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Children Address Unequal Access to Education During Pandemic

DUBAI, Nov 18 2021 (IPS) - In the whirl of effort nations are making to combat COVID-19, the powerful role that children and young people can play in overcoming the harmful effects of school closures is too easily overlooked.

Children are making a difference on their own within their families, schools, and communities, while also joining forces with adults in countless compelling ways. Their efforts offer us all much hope and inspiration. But we need to do so much more to ensure they can all get back to school, and safely.

At EXPO 2020 DUBAI, now underway after a postponement, the spotlight is on the grassroots efforts and remarkable actions children themselves are taking to mitigate the global learning crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Wear My Shoes” Award, organized by Arigatou International and sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities, will be given on 19 November at the EXPO to five grassroots organizations who made outstanding contributions to mitigating the educational crisis during the pandemic in 2020-21; four of these projects were co-led by children.

The award is one part of a larger campaign organized for this year’s World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, celebrated globally on and around November 20.

Rebeca Rios-Kohn, J.D.

The award specifically recognizes exceptional efforts that focused on the most vulnerable and excluded children who were hit hardest by the pandemic and had no access to education, and which also explicitly addressed their mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Each winner will receive US$5,000 to support their continuing activities.

Increasingly, organizations working to improve the lives of children are involving them in shaping and implementing the decisions affecting their lives, fulfilling one of the key child rights set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

By recognizing the participation and engagement of children, the award also seeks to empower other children to claim their right to education, and to step forward to insist that their best interests be put at the heart of all policymaking, including COVID-19 responses.

If we listen, it is not difficult to discern the message. Children are saying it loud and clear: they want to be in school, learning, with their peers – and safely. We owe them no less.

Children are among those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, yet they are emerging around the world as key agents of change by taking concerted action to help improve the lives of their peers. Innovative activities co-led by children are taking place in many countries in response to the unprecedented crisis, with school closures leaving millions of children without access to learning.

With the support of their faith communities, in countries like Bhutan, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan and Serbia, for example, children are taking action to help their peers access education even when schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We should celebrate children are finding their own solutions, including to help their peers access online classes and educational materials during the education crisis, but we also need to recognize that public policy has a major impact. As inspiring as they are, children’s efforts alone will of course not be enough and the support of their local faith leaders and faith communities adds value to their efforts.

As of the end of October 2021, UNESCO warned that nearly 800 million students around the world were still affected by full or partial school closures. UNESCO further warns that school closures during the past two academic years have resulted in learning losses and increased drop-out rates, impacting millions of children, particularly the most vulnerable students.

Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Violence against Children, has recently expressed concern stating that “school closures contributed to increased anxiety and isolation among children, along with sadness, frustration, stress, disruptive behavior, hyperactivity, and sleeping and eating disorders.”

Together with Arigatou International and UNICEF, some 18 international organizations (including faith-based organizations such as the World Council of Churches, World Vision, Religions for Peace and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists), joined forces this year on the Wear My Shoes Campaign to draw global attention to the urgency of getting children back to school.

The aim is to mobilize children and adults – including religious leaders, policymakers, parents/caregivers, and educators – to take immediate action for students’ safe return to school and to prioritize addressing the grave impact of school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

The Wear My Shoes Campaign is part of this year’s celebration of the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children 2021, an annual event initiated by Arigatou International to engage diverse faith communities to raise the status of children’s rights and help take action to end violence against children on November 20, the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Wear My Shoes Award event at EXPO 2020 DUBAI falls within the Week of Tolerance and Inclusivity at the EXPO, which seeks to foster greater common understanding to create more tolerant societies under the theme, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,”

Indeed, our future depends on the children of today, and they depend on access to education to develop their minds and help them acquire the broad capacities for global citizenship they will need to build the better world we all dream of and which they deserve.

The message from Dubai today is that children themselves are taking urgent action to address the harms caused by the continuing education crisis. So should we.

Rebeca Rios-Kohn, J.D. is Director, Arigatou International – New York

The link to the online event on Nov. 19 at 8:30 AM EST (UTC – 05:00):

Arigatou International is “All for Children” and works with people from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds to build a better world for children. Believing that every girl and boy is a precious treasure of humanity, Arigatou International draws on universal principles of common good found in religious and spiritual traditions and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities was established to empower faith leaders to work for the safety and security of our communities, tackling issues such as child sexual abuse, extremism and radicalization and human trafficking. It aims to facilitate the building of bridges between faiths, NGOs and experts in various domains.


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