International Day of Education 2021

Remarks by the Chair of the Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning, Norwegian Deputy Ambassador Odd-Inge Kvalheim, on the International Day of Education “Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation” virtual event, 25 January 2021.

It is my pleasure and honour to join the celebration of the International Day of Education on behalf of the Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning.

Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly as a reminder of  education’s foundational role for peace and development, the day is an opportunity to honour the efforts and achievements of the educators worldwide, to shed light on the remaining challenges but also recount the growing optimism.

Today we commemorate the tireless efforts of teachers, school administrators, government officials and other dedicated individuals who have made possible that children and youth continued to learn even against the largest disruption of our education systems due to COVID-19 pandemic. These uncelebrated heroes had to respond and adapt to drastic overnight changes, often without a warning and enough or any preparedness, in order to sustain learning for all. Yet, this unprecedented situation reminded us of the importance to build back better and more resilient education systems. It also led to an impressive global, regional and national mobilization around the provision of education, especially for the most vulnerable, as it stressed the centrality of education for our societies. Consequently, the international community would not take the risk to put to test the validity of the saying (and I quote) “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.

We know too well that peaceful, inclusive and economically prosperous societies cannot be nourished if educational systems collapse as a result of global threats. Education is an end in itself, but also a means to unlock progress on all Sustainable Development Goals. Education can promote better health outcomes, gender equality and inclusive economic growth. Education prepares learners for the future of work, but also for efficiently tackling major global challenges.  Equipping youth with the right skills to improve their employability as well as the competences needed to address climate change, persisting inequalities and other disturbing phenomena such as the spread of disinformation and hate speech, has become a clear imperative today. Therefore, as countries are focusing on the immediate public health, economic and social welfare responses in tackling the impact of the pandemic, more than ever, ensuring that the learning continues in an equitable way should be a sine qua non for the success of our common efforts. It is particularly important to strengthen universal primary education as the building block upon which all future learning must be based.

Education also plays a critical role in contributing to the maintenance of peace and security, as it provides stability and hope for better future for children in conflict and post-conflict settings. At the same time, COVID-19 had exacerbated further the calamity faced by those living in crisis-affected countries, where education is one of the first to be impacted by violence and conflict. Today more than ever, we must ensure that schools remain safe places, free of conflict and violence and protect education from attack.

As the world advances its response against COVID-19 pandemic, we should sharpen the focus on the educational recovery and revitalization. First, by supporting schools to reopen smartly, safely and inclusively, while backing all teachers as frontline workers and paying serious heed to their training and professional development. Then by reimagining and investing in relevant skills development from the socio-emotional dimension to gaining competences for new jobs and careers.

Also by applying the lesson that transpired from the pandemic response, notably that the right to education has become largely dependent on connectivity, especially Internet access, as well as on the acquisition of a set of digital skills. Last year, hundreds of millions of children, or almost 47% of all primary and secondary students worldwide didn’t have access to the online learning platforms in the midst of the pandemic. Many learners and educators alike lacked the required digital literacy to effectively benefit from the opportunities presented by the new technologies.  In order to be able to provide next generations with a more inclusive future, especially in developing countries, we must spare no efforts to bridge the existing and alarming digital divide. Bridging the digital divide will be a long-term endeavour. Low-tech and no-tech solutions for distance learning will continue to be important to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised learners remain connected to the education system.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Throughout the year, the UN bodies and forums reflected in their decisions COVID-19’s impact on education and learning for children and youth. Resolutions such as the UNGA omnibus resolution on COVID-19 response and the Quadrennial comprehensive policy review - key document guiding the UN development system, - called to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all, and recognized education as a driver for sustainable development.

In line with the commitments made at the Global Education Meeting in 2020, we call on countries to maintain or increase domestic finance for education. We also call on donors to support the upcoming replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education in July, and to help meet the financing gap for Education Cannot Wait throughout 2023. Finally, we encourage all states, multilateral organisations and civil society organisations to support the process led by UNESCO to develop a new and better global education cooperation mechanism.

Clearly this crisis presents an opportunity for all stakeholders to come together and deliver on our common goals. Therefore, on the occasion of the International Day of Education, let us stay true to our commitments and work together to safeguard quality inclusive and equitable education and lifelong learning for all as the most critical investment for a sustainable recovery and future. And you can count on the Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning to champion education and work to build synergies between the global education architecture and the UN forums.