‘Generation Could Be Lost If We Don’t Act Now on Education’, Qf’s Education City Speaker Series Told
Building the education systems of the future requires more than money, and politics must be taken out of the equation, a top World Bank official has told Qatar Foundation’s Education City Speaker Series – warning that, without urgent action, “we risk losing a generation”.
The global platform for dialogue brought together experts and activists from around the world for an online panel discussion on how education needs to be disrupted, protected, and made more accessible and equitable in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking during the online event – held in partnership with Education Above All and Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education, and titled Building the Future of Education: How to Prepare Our Youth for a New Normal – Dr. Jaime Saavedra, Global Director for Education, The World Bank, said: “This is the worst crisis in education of the last century – we have never lived through something like this before, but we cannot waste the opportunity it gives us.
“We need to be agile, resilient, and optimistic, and also have a sense of urgency. Today is the time of innovation, and if we build in the lessons we have learned, we can create the school of the future that we previously thought was 10 years away.”
While Dr. Saavedra emphasized that education budgets have to be protected, he added: “The financing is critical, but so is having the right policies and technical designs – and even that is sometimes the easy part.
“We also need political commitment to education to ensure the continuity of reform, and the right kind of bureaucracy in education systems so that policies can be implemented. And we need to take politics out of education, which is itself a political decision. In many ways, we know what we have to do and it’s just a question of doing it at the right scale.”
Dr. Hassan Rashid Al-Derham, President of Qatar University, told the discussion that the financial impact of the pandemic may lead to the closure of some of the world’s universities, and changes to degrees to reflect areas in which students pivot towards, such as medicine and economics.
“This brings our attention to designing our curricula in a way that ensures they are responsive to the needs of the market,” he said.
“The university of the future should be both resilient and agile in the face of all these changes, because we will see waves of change happening in a much shorter period of time. Universities will have to adapt quickly if they are to meet these challenges.”
Bringing the perspective of youth to the discussion, Obakeng Leseyane – a South African student and education activist whose EdConnect initiative provides underserved communities with access to education – highlighted the importance of “not just giving young people access to education, but ensuring they complete it”.
And he said: “I’ve realized that when you have systems that don’t function, a single person choosing to be active within those systems has so much power, and I believe in the power of grassroots-level programs.
“Funding may come at boardroom level, but impact happens at grassroots level, where young people say ‘It’s not enough for me to have a quality education; I want to do the same for my community’. With very strong policies, partnerships, and grassroots program, we can ensure young people have access to, and complete, their educational journey.”
According to Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights: “There have been many efforts by governments and education actors to try to improvise and think about innovative solutions that were previously thought to be too difficult or impossible - we now recognize we cannot stay with the same thinking about educational interventions, and they have to be rethought and reshaped.
“To really ensure nobody is left behind, we have to think not just about schooling, but about skills and employability for the longer term; about ensuring teachers have the professional skills and readiness to cope with crisis; and about connectivity, including prioritizing the most accessible tools in distance learning. And we have to look at how we monitor learning, not just the acquisition of knowledge as we have been doing.”
The event, moderated by Salzburg Global Seminar program director Dominic Regester, also heard from Dr. Mamadou Dian Balde, Deputy Director within the Division of Resilience and Solutions at the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, who said: “With COVID-19, all the gains we have made in providing refugees with access to education have been threatened.
“To make a difference, the measures have to include enabling, smart, inclusive government policies, and the international community supporting countries that host large numbers of refugees. We should also not look at education in isolation – it has to be linked with the livelihoods of families, teachers and communities – and we need to make sure the inequalities and exclusion that we had pre-COVID do not continue.”
Meanwhile Dr. Geetha Murali, CEO of Room to Read – a non-profit organization in the field of children’s literacy and girls’ education in Asia and Africa – stated her view that “freeing the world of childhood illiteracy is possible – if we remove political and technical barriers, and have the political will”.
“Even though we know children will develop literacy skills when they have access to materials and skilled teachers and opportunities to learn outside the classroom, so many still do not have this,” she said. “It makes it all the more important that we offer low-tech or no-tech learning options as well as online learning resources.
“In my opinion, keeping child literacy at the top of the agenda is the only way of creating a generation of learners capable of solving the challenges we will face in the future.”
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