Now more than ever, we must invest in education: We must ensure the right of every child and young person to learn in all circumstances and uphold their wellbeing and ability to cope
The International Day of Education has been commemorated by a decision of the UN General Assembly since 2019. This year, the message is a special one: education is an investment in the future and, as such, an essential part of the post-pandemic recovery and revitalisation efforts. Now more than ever, we must make sure to invest in education, competence and research. Teachers worldwide deserve our appreciation. We must support their work and give them room to use their expertise creatively. Highly educated teachers are instrumental in securing equitable education of high standard even in exceptional circumstances.
According to UNESCO, distance learning has now affected over 90% of all learners in the world at some stage of the pandemic. At the same time, about half of the people in the world do not have access to the internet. How well different countries are able to safeguard education varies considerably. There are fears that the global learning crisis will escalate as a result of the pandemic. Nearly 260 million children did not attend school even before the outbreak of the pandemic. More than half of all children of primary and lower secondary school age in the world fail to acquire basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic, whether they are in school or not. In fact, the pandemic has amplified inequalities, putting a generation at risk of a learning catastrophe, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned in his Policy Brief on Education and COVID-19. Finland must promote the right to education both nationally and internationally.
In Finland, we must not compromise on the objectives specified in the curricula and on the support for learning and school. The society is responsible in all situations for making it possible for children and young people to study. We must not allow the pandemic to create permanent gaps in learning or disparities in education. Every student has the right to instruction and support every single school day as well as a safe learning environment based on the core curriculum – even during the pandemic.
Periods of distance learning put students in an unfair position, where some students accumulate gaps in their learning outcomes. Now we must focus on bridging this divide by making sure that the gaps in learning and wellbeing among children and young people do not become wider, and that the divide does not create permanent dents in their competence and wellbeing. It is particularly important to make sure that we support the learning and development of the most vulnerable children and young people and those with a foreign-language background or migrant background. We must also ensure that students within the scope of special needs support and intensified support receive the help they need for their studies and that students who dropped out during the emergency conditions find their way back to schooling.
We have invested in offering support for learning throughout the epidemic. In the spring, we allocated tens of millions of euros to schools and upper secondary education institutions to patch the learning gap that distance learning created, and we have launched a binding model whereby the school community works collaboratively. This allows adults who have no obligation to teach to be in school, so that they can focus on the students’ problems before the problems become serious. The aim of this model is to support students and school staff in creating a bond with the school community, engaging in school attendance, reducing absenteeism and preventing and correcting the effects of absenteeism.
The COVID-19 epidemic will leave deep scars in our society, but we can help minimise the damage by making sure that every child and young person retains the right to learn throughout the crisis. Today, on the International Day of Education, it is time to express our appreciation of our highly professional staff in schools and educational institutions, whose skills and hard work have allowed learning to continue throughout the pandemic.
UNESCO coordinates the commemoration of the annual International Day of Education on 24 January at the global level. UNESCO is organising a global conference on 25 January to celebrate the day.