SANTIAGO, Chile (CMC) — Two United Nations agencies have launched a new report outlining the consequences and measures taken by educational systems in the region in the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic while providing recommendations for managing the impact and outlining opportunities for learning and innovation.
The report, “Education in the time of COVID-19,” by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) alerts the international community to the widening of pre-existing gaps due to the pandemic, both in terms of access as well as equity and quality – “a situation that will especially affect those most vulnerable”.
“The disruption of the school year has represented an opportunity in terms of adaptation and innovation in teaching, which can entail enormous advances but also accentuate pre-existing educational gaps in the region between students in more vulnerable situations and those with greater advantages with regard to learning outcomes and other educational indicators, such as advancement and continued engagement in school,” the report notes.
It emphasises that the contraction in economic activity forecast for the region calls for urgently addressing the need to safeguard financing as a fundamental priority to protect national educational systems from “the exacerbation of inequalities in access to education and of the learning crisis”.
The situation is even more pressing because, according to UNESCO’s available figures on 25 countries in the region, educational spending would have increased by 3.6 per cent between 2019 and 2020 without the pandemic.
However, because of the economic contraction, the amount of resources available for education could fall by more than nine per cent in 2020 alone, with the real budgetary consequences coming to light in 2021.
The report notes the urgency of calculating the costs of national educational systems and prioritising spending, as well as ensuring the protection of education as a fundamental human right and “harnessing the transformative potential of education, not only to build resilient systems but also to contribute to the social recovery”.
The study calls for particularly addressing the risk of dropping out of school among the groups most vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic and the consequent health, social and economic crisis.
The report indicates that national education responses have allowed for identifying priority challenges when implementing measures to ensure educational continuity, equity and inclusion while face-to-face classes are suspended and during the process of reopening educational centres.
With regard to equity and inclusion, the report calls for focusing on the most vulnerable and marginalised population groups – including indigenous peoples, the Afro-descendant population, refugees, displaced and migrant persons, the most socio-economically disadvantaged populations and people with disabilities – as well as on sexual and gender diversity.
The report says the pandemic has exposed the shortcomings in digital inclusion, adding that “unequal access to online educational opportunities widens pre-existing gaps in access to information and knowledge, which hinders socialisation and inclusion in general, in addition to the learning process that distance learning initiatives seek to provide.”
With regard to quality and relevance, the study calls for focusing on improving the content of curricula, in relation to health and well-being in particular, and on specialised support for teachers, ensuring appropriate contractual and working conditions, teacher training for distance learning and the return to school, and socio-emotional support in order to work with students and their families.
In addition, the text indicates that the educational system’s challenges are “related to preparedness for responding to crises, meaning the resilience and adaptation capacity of both educational systems and accompanying social services.”
For that reason, it stresses the need for “interdisciplinary and intersectoral approaches; the strategies for returning to school and revitalising educational processes require coordinating and articulating the planning and implementation of the educational sector with that of other sectors, particularly health, nutrition and social protection.”
“These challenges serve as a specific call to fulfil the right to education. hat is why it is indispensable to have the resources needed for budget allocation and distribution, which will face a twofold effect from the crisis.”