Three months ago, we asked global leaders to take a stand on education, and commit to Building Forward Better. What this meant in practice was that instead of falling back on old, underwhelming commitments, we needed to seize the momentum and make the next part of our global pandemic recovery about delivering an education system for the children most impacted by poverty and inequality which would give them the safety, skills and opportunities that is their right and they desperately need.
Now, at the start of 2022 and on the International Day of Education, we are asking leaders to renew their energy and commitment to keeping education on the agenda, and deliver on areas which will have the biggest return for children and their families.
We asked leaders to invest in strong education systems
Our report found that unsurprisingly, the onset of Covid-19 had exacerbated many of the existing challenges education systems faced, and that the devastation caused by the pandemic was not likely to be a one off incident – with currently 75 million children witnessing their education disrupted each year, of which around half are due to environmental threats, such as floods and drought. The fact remains that whilst the pandemic has forced these issues into the light, education has long been in a state of emergency.
Our Risks to Education Index ranked countries by the vulnerability of their school system to hazards, vulnerability and deficiencies in preparedness, and highlighted that in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Libya, without further action the promise of education remains fragile.
As the pandemic has shown, building resilient education systems in all countries is critical, and even more so in crisis-prone and low-income countries. As part of an emergency response, education is life-saving and life-sustaining. And we know it’s what children and parents want: our research in 2019 showed that, even when overwhelmed by crisis and displacement, nearly one-third of children (29%) identified education as their top priority
What needs to happen now?
In our research, we found that whilst the challenges are plenty, there are opportunities to strengthen education systems in ways which will ensure they far better prepared to deal with future crisis. We need Ministries of Education and Finance, as well as international donors, to make smart investments which reinforce the back bones of our education systems - and to commit to adaptations and innovations which can ensure children are never locked out of learning again. We need to deliver not only for the children and families which have seen their education disrupted by the pandemic, but seize this opportunity to also target the 258 million children who were out of education before covid, who desperately need a new approach.
Investing in teachers
One of the best ways to bolster education systems and get foundational literacy and numeracy back on track is by supporting those who uphold their commitment to it in even the hardest circumstances. Teachers are one of the most influential and powerful forces for equity, access and quality in education. Investing in teachers is an incredibly effective way to recover education and allow children to keep learning, even in the most difficult situations, with the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel finding investing in teachers a ‘good buy’ when it comes to the impact gained from a relatively modest investment in training.
When teachers are supported to develop in an environment that values them as professionals and people, children are the biggest benefactors.
Save the Children’s flagship professional development programme, Enabling Teachers, has produced a range of materials to better support teachers with these new needs. We produced new modules to respond to the pandemic, which includes child safeguarding during school closures, and supporting learner and teacher wellbeing. However this approach needs to be more widespread if we want to reach all the teachers who need extra support.
Education must be recognised as a key to unlock the climate crisis
A child born today is likely to experience on average twice as many wildfires, nearly three times as many river floods, and almost seven times more heatwaves in their lifetime than their grandparents. The climate emergency poses a growing risk to children’s rights to education and protection, but another area where we can clearly strengthen education systems is by focusing on climate sensitive interventions and ensuring that leaders are prioritising education in anticipatory planning.
In committing to investing in better data which will demonstrate the children who are most at risk, and developing plans which will ensure that in the case of extreme weather conditions and crisis children are not forgotten, we can reduce the impact on future learning.
Including topics like the environment, the climate crisis, and biodiversity into the curriculum can also help to ensure that children have the necessary knowledge and capabilities to build resilience and adapt to a changing climate, and embedding a sense of responsibility and connection with the planet at a young age will ensure that our children will grow up to be our climate champions of the future.
In committing to putting education at the heart of the response to the climate crisis, we are giving children a much better chance to keep learning and develop the skills we will all benefit from in the future. Children are now leading the movement for action on climate change and showing us what is possible. Rather than sidelining young people, world leaders must start learning from them.
Time to act
This year, as the momentum around the pandemic shifts and ‘return to normal’ becomes the goal, we are asking leaders to stride towards ‘better’ instead. Normal is not good enough for the most marginalised children in low-and middle-income countries who have seen their education disrupted due to Covid, climate change and crisis. And if it’s not good enough for them, then it isn’t good enough for us.
We know that building education systems that are resilient to crisis is a challenge, but what we have also seen is that in the face of huge adversity, children and teachers have demonstrated remarkable resilience and agency. Now is the time for leaders to step up themselves and work with children, parents, teachers, local and international partners to get the roadmap to SDG4 back on track.