Addressing the “new normal” in education

Blog by Marie-Christine Gries, SI UN Representative in Paris.

“Facing the COVID crisis at school, UNESCO has launched the Global Education Coalition to support countries in scaling up their best distance learning practices and reaching children and youth who are most at risk. Never before have we witnessed educational disruption on such a scale,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “Partnership is the only way forward. This Coalition is a call for coordinated and innovative action to unlock solutions that will not only support learners and teachers now, but through the recovery process, with a principle focus on inclusion and equity.”

Alarming figures: as a result of the pandemic, 875 million pupils or students are no longer in school and of them 24 million risk never returning to their studies, among them 12 million girls.

The UNESCO Mobile Learning Week, usually scheduled for this period, takes place in virtual, with the webinar ‘Demonstration of Technology Solutions of Global Education Coalition’, presenting the concrete achievements of some NGO members of the coalition to ensure that “learning never stops”. The session was led by Mr Borhen Chakroun, SDG, UNESCO Education sector.

M Val Mendes (UNESCO-Education sector) has launched in this webinar the project of building a “Global Learning House”. It is for the members of the coalition (currently 140 private or public institutional entities and representatives of civil society) to share their resources and skills, to make them available to all on a platform. Co-creativity is the goal of this “House”, in order to optimise the various initiatives by combining them.

Emergency programmes are essential. The focus is on the most disadvantaged or marginalised. The case of girls is especially important. In some parts of Africa, drop-out has already led to a sharp increase in teenage pregnancies, which are also threatened by forced marriages in any others regions of the world. Most out-of-school children are at risk of being put to work because of the plight of families affected by the economic crisis.

It was pointed out that no country was prepared for such a rupture, for such an effect on the education system with a widening of the equality divide. So, there is a challenge of adaptation: how should we teach, not just what should we teach. Equity, equal opportunities is one of the key words of the coalition: “leaving no one behind” And this is crucial at the moment.

In the current period, there is an obvious need to strengthen the use of STEM in education and this is a task to which the members of the coalition are committed. The lack of connectivity is an important point but the obstacle can be overcome thanks to the possibility of using other means than the internet.

For example, for the Education Above All Foundation (Qatar), which conducts educational projects for primary schools in several countries of the world, especially for the marginalised and the most deprived, tablets and smartphones, used in its teaching aid, have increased from 18% to 67% since the beginning of the crisis. Two other examples of open platform were presented: Khan Academy (Turkey) operates an educational platform open to all teachers, tools including videos, tutorials and exercises, usable on tablets, phones or computers, with the principle that education must be possible everywhere and for all, but that human contacts are essential. The NGO, Learning Equality, provides similar assistance, the “Kolibri” open source platform for educators and learners, and also an offline platform for those who do not have a connection.

An original approach in the schooling of the youngest children in Latin America: Sesame Workshop which is based on the characters of the cartoon series for young children and broadcasts through audiovisual means, TV and You Tube. The educational cartoons allow children to learn at home with their family. The concept is based on the principle that care must also be taken to restore emotional well-being and help children to adapt psychologically to this “new normal”. Sesame content is also available through whatsApp and can be shared and printed.

To complete this system of struggle for schooling, UNESCO includes its network ‘Teach For All’, supported by 58 partners from all continents, grouping 14,000 teachers and 75,000 Alumni, who take the initiative to record their courses or tutorials so that they can be disseminated elsewhere and translated free of charge, by what’s App, without internet.

This mobilisation under the auspices of UNESCO can give us hope. However, the issue of the risks associated with the deterioration of the learner’s family and community environment, especially for girls, cannot be solved by distance learning, regardless of its quality.”

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