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The Foundation to Build Back Better: Education

Yasmine Sherif is Director, Education Cannot Wait

NEW YORK, Jun 22 2020 (IPS) - To realize the concept of ‘build back better,’ we need a foundation. That foundation is education. This is an incontestable truth.

It has now been three months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The coronavirus has both exposed and exacerbated the global inequities that lay at the core of our frail social fabric as a human family. The World Bank estimates that 40-60 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty as a result of COVID-19. The World Food Programme cautions that the number of acutely hungry people could double globally from 135 million to 265 million. UNDP forecasts human development is set to decline this year for the first time since 1990. Meanwhile, the number of displaced populations has continued to rise to an unprecedented 79.5 million by the end of 2019, according to UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report, released on World Refugee Day today.

Yasmine Sherif

The most effective way of forcing children and youth into a life in extreme poverty and acute hunger, while also dismissing all their human rights is to deny them an education. Conversely, a quality education is one of the few absolutes that raises development indicators, strengthens the protection of human rights and enables the young generation to live a life of dignity, productivity and opportunity. As UN Deputy-Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed states in her interview in this month’s ECW Newsletter: “Indeed, a quality education and lifelong learning is foundational to all other aspects of human development and sustainable development.”

As long as education is considered a ‘lesser priority’ in crises, the vicious cycle of global inequity and its brutal consequences will continue to haunt humankind. We can no longer merely stitch together a shredded social fabric. We must lay a solid foundation to build back better, or as Desmond Tutu says: “Inclusive, good, quality education is a foundation for dynamic and equitable societies.”

We know that COVID-19 is further deepening the already existing inequalities across the globe. We know that the consequences are most severe for children and youth left furthest behind in conflicts and forced displacement. We know that those with disabilities and girls who are already disadvantaged because of their gender are the most vulnerable and will likely bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that they now risk plunging further down a precipice from where they may never have the ability to climb back. With this knowledge, education clearly must be a top priority in the COVID-19 response and recovery.

Before COVID-19, an estimated 75 million children and adolescents, of whom 39 million are girls, living in armed conflict and forced displacement contexts, were deprived a quality education. These numbers are now increasing, while funding is decreasing! A recent report by the Malala Fund estimates that 10 million secondary school-aged girls could drop out of school as a result of the pandemic. Meanwhile, a separate study, carried out by the Centre for Global Development, reinforced this concern, while noting that one third of NGOs fighting to prevent school-drop outs are facing the threat of layoffs because of funding cuts.

Yes, we are facing an unprecedented economic recession. Yet, the consequences of not investing in a foundation for those left furthest behind will eventually be even more severe. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated in his message on the International Day of Family Remittance, referring to World Bank projections, global remittances – a funding flow three times that of international aid – could plummet by $110 billion this year, limiting for millions a vital source of funding for health, education and livelihoods. In the same vein, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Steering Group, Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, warns that: “Failure by the G20 group of leading developed and developing nations to organize a global COVID-19 recovery plan is a potential death sentence for the world’s poor.”

COVID-19 and its consequences are stark reminders that we must now recognize that children and youth who are conflict- and disaster-affected, who are internally displaced or are refugees, can no longer wait until the crisis is over. At worse, we will be accomplices to reducing their humanity; at best, we will keep patching up a shredded social fabric – but we will not rebuild.

To end the spiral of global inequity, gender-inequality, racism and discrimination in all its ugly forms, especially towards girls, we must recognize that those left furthest behind are entitled to a solid foundation to build back better. Like the rest of us, that foundation starts with inclusive and equitable, quality education, from the first 1,000 days of a child’s life onwards.


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