Governance

‘Save COVID generation’: Ex-world leaders, economists urge education reform

The world’s poorest children are locked out of learning, denied internet access and have lost free school meals, a lifeline for 300 million boys and girls

 
By Madhumita Paul
Published: Wednesday 19 August 2020
Measures must be taken for millions of children who have no hope of an education, said the former leaders in a letter. Photo: news.un.org

Urgent action must be taken to address the global education emergency triggered by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, said 275 former world leaders, economists and educationalists in a letter published August 18, 2020.

The Group of 20 (G20) countries, national governments and global financial institutions were urged to take action to save the global education sector in a letter published by Save our Future, a global campaign launched by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The letter was signed by former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, economist Amartya Sen, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (2006-12) and former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, among others.

Measures must be taken for millions of children who have become a part of the ‘COVID generation’ and have no hope of an education, said the former leaders in the letter.

The world’s poorest children were locked out of learning, denied internet access and lost free school meals — once a lifeline for 300 million boys and girls — pushing them towards hunger, said the letter.

Efforts were needed to get all these children in school. This included the 260 million already out of schools, the 75 million affected by protracted conflicts and forced displacement and 35 million of those who are internally displaced or live as refugees.

The letter urged G20 countries to increase funding, rebuild education in their countries and called for three emergency initiatives:

  • Pledge to protect front-line education spending, prioritise the needs of the most disadvantaged children through appropriate, conditional and unconditional cash transfers that can promote school participation
  • Increase aid for education, with a focus on the most vulnerable, including poor girls, children in conflict situations and the disabled, through debt relief
  • Urge the International Monetary Fund to issue $1.2 trillion in Special Drawing Rights, a global reserve asset of the agency, with its membership agreeing to channel these resources for the countries that need them the most

Apart from the three measures, the former leaders’ group called for the participation of private sector corporations and foundations in making global education a greater priority.

Hundred countries have not announced a date for schools to reopen yet, while 65 have plans for a partial or full reopening and 32 planning to end the academic year online, according to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Global Education Coalition for COVID-19 response. This was set up by UNESCO to support governments in strengthening distance-learning and facilitating the reopening of schools.

Guterres earlier called on governments and donors to prioritise education for all children, including the most marginalised.

Describing education as the key to personal development and the future of societies, he issued recommendations to get children back in the classroom in a policy brief accompanying the launch of the Save our Future campaign August 4.

Overall education spending in low- and middle-income countries can be $100-150 billion lower than previously planned, according to World Bank estimates.

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