Education during and post COVID-19: The role of civil society

Thoughts on how civil society organizations can work to make sure that governments seize the opportunities to positively transform the education sector during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

July 07, 2020 by GCE Secretariat, Global Campaign for Education
4 minutes read
A worker wearing protective gear performs a disinfection task.
A worker wearing protective gear performs a disinfection task.
Credit: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The impact of COVID-19 on the right to education is felt worldwide. From 1.5 billion learners out of school in March, nearly 1.1 billion learners in 146 countries are still affected today. As many countries have begun phased processes of reopening schools, it is time for civil society organizations (CSOs) to pause and reflect on what happened.

What lessons have we learnt so far? What are the opportunities to positively transform the education sector during and following the COVID-19 pandemic?

These are two pertinent and fundamental questions to guide and influence CSO actions, campaigns and programming.

Pertinent because collective and inclusive action should be strengthened to ensure progress made toward achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and SDG 4 in particular, is not reversed.

Fundamental because civil society should remain unified around advocating for the right to a free, quality, inclusive public education for all.

In all parts of the world, the COVID-19 crisis increases inequalities

“There is always a dispute between my parents regarding the income. Movement should not be restricted by the government as we poor ones are dying anyway with either the virus or hunger.” Bir Danuwar, 16 year- old boy from Nepal.

The COVID-19 crisis disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable populations, the poorest, refugees and migrant children and youth. It also exacerbates gender inequalities, with increased incidents of child abuse, gender-based violence, forced child marriages, teenage pregnancies and female genital mutilation.

Girls and boys with disabilities, who often live in some of the poorest families and face discrimination in their communities, are generally not prioritized in terms of education. During the crisis, they face an even higher risk of exclusion.

As children with disabilities are also more likely to drop out of school than their peers, there is an added risk that those who leave school now may never return.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, inequalities within and across countries have widened. Many learners have lost their daily lunch as a result of school closures as many countries failed to provide efficient short, medium and long-term solutions.

A large number of girls, boys, and adolescents from low-income families, and in rural areas do not have access to distance learning, especially computers and the Internet.

Addressing these challenges and many others require putting in place equitable and inclusive initiatives based on context and sensitive to the reality of families. This includes combining the use of radio, television, printed materials, as well as internet-based learning.

In Africa, education has been one of the sectors most impacted by COVID-19. In a bid to mitigate the short- and longer-term impact of school closures on learners and ensure continued learning, many countries have adopted distance learning mechanisms, but the results are far from ideal as distance learning courses are not accessible to the majority of the learners.

This is mainly the case of children living in remote rural areas that do not have access to Internet, TV and sometimes not even a radio. In many African countries distance learning has been so far rather hypothetical.

Christelle, 3 months, in Gonzagueville. Côte d'Ivoire, 2020
Christelle, 3 months, in Gonzagueville. Côte d'Ivoire, 2020.
UNICEF/UNI316644/Frank Dejongh

One noticeable initiative emerged from African information and communications technology (ICT) ministers who recently agreed to promote the zero rating (meaning free) access to educational content to support university students affected by COVID-19 lockdowns on the continent.

The African Union has also been commended for its continent-wide efforts to coordinate and support COVID-19 response strategies.

No going back: education financing as a priority to achieve SDG 4

More than ever before, adequate and sufficient financing for education will be needed.

Education activists must remain vigilant that governments don’t shift resources away from education and that donor aid is maintained for the sector.

Powerful instruments like fair taxation and debt cancellation must also be explored. With a decade left to achieve the targets set in the SDGs, nothing short of doubling it up for SDG 4 is required.

Additionally, particular attention must be paid to the issue of debt. Many developing countries already at risk of indebtedness will rely on international support to urgently deploy the financial resources needed to address the aftermath of the crisis.

It is particularly important as the impact of COVID-19 on education has ignited renewed impetus around the Leave No-One Behind banner and funds should be made available to address the specific needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized, especially in times of crises.

A unified civil society voice to positively transform public education systems

The pandemic’s impact on education compelled urgent attention and collective action by all governments, stakeholders and communities. The response by global education stakeholders, as well as national and regional education coalitions, was timely.

The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) made a clarion call to governments and donors to ensure that their responses to COVID-19 are equitable, inclusive and rights-based.

Key advocacy and campaign messages have been shared across the network to put pressure on governments and donors to prioritize education during the COVID-19 crisis, echoing worldwide concerns about continuity of learning and accessibility.

Solidarity across countries, regions, and sectors took center stage and has become a defining symbol in the education movement during the pandemic.

It is this solidarity in the form of sharing innovative ideas, resources and messaging that has led the education movement to remain resolute and united around ensuring the right to education for all during the crisis.

This blog was inspired by a series of GCE COVID-19 blogs written by GCE members. The blogs highlight issues affecting education, learners and education activists around the world.

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