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by Wayne Campbell
Education is a human right. Unfortunately, in many societies, students do not live this reality. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) statistical data, an estimated 258 million children are not in school.
The situation is worse for marginalised communities, those living in regions with higher inequality, and underdeveloped countries. The bitter reality is that there are countless societies around the world today where education is viewed as unnecessary. Additionally, there are also some societies, specifically Afghanistan, where barriers are constructed in order to discourage and even prosecute those children, especially girls who seek an education.
The COVID-19 pandemic has displaced thousands of our students from accessing their education. Many students have not returned to school and even among those who have returned, the learning loss gap is great.
Unfortunately, many students are still without technological gadgets necessary to log online in order to access the various online modalities. In some countries, more so the rural areas, internet connectivity has been problematic and those students continue to be underserved concerning their educational needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified what we already knew regarding how social class and privilege determine students’ access and, therefore, affect educational outcomes. In educational circles, we continue to use the word ‘transformation’ loosely, but the reality on the ground differs. It is time to transform education.
Education should be viewed as a public good and the necessary resources must be found to underpin such an investment in the nation’s human capital. The fifth International Day of Education will be celebrated on January 24, 2023 under the theme “To invest in people, prioritise education”.
Building on the global momentum generated by the UN Transforming Education Summit in September 2022, this year’s Day will call for maintaining strong political mobilisation around education and chart the way to translate commitments and global initiatives into action.
Education must be prioritised to accelerate progress towards all the Sustainable Development Goals against the backdrop of a global recession, growing inequalities and the climate crisis.
UNESCO is dedicating this year’s International Day to girls and women in Afghanistan who have been deprived of their right to education by the Taliban controlled government. UNESCO joins in the global call for the immediate lifting of the ban restricting their access to education. International Day of Education is a call for action, bringing individuals, civil society, and policymakers to take solid steps towards ensuring that primary and secondary education is given to children, as well as improving youth engagement in education.
Learning programmes should be designed for the needs of different demographics, converging to one main goal: equipping children with the education needed for employment and better futures.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs said most education systems in the world have been severely affected by education disruptions and have faced unprecedented challenges.
School closures brought on by the pandemic have had devastating consequences for children’s learning and well-being. It is estimated that 147 million children missed more than half of their in-class instruction over the past two years. This generation of children could lose a combined total of $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value.
School closures have affected girls, children from disadvantaged backgrounds, those living in rural areas, children with disabilities and children from ethnic minorities more than their peers.
The proportion of young people completing upper secondary school increased from 54 per cent in 2015 to 58 per cent in 2020, with completion slowing down relative to progress in the preceding five-year period. It is too early to predict the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on completion.
Early indications from low-income countries based on phone surveys point to a small decline in attendance upon their return to school. Is there a level playing field incorporating inclusion and parity regarding education? The answer is definitely no.
Despite improvements and interventions, disparities in educational participation and outcomes are persistent. Gender inequalities continue to be challenging for many societies. For example, most countries with data have not achieved gender parity in the proportion of children meeting minimum learning proficiency standards in reading, and in the lower secondary completion rate.
For the lower secondary completion rate, only one sixth of countries with data had parity between rural and urban areas and almost no countries achieved parity between children of the richest households and children of the poorest.
The United Nations adds that basic school infrastructure is far from universal. In 2020, approximately one quarter of primary schools globally did not have access to basic services such as electricity, drinking water, and basic sanitation facilities.
Figures are substantially lower for other facilities such as information and communications technology and disability-adapted infrastructure, with about 50 per cent of primary schools having such access.
Shares among least developed countries tend to be substantially lower, ranging from approximately one half to two-thirds of the global average. During the global pandemic, schools in comparatively disadvantaged areas were less equipped to keep children and staff safe. Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.
Inclusivity and parity in education
As the world continues to emerge from the destructive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, undoubtedly, we must change course. It cannot be business as per usual. Education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility.
Policy makers have a responsibility to treat their stakeholders with respect and professionalism instead of trying to belittle and talk down to them.
We can no longer turn a blind eye to an elitist education system which provides numerous pathways for our students. Many of these pathways are unsustainable and destructive.
The narrative must be one centred on education as a human right. The educational evolution must lead to a transformation of the system, beginning with the bureaucrats who are often removed from the realities on the ground, yet they give unsolicited advice and suggestions which are counterproductive.
The transformation which we all speak about and perhaps dream about must be placed on the path to recovery stronger for all. Governments must invest more funding into education and, as taxpayers, we must demand better accountability from all the stakeholders involved.
One accountability framework which needs to be revisited is our selection of members to sit on school boards. It is scandalous what currently takes place.
We must set standards and ensure that they are followed. Schools cannot be allowed to lock students out because of grooming policies which are far removed from the cultural realities of so many students. Teachers should not be cajoled to teach in areas outside of their specialisation and training.
Yet we wonder why the investments on education continue to show diminishing returns. An educational tsunami is needed to turn over and around the education system.
As governments continue to craft and implement educational policies, they must be mindful of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #4, which addresses inclusive and equitable education and the promotion of lifelong learning for all.
Invest in human capital
It would be useful to know the current status regarding how many Jamaican students did not return to school since the reopening of school. This data should be presented along sex disaggregate lines.
Sadly, the online teaching modality did not work for many students. The society must make a concerted effort regarding how to engage our boys in the teaching and learning journey; currently a significant number of our boys are being left behind by an education system which is hostile to how boys are wired and learn.
The sad reality is that gangs continue to benefit from the entrenched failure of our education system and this is played out in the troubling homicide rates. The “Come as You Are” motto for gangs is juxtaposed against the Education Ministry, “Every Child Can Learn, Every Child Must Learn”.
The current state of affairs in our society can only be fixed through the transformation of the education system by pursuing policies involving parity and inclusion.
The strengthening of partnerships such as with the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ) is a necessary and critical investment if we truly are prioritising education.
Investing in human capital is vital in order to make education a priority. There are teachers who were relocated to various departments and who have suddenly been reassigned to the classroom without the adequate training in the National Standards
Curriculum or bereft of consideration for their mental wellness. This is concerning. We need to invest in our educators. Many teachers at the secondary level, for example, are still awaiting their laptops, which were part of a salary agreement a few years ago.
We can no longer continue to view education as a privilege; to do so is to our detriment and demise. What is required from our education system is purposeful planning for each student. It bares thought that it is only through investment in the human capital that transformation of the education system will be achieved.
In the words of Thomas Armstrong, a strength-based classroom is a place where students with all sorts of labels come together as equals to form a new type of learning environment.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. [email protected], @WayneCamo