Published on March 20
This week we got a first glimpse of the effects of COVID-19 on education. In addition to the obvious health crisis, we are facing a global educational emergency. This situation—unprecedented in recent history— requires immediate attention but with a medium- and long-term view.
In 20 days, the number of students whose schooling was interrupted due to coronavirus went from 300 million in 4 countries to 1.3 billion in 124 countries. On March 1st, social distancing and lockdown measures impacted 17% of the world’s student population; today this number reaches 73% (UNESCO). Only a month ago, schools were temporarily closed in Mongolia and some regions of China, affecting only one million students. The speed and scale of this phenomenon is worrying and does not show signs of reversing in the next two or three weeks.
These new conditions challenge the right to education. As guarantors and protectors of this right, States must act, and they must do it quickly. We need strategies that ensure the continuity of teaching-learning processes at home. Teachers are key players. They are the only ones capable of articulating and giving coherence to an infinite, dispersed and atomized number of digital tools available as potential solutions (platforms, radio and television programs, applications, videos). The uneven distribution of connection and digital devices, as well as the diverse training of students and teachers, fosters strong inequalities to make these tools effective. Resources and support should be differentiated, prioritizing the most vulnerable areas and populations.
To respond to this emergency, political articulation is needed on at least two levels. Globally speaking, the role of international organizations is key to identify and guarantee support for the countries that need it the most. They also provide a platform to share and multiply strategies that have proven successful. Secondly, at the national level, educational actions must be coordinated from an intersectoriality perspective (food, health, safety, support) and coordination amongst the different levels of government (national, provincial and municipal).
In Argentina, 10 million students stopped attending classes this week. The National Ministry of Education addressed this situation effectively. It is articulating its actions together with other national ministries (health, social development, etc.) and with the educational organisms of the 24 provinces. It has also reached agreements with ICT companies to ensure that the proposals and actions reach all students. Working around the clock, it launched and has continued to update the Continued Education platform, which seeks to bring free resources to both students and teachers.
We know that both globally and nationally, political inaction and/or lack of coordination will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable groups, further deepening existing inequities and injustices. First steps must respond to this new juncture but without losing sight of medium- and long-term goals. This is the beginning of a challenge that will deepen in the next few days; they are just the first 1000 meters of a long marathon.