UNESCO calls for “global mobilization”

In 2019, UNESCO already warned that it would be difficult to achieve the goal of “quality education for all by 2030”. The COVID-19 pandemic has further worsened the forecast, prompting the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to mobilize education communities and global governments at a meeting it is hosting this week in Paris.

2,000 participants from all over the world are gathered from June 28 to 30 at UNESCO headquarters, to prepare for the Summit for the transformation of education convened by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, next September.

Significant learning delays

“The pandemic has exacerbated the global education crisis,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO. “School closures have resulted in significant learning losses. In low- and middle-income countries, 70% of 10-year-old children are unable to understand simple written text – this was 57% in 2019,” she explained.

“Without support measures, these young people will encounter significant difficulties in pursuing their studies and integrating into working life. We will then face a major social crisis. Today, I am calling for action: education must return to the top of the priorities of the international community if we want to meet the Sustainable Development Goals”, continued the Director-General.

According to an assessment by UNESCO, the World Bank and UNICEF published on June 24, these learning delays will also have a strong impact on the economy. On a global scale, they will represent for the generation in school a cumulative loss of wealth of the order of 21,000 billion dollars. The previous figure, made in 2021, was 17 trillion dollars: the situation has therefore continued to worsen over the past year.

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Funding concerns

Added to this learning crisis is a financing crisis. According to another study by UNESCO and the World Bank, 40% of low- and middle-income countries have reduced their education spending during the pandemic. This decrease was on average 13.5%. However, in this summer of 2022, budgets have still not returned to their 2019 level.

“This wobble in education funding at this pivotal time is of concern to us,” said Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO. “When public funding drops, it is the families who have to increase their financial participation. And the more the cost of education falls on families, the greater the risk of increasing inequalities,” she recalled.

The question of resources is all the more essential since education must also change in view of the new challenges of the 21st century. As demonstrated by UNESCO’s recent report on the Futures of Education, it is a question of adapting curricula and lessons to challenges such as those of the climate crisis and the digital revolution.

United Nations Summit in September

If there are many reasons for concern, the significant mobilization of States this week at UNESCO gives reason for hope. More than 150 ministers and vice-ministers personally responded to the invitation and took part in the debates – there had never been so many at the Organization’s headquarters. All underlined, in their speeches, their determination to act and to carry out new actions together.

These two days of collective work have thus made it possible to outline many avenues of measures. The discussions will continue on September 19 in New York, during the Summit for the transformation of Education, which will bring together Heads of State and Government: a major moment initiated by the Secretary General of the United Nations to place education at the forefront of the international agenda.

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