International Day of Education 2022: Changing course, transforming learning

As we mark the fourth International Day of Education, the world stands at a turning point. Gaping inequalities, a damaged planet, growing polarization and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic put us before a generational choice: Continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course.

Since its outbreak two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education systems globally, affecting the most vulnerable learners the hardest. It has increased inequalities and exacerbated a pre-existing education crisis. School closures have ranged from no closures in a handful of countries to up to more than a full school year. Lack of connectivity and devices excluded at least one third of students from pursuing learning remotely.

Today, despite the Omicron variant, schools are open in the majority of countries, supported by health and safety protocols and vaccination programmes. But the costs stand to be tremendous in terms of learning losses, health and well-being and drop-out. Prioritizing education as a public good is crucial to avoid a generational catastrophe and drive a sustainable recovery. To be more resilient, equitable and inclusive, education systems must transform, leveraging technology to benefit all learners and building on the innovations and partnerships catalyzed throughout this crisis.

A new social contract for education

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. Education is key to charting the course towards more justice and sustainability, but it is failing millions of children, youth and adults, increasing their exposure to poverty, violence and exploitation.

UNESCO’s recent flagship global report on the Futures of Education entitled Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education calls for a major transformation in education to repair past injustices and enhance our capacity to act together for a more sustainable and just future. The Report proposes answers to three fundamental questions: What should we continue doing? What should we abandon? What needs to be creatively reimagined?

This new social contact is grounded in a reaffirmed yet expanded understanding of education as a human right, a public endeavour, and a common good. To redefine our relationships with each other, this contract calls for pedagogies of solidarity and cooperation that treasure diversity and pluralism. It requires scientific and digital literacies to counter the spread of misinformation and divisiveness plaguing every society. To redefine our relationship with the planet, learning must empower students with the mindsets and competences to care for it through education for sustainable development.

Crucially, teachers are at the heart of education renewal. The pandemic has more than ever highlighted their irreplaceable role. Providing teachers with the recognition and professional support to collaborate and innovate will carry strong influence on the futures of learning. Finally, redefining our relationship with technology begins with ensuring that digital tools benefit all and are at the service of all, starting with the most marginalized. The digital transformation must be steered around inclusion and quality.

Empowering teachers, strengthening financing and providing opportunities to learn throughout life are conditions for forging a new social contract. But moving education to the epicentre of transformation and making it meaningful for every person involves a political and societal shift to strengthen the public functions of education as a shared endeavour. It calls for a broad movement encompassing governments, civil society, educators, students and youth to mobilize our collective intelligence and reimagine our futures together, building on acts of courage, creativity, care and resistance that each plant seeds of hope.

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