Global Education Meeting commitments in the wake of COVID-19: where do we stand?

By Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Since the first school closures in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented education systems with unprecedented challenges. The declaration of the Global Education Meeting (GEM) in October 2020 captured the concerns of the international education community and a set of commitments that would need to be monitored.

On the occasion of the latest Global Education Meeting, which took place last week, on July 13, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) published a new Information Paper, which offers a progress report against these commitments based on the third round of the Joint Survey on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures, conducted by UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank and OECD, and data available from government websites and publications.

GEM commitment 7.1 to increase education financing. Overall, global government spending on education as a share of total government spending decreased from 2019 to 2021. However,looking at the education budgets of more than 100 countries, affecting around three-quarters of the school-age population, most actually increased their education spending. Thus, the decrease seen between 2019 and 2021 means that spending in areas other than education have been increasing at a relatively faster pace, as a result of stimulus packages.

Budget on education as a proportion of total government budget, 2019–2021

A recent report for the G20 Education working group indicated that stimulus packages could have provided a substantial boost of education funding. Yet, on average, only 3.2% went to education, according to a UNESCO analysis as of April 2021.

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Consultation: what country profiles on technology and education?

The 2023 GEM Report will critically examine the role of technology in education. It will examine the potential and risks involved, as well as the challenges that technology puts on governments aiming to come up with coherent policies that maximize gains, while minimizing threats. The concept note of the report will be published in September, followed by an intensive period of consultation. But until then, we have one related question to ask you. 

Since the 2020 GEM Report on inclusion and education, country profiles aligned with the report theme are being developed on the PEER website. The profiles aim to supplement and systematize the monitoring of themes that are key to SDG 4 and can support policy dialogue.  

Currently, PEER contains profiles on inclusion in education and on equity through financing in education, while new profiles will be launched by the end of the year on climate change education to mark the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow and the regulation of non-state actors in education, the theme of the 2021/2 GEM Report.  

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The power of radio in Sierra Leone: ensuring no child is left behind

By Dr David Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education of Sierra Leone and Chair of the Advisory Board for the GEM Report

I was only a few months into my new role as Sierra Leone’s Education Minister when COVID-19 hit. Unlike many countries that were caught off guard, we were prepared for the school closures that arise from such pandemics. At the peak of the of the COVID-19 crisis, up to 1.6 billion children did not have access to physical school. The tragic situation with the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2016 meant that this time we were ready to provide distance schooling to 2.6 million students through the interactive Radio Teaching Program.

Image: Kate Holt / GEM Report

During the Ebola outbreak, students were out of school for the larger part of nine months. These were the years before Zoom calls and online learning platforms for schools: besides, very few households have access to internet technology in Sierra Leone. Radio programming was chosen to deliver lessons, as it was cost-effective and could be adapted to local languages. Distance learning through radio is also engaging and has been shown to improve learning outcomes.

Thanks to the Global Partnership for Education, 80,000 portable radio sets were distributed to learners in 2014. The best teachers were selected to present compelling lessons to 1.8 million learners. It worked well. While the radio teaching program ended when the Ebola crisis was over, the Ministry kept the Education Radio station alive.

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One-third of countries are not taking action to help children catch up post COVID-19

By Manos Antoninis, Director, Global Education Monitoring Report and Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

According to a new UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and OECD global survey of national education responses to COVID-19 school closures done in collaboration with the GEM Report, only one-third of countries are taking steps to measure learning losses in primary and lower secondary education, while one-third are not implementing remedial programmes.

In 2020, schools around the world were fully closed for 79 teaching days on average across all four education levels (pre-primary, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary). Closures ranged from 53 days in high-income to 115 days in lower-middle-income countries.

With schools now re-opening, fewer than one-third of low- and middle-income countries reported that all students had returned, heightening the risk of early school leaving. And only one in four countries is providing incentives such as cash, food, transport or fee waivers to help girls or children from disadvantaged families return to school.

Carried out with financial support from the Global Partnership for Education, in total 142 countries responded to the survey that covers the period from February to May 2021. It was the third iteration of the survey with previous rounds covering the periods May–June and July–October 2020, respectively.

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Early childhood education should be compulsory and inclusive

This morning, a new policy paper, Right from the Start, reminds countries of their SDG 4 commitment to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

Ensuring early universal access to education is the foundation for inclusion in the lifelong journey to learning and a decent life but, despite progress, an estimated 2 in 5 children, mostly in low- and lower-middle-income countries are still not enrolled in pre-primary school.

Despite encouragement for countries to make at least on year of pre-primary education compulsory in the Framework for Action and Incheon Declaration, currently only 28% of countries have done so, ranging from none in the Arab States to 55% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Making gender the norm: why now is the time to prioritize girls’ education

By Robert Jenkins and Lauren Rumble, UNICEF

An estimated 214 million children globally – or 1 in 7 – have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning over the past year. This is the biggest education crisis the world has ever faced. And the challenge is particularly acute for girls who have been facing a learning crisis for a lot longer.

Credit: © UNICEF/UN0387616/Altaf Ahmad

Even before the pandemic struck, nearly 1 in 5 girls aged 15-19 globally were not in education, employment or training, compared with 1 in 10 boys. Many millions more are not developing the transferable, digital, entrepreneurial, and job-specific skills they need to realize their potential. An estimated 9 million girls of primary school age will never have the opportunity to learn to read and write in primary school.

The education crisis is a gender crisis. And the pandemic will compound existing gender inequalities. Worryingly – but predictably – a disproportionate number of girls will simply not return to education. School closures could drive 20 million more secondary school-aged girls out of school after the crisis has passed. Crises, such as COVID-19, heighten and compound existing restrictive gender norms that constrain girls’ school attendance: risk of child marriage, early pregnancy, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, sexual exploitation and child labour. An estimated 13 million girls aged 15–19 years have experienced forced sex in their lifetimes. These risks are rooted in restrictive gender norms that define women’s and girls’ places in society. Girls between 5 and 14 years old spend 40% more time – 160 million more hours a day – on unpaid household chores and care work than boys their age, compromising their education.

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Have we kept our promise on girls’ education?

English / Español

More than 25 years ago, the world made a promise in Beijing, to advance the rights of girls and women around the world. Access to quality education for girls was the driving force behind this commitment, enabling girls and women to fulfil their potential and finally achieve equality. Building on the 2020 Gender Report, which identified key recommendations for the next 25 years on gender equality in education, a new paper released today entitled: An unfulfilled promise: 12 years of education for every girl, highlights new ways of looking at the progress made in girls’ completion rates over this period.

Credit: UNICEF/UN0389070/Panjwani

Fast forward from Beijing and two decades later, the world has kept its promise – to an extent. Girls are more likely to attend school and graduate. Globally, 87% of girls are now completing primary school; an increase of almost 20 percentage points over the past 25 years. The most impressive progress has been in Central and Southern Asia, where just over half of all girls completed primary school in 1995, compared to 90% of the current generation.

Even sub-Saharan Africa – the region with the highest out of school rates – has made strides with girls’ primary  completion rates increasing from 41% to 66%. Ethiopia stands out over this period: in 1995, for every 100 boys completing school in the country, only 60 girls would do so; twenty-five years later, girls’ completion rates have overtaken those of boys. The gains are not limited to primary school; in Northern Africa and Western Asia, female completion rates in lower secondary education rose from 39% in 1995 to 74% in two decades.

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Education from the Jhuggis (Shanty Towns) of Karachi, Pakistan

By Muhammad Aqeel Awan and Muhammad Fiaz Virk, researchers with ASER Pakistan, at Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA).

“I study in class seven … Mathematics is my favorite subject.”

We were not expecting to hear these words when we stepped out to explore the life of Jhuggi (shanty town) dwellers living beneath a flyover in Karachi, Pakistan. They were uttered by Dia*, a young girl, full of confidence. Yet, despite feeling compassion and guilt when we visited the Jhuggi, after meeting the young girl, our privilege allowed us to return to our comfortable lives, while Dia stayed there. Such are the socio-spatial structures that command our lives.

Dia’s Jhuggi is one of the many that exist under the ‘roof’ of the flyover, right next to a dirty water stream. The living conditions are extremely unhealthy, unhygienic and in cruel violation of fundamental human rights, particularly people’s right to the city. Despite such harsh conditions, Dia’s mother, Naari* is the reason why Dia is in school; the reason why Dia is the only girl in that town that is lucky enough to get an education.

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How we educated Palestinian refugee students during Covid-19 lockdown

By Nesrin Al Hasan, Principal 

Truth be told, we are used to emergencies. I am the principal of a school in one of the largest Palestine refugee camps in Lebanon. The camp was set up just after 1948 during the Arab-Israeli war. Three generations of families have lived here – people who have known only this camp as their home.  After the Syrian war broke out, even more Palestinians moved in after having been forced to flee Syria.

Credit: Anthony Upton / Arete / UNESCO

Currently, 45% of Palestine refugees in Lebanon live in camps, in small, overcrowded houses of usually one or two concrete rooms. In some camp sectors, the alleys between shelters are so small that sunlight cannot be seen, and the coffins of the dead cannot pass. There were armed clashes a few years ago, so military checkpoints have been erected at every entrance. All of us, whether we have fled wars or lived in the camp all our lives, are accustomed to existing in a state of emergency, preoccupied with our safety and that of our families. 

When COVID-19 hit, it was a different kind of threat, an unseen enemy. Despite this, since we have always been on constant alert, we felt prepared. The school has closed a number of times due to clashes and other emergencies, so we already had a system in place that would allow children to study from home. This is the system on which we fell back when the school was forced to close in February 2020 in order to contain the spread of the pandemic. 

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Supporting vulnerable adolescent girls to continue their education should be prioritised in recovery plans for COVID-19

By Kath Ford, Young Lives

Substantial progress has been made in educating girls and young women in low- and middle-income countries over the last few decades.  The 2020 GEM Gender Report estimated that 180 million more girls have enrolled in primary and secondary education since 1995. 

Credit: SONIKA/UNESCO

The Young Lives study, which has been following the lives of 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Viet Nam since 2001, has highlighted significant improvement in the educational attainment and performance of both girls and boys compared to their parents, despite the impact of persistent inequalities and gender disparities. Our latest survey, however, adds to the mounting evidence that COVID-19 could not only halt progress but also reverse important gains, hitting those living in poor communities hardest.

New findings from the Listening to Young Lives at Work COVID-19 phone survey shows that while the pandemic has had significant economic and social impacts on adolescent girls and boys, the combined pressures of interrupted education, increased domestic work and widespread stresses on household finances are having a disproportionate impact on girls and young women, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Urgent action is required to support vulnerable girls and women to continue their education and avoid long term impacts on their future life chances.

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