Learning from the pandemic
is the Director of GIZ’s Education Competence Centre.
The widespread school closures due to COVID-19 have clearly left their mark: lost learning, a lack of social contact and no school meals are just some of the consequences. The impacts will also be lasting, because many children, especially girls, will not return to school at all, even when they reopen fully one day. Young people are missing out on school-leaving qualifications and therefore opportunities for the future, missed lessons are causing psychological and physical stress; and children at home are not being adequately protected.
There are many factors that could result in a ‘lost generation’ unless action is taken and changes are made on a large scale. And yet many improvements in education had been made in recent years: school enrolment rates in developing countries rose from an average of 83 per cent in 2000 to 91 per cent in 2015, for instance. Thanks to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the international community then broadened expectations around education. Today, alongside access to education, the goal encompasses ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ and ‘lifelong learning opportunities for all’. Measures taken following the adoption of the SDGs had begun to have an impact, too, with further progress made along the entire education chain in many countries. However, for at least a year now, the world (of education) has been changing dramatically. Some teaching has moved online, but not all children and adolescents have benefited equally. According to figures released by the United Nations (UN), digital learning remained a pipe dream for at least 500 million children.
To ensure that the crisis does not develop in the way currently feared, education must become an integral component of sustainable recovery. From GIZ’s perspective, five things in particular are crucial. The focus should remain on state schools: making them resilient and crisis-proof is a major task for the post-COVID-19 era, because private schools, which promote themselves strongly in developing countries, often only reach the privileged. Education must be broad-based and it should accommodate children of all ages, as is called for in the Declaration of Human Rights. That is why GIZ is committed to strong public school systems, supporting them not only with advisory services and training, but also through targeted investment in school buildings and contemporary teaching and learning materials.
Hygiene measures in schools are another important factor, without which reopening schools will always be a risk – not only in a pandemic. Well-qualified teachers are also crucial and are at the heart of all educational efforts. Empowering them and equipping them with the necessary tools to provide high-quality, increasingly digital teaching is another goal of GIZ in its advisory work. But the technology has to be right. Hand out tablets at all costs without first having assessed the situation makes little sense, for example because there might be a shortage of electricity or lack of digital skills. Finally, it is important to strengthen the relationship between the private sector and those responsible for education, and to lay the foundation for cooperation based on trust. During the pandemic, it has primarily been tech companies and textbook publishers that have taken up the cause of distance learning. These connections should be maintained and expanded.
GIZ will pursue its activities in this spirit and will continue working to tackle the education crisis. Even before the closure of schools due to COVID-19, we were involved mainly in strengthening education systems, in basic education and in vocational and higher education. For instance, in Tunisia, where we are promoting inter-company training activities with the private sector. Or in Malawi, where we are supporting the school system as a whole, for example through new curriculums, learning materials, teacher training and school meals. There is also the ‘Fit for School’ programme, which we are implementing in various Asian countries. This is about introducing hygiene standards in schools – standards that were already important before the pandemic, but which have gained new significance because of COVID-19.
For us, there is no question that education should be an essential component of any recovery programme. If this is achieved in as many countries as possible, then the coronavirus crisis could provide the perfect opportunity to drive forward a long overdue modernisation of education systems and truly catapult them into the 21st century – and we must not miss this opportunity.
published in akzente 2/21