Global gains in education have been threatened by the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2021, schools were closed for 1.6 billion learners worldwide. The world’s ability to meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 – deliver quality education – is under threat.
During the pandemic, children around the world lost an average of one-third of a year of education, and this generation of students stands to lose an estimated $ 10 billion in income, according to the World Bank. The impact on sub-Saharan Africa is particularly severe – even before Covid, many countries already had more than half of their primary-age children, especially girls, out of school.
But the right of every child to a quality education is spelled out clearly in Articles 28 and 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Education is not a gift to those whose circumstances permit; it is the right of all who are part of and will contribute to our global society.
I have seen in my own country, Sierra Leone, how poverty, gender and disability act as barriers to education and we need a global re-commitment to the promises we have made to our children. We need a commitment to “radical inclusion” so that we can reach every child with their right to education.
Number of students whose schools have been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic
Radical inclusion requires a “last-first” approach. In Sierra Leone, we focus in particular on girls (including pregnant girls and parent learners), children with disabilities and those left behind by poverty or geography. Radical inclusion requires flexible and inclusive structures – infrastructure, curriculum and school environment – that remove barriers to the right to education.
When children enter the classroom, they must also receive an education suitable for the 21st century. Article 29 of the UNCRC sets out the objectives of education: not only to develop children’s mental and physical capacities, but also their respect for human rights, cultural identity, values and the environment – prepare young people to live in a free society. It should be the touchstone of any vision for education.
Children should have the opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to become active citizens in our global community: digital skills, critical thinking, creativity, interpersonal skills, respect, and social and emotional skills.
The financing of education must be seen as an investment: an essential pillar for the economic and social development of societies on a global scale. During the pandemic, Sierra Leone increased its education budget, despite economic challenges, as an investment in our society. We know we’ll see the returns in the years to come.
The 2021 World Education Summit later this month offers a unique time to commit to investing in our children’s future and to make it clear that nothing, not even a pandemic, can tear our commitment to children apart. the rights and future of every child.
In Sierra Leone, 48 percent of people are under 18 and 60 percent live in poverty. The pandemic has disrupted the education of 2.6 million of our children. However, we have taken steps to ensure that all learners can continue to access education, including a national radio program. All schools received training in emergency preparedness and infection control and prevention measures, and those who returned for exams were provided with food. The government has also pledged to provide Internet connections to 11,000 schools to enable quality teaching and learning.
My vision is to transform the education system in Sierra Leone, ensuring that everyone – children in marginalized areas, poor households, pregnant girls, parent learners, children with mental and physical disabilities – has access to a quality education.
In this year of summits, the call to invest in education is at the center of all the issues debated. As we reflect on how to get the global economy back on track, there can be nothing more vital than investing in the rights and well-being of the world’s children.
But children can’t learn if they’re hungry, which is why the 2021 Food Systems Summit and Nutrition for Growth Summit are also essential for education. School outcomes suffer when malnutrition increases, but education is essential for future food security as we seek to build a global society in which no child goes to bed hungry, in which we have the skills to cope. to future pandemics and in which every family can thrive.
At the same time, we must ensure that we respect the UN Article 29 commitment to educate children to “respect the natural environment”. The risk of not being in school can only increase as the impacts of climate change intensify. A policy of radical inclusion, once again, becomes the only path to success.
As the UK assumes its leadership role in this year’s summits, the world needs a global Britain that places education – built on the foundations of children’s rights and the principles of radical inclusion – at the heart of his vision.
This year provides a unique opportunity for the world to start “building back better” after the education disruptions caused by the pandemic. And, based on the vision and principles of the UNCRC, we can build a world that is safe, sustainable, just and empowering for generations to come.
David Moinina Sengeh is Minister of Basic and Higher Secondary Education and Innovation Officer for the Government of Sierra Leone.
Read his full essay on the Unicef website, here