At UN, leaders confront COVID’s impact on global education

20 September 2022
 At UN, leaders confront COVID’s impact on global education

Nigerian youth activist Karimot Odebode was more pointed. “We demand you take responsibility,” Odebode told the General Assembly. “We will not stop until every person in every village and every highland has access to an education

The percentage of 10-year-old children in poor and middle-income countries who cannot read a simple story increased to an estimated 70% — up 13 percentage points since before the pandemic shuttered classrooms, according to a report from the World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF.

The summit on transforming education, held at the U.N. General Assembly ahead of the annual leaders’ meeting, was expected to produce commitments from the world’s nations to ensure that children everywhere from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States don’t fall too far behind.

“Seven years ago, I stood on this platform hoping that the voice of a teenage girl who took a bullet in standing up for her education would be heard,” said Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, a U.N. messenger of peace. ”On that day, countries, corporates, civil society, all of us committed to work together to see every child in schools by 2030. It is heartbreaking that halfway through that target date, we are facing an education emergency.”

Will the world’s leaders do enough to help their youngest citizens learn to read and gain the other skills they need to thrive? It will require addressing systemic problems that existed before the pandemic, dignitaries and students say. Countries will need to increase spending, change policies to increase access for girls and disabled students, and modernize instruction to stress critical thinking rather than rote memorization.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to radically transform education,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told reporters ahead of the education summit at U.N. headquarters in New York. “We owe it to the coming generation if we don’t want to witness the emergence of a generation of misfits.”

When COVID-19 closed schools around the world in spring 2020, many children simply stopped learning — some for months, others for longer. For many, there was no such thing as remote learning. More than 800 million young people around the world lacked internet access at home, according to a study by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union in December 2020.