as resilience, and flexibility and the ability to develop a ‘growth mindset’ need to be given even greater prominence than they are currently. Our increasing recognition of their importance served students well in meeting the enormous challenges of the pandemic. But there is still a long way to go and truly transformative global potential in this area…
Lesson 3: the importance of RIGOUR in shaping any future global education system
As we enter what could be a before and after moment in education, the need for action is undoubtedly urgent, with a year of disrupted education to make up for.
But whilst we have to serve the best interests of the many millions of children who have lost out, that drive mustn’t come at the expense of rigorous assessment of the longer term needs of the global education system. We need ways of understanding how to improve education for young people who are marginalised in the current systems.
If education is to use this watershed moment to truly transform, we need to become more systematic in the way we test, collect, communicate and disseminate evidence to improve ideas before they are brought to scale. And crucially we have to be rigorous in engaging practitioners with experimentation – innovation requires partnership.
“If education is to use this watershed moment to truly transform, we need to become more systematic in the way we test, collect, communicate and disseminate evidence to improve ideas before they are brought to scale”
This focus on rigour might seem counter-intuitive at a time when the education sector – so long maligned as slow to embrace change – has demonstrated its ability to do so at impressive scale and speed.
But rigour is what will enable us to seize this moment and momentum and turn it into sustainable reality, enabling the rapid global participation in creating and sharing of groundbreaking ideas.
And that’s what we need to aim for, because right now, our ambition can’t be limited to making up for lost time, or returning to normal as quickly as possible. Our ambition must be for transformational global change with inclusiveness and future global good at its heart.
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