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Arab and International Leaders Call for Greater Investment in Education

The world celebrated the International Day of Education this week, and Arab academic institutions and organisations marked the day with calls for strong responses across the region to meet the educational challenges ahead.

In December 2018, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed January 24 of each year the International Day of Education, to emphasize support for steps to provide education for all without discrimination.

In its fourth edition, this year’s celebration acknowledged the importance of education in achieving development and peace, in light of the prevalent issues of inequality and exclusion, and the worsening effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mohamed Ould Amar, director-general of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation, told Al-Fanar Media that education will play a vital role in meeting the challenges facing the Arab world.

“Arab countries must work to make their educational systems successful because the future is for science and knowledge. We must spend on education,” he said. “The more we spend, the more we progress.”

For her part, Audrey Azoulay, director-general of Unesco, said in a statement: “Glaring inequalities, a damaged planet, growing polarization, and the devastating impact of the pandemic present us with a generational choice: continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course.”

“Arab countries must work to make their educational systems successful because the future is for science and knowledge. We must spend on education. The more we spend, the more we progress.”

Mohamed Ould Amar
Director-general of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation

Transformations and Goals

The theme of this year’s celebration was “Changing Course, Transforming Education”.

The day’s events included a webinar that aimed to generate debate on the essential triggers of transformations to build more equitable and inclusive education systems, Unesco said in a news release.

Other goals included showcasing transformations already underway that have potential for scaling to advance digital inclusion and efforts to mobilise political will to address inequalities in access to education and completion rates.

The event also sought to amplify students’ voices on what changes and innovations they want to see, and to spotlight teachers’ concerns about the future of their profession. Those concerns included integrating technology into their practice and reorienting teaching and learning around new skills and mind-sets centered on people and the planet.

Rebalancing Relationships

According to Unesco, about 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic mathematics. In sub-Saharan Africa, less than 40 percent of girls complete lower secondary school, and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school. (See a related article, “New Report Details Where Children Are Excluded From Education”.)

A recently published Unesco report, titled “Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education”, discussed these and other barriers to education in detail, and offered potential solutions.

In a document outlining the theme of this year’s International Day of Education, Unesco said: “Transforming the future requires an urgent rebalancing or our relationships with each other, with nature as well as with technology that permeates our lives, bearing breakthrough opportunities while raising serious concerns for equity, inclusion and democratic participation.”

These issues take on added urgency in the post-Covid-19 world, said Kherieh Rassas, vice president of Palestine’s An-Najah National University.

“Despite the importance of technology in our lives, we have become its hostages,” Rassas told Al-Fanar Media. “What if another virus of another kind emerges and paralyzes technology? We must think seriously to answer this question.” (See a related article, “Kherieh Rassas Aims to Help Palestinian Students Compete Globally”.)

“Glaring inequalities, a damaged planet, growing polarization, and the devastating impact of the pandemic present us with a generational choice: continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course.”

Audrey Azoulay
Director-general of Unesco

‘A Huge Educational Gap’

During the pandemic, schools in most countries closed their doors, leaving millions of children unable to access education.

According to a Unicef report issued in 2020, 91 percent of students from low-income households or rural families do not have access to the Internet.

In her message, Azoulay said: “Covid-19 disruptions have only exacerbated an educational crisis that, even before the pandemic, excluded 268 million children from school, especially girls. As a result of this exclusion, millions of children, youth and adults are exposed to poverty, violence, and exploitation.”

Even for students who have been able to continue classes, Covid-19 disrupted education. In order not to lose an entire academic year, many students were allowed to move to higher grades without passing the required proficiency tests.

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Mohammed Rady, a professor of educational psychology at Sohag University, in Egypt, said: “Although the methods adopted to deal with the crisis aimed at reducing educational losses, they created a huge educational gap.”

He explained that shortening curricula, reducing schooling hours, and sometimes canceling exams “made the situation worse.”

‘We Must Rethink Education’

Azoulay summed up the situation: “In these exceptional times, business as usual is no longer an option. If we are to transform the future, if we are to change course, we must rethink education. This means forging a new social contract for education,” she said.

“We need to repair past injustices and orient the digital transformation around inclusion and equity,” she added.

“To do this, we need to support education financially, keeping in mind that it is not an expense, but an investment.”

By: Tarek Abd El-Galil

Tarek is an Egyptian journalist. He works as a deputy manager for the correspondents section at Tahrir newspaper and as a correspondent at correspondents.org and Al-Hayat TV. Tarek has a BA in journalism.

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