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07 May 2021

The GEC Manifesto for Education in Practice: Vikas Pota

The GEC Manifesto for Education in Practice: Vikas Pota

Partnership is vital – collaboration between governments who are responsible for the vast majority of education across the world and all other stakeholders which includes non-state actors such as NGOs and the private sector is of immense importance. It is in all of our interests that we look at ways to strengthen public education.

The pandemic has resulted in a shift in the way public systems are increasingly valued. Gone are the days where the main effort was in looking for ‘efficiencies’ to one that places a primacy on the goal of ‘resilience’. This applies equally to other areas that governments are responsible for such as health.

In the education sector, this shift to valuing ‘resilience’ really comes down to and must centre on strengthening the institution that we all know since having passed through one ourselves: the school. That being the case, we know that schools are much more than just about academics, and to ensure that all children are able to achieve their potential, we must look at building a set of competencies that we know will result in better performance of the whole school.

In my observation, during the pandemic, schools that have functioned relatively well have demonstrated certain attributes that many more could do well to replicate. This is where partnerships across the board can truly serve our future generations well and include:

The importance of schools in supporting healthy lives - mental health, wellbeing and nutrition of learners and teachers

Though the pandemic has caused significant social and economic devastation, the crisis response and recovery would not have been possible without the presence and work of schools during lockdown.

School closures have shed light on the reality that schools are much more than places for academic learning, providing social-emotional learning, social interaction, access to food, wellbeing support and referrals to basic health and social services. For example, UNICEF has found that throughout 2020, an estimated 39 billion in-school meals have been missed during school closures by the 370 million children worldwide who were benefiting from school feeding programmes pre-crisis.

No education system can outperform the quality of its teachers. We need to ensure the teaching workforce is healthy and able to orient itself for future demands – from their overall wellbeing to their ability to respond, hold and guide our children and young adults. Too often, the focus is on technology or other changes to the system. While all are contributing tools, none play as important a role in the education system’s ultimate success as the teacher.

As a result of past experiences combined with learnings from the pandemic, T4 is building a global community of teachers. Through gaining an insight into teacher experiences and developing a set of engagement tools, we believe that they can influence change in classrooms, schools, and communities worldwide.

The role innovation can play to ensure we deliver better learning outcomes

The pandemic has worsened the pre-existing attainment gap, potentially causing a further 23.8 million students – especially those from marginalised backgrounds – to drop out or lose access to education within the 2020-2021 academic year. In combination with the shifting demands of the workforce, we are in urgent need of innovation to secure equitable access to education and the achievement of better learning gains for all.

In a recent survey investigating how education systems around the world responded to the pandemic, the OECD found that whilst a range of approaches have been implemented to curriculum prioritisation, it is essential that teaching and learning responds directly to the specific student needs and parameters of modified learning environments. This will require identifying the optimal elements of blended learning modalities that have been developed in response to the pandemic to ensure access for all students within a range of settings. Most importantly, rebalancing the curriculum in light of the pandemic provides an opportunity to take the ‘whole child’ view, with a need to reimagine ways in which students can develop cognitive, social and emotional skills.

Collaboration and partnership with families and communities is critical

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve observed a greater collaboration between schools, parents and the wider community – such that has been vital in keeping school systems afloat.

Described by a recent Brookings Institution report as being ‘powerful allies’ of learning, parents have been required to take on an active role in the delivery of their child’s education during home learning where teachers have limited quality contact time.

Communities and education institutions have also stepped up to support each other during the pandemic. From local businesses donating devices and food to schools to universities donating PPE and resources to host vaccination centres for local authorities, it is clear that partnerships between education and community are integral in ensuring the welfare of everyone in the locality and that learning never stops.

Going forward, collaborations formed between parents, institutions and the wider community in response to the pandemic need to be deepened to secure the long-term recovery and sustainability of both education and society.

Creative problem-solving is a superpower we need to encourage and develop

As daily life becomes progressively automated, employers are increasingly valuing the power of creative problem-solving. It is now vital that the students of today and tomorrow can thrive as independent thinkers who can apply their knowledge and skills within relevant contexts, forming a viable workforce. In particular, the pandemic has taught us that it is not enough to issue tech with basic how-to-use instructions; the learning cannot stop there. Students should be exposed to a range of options and be encouraged to experiment and build their own toolkits of solutions and applications, applying them accordingly when exercising situational judgement.

The importance of building resilience and abilities to overcome adversity

The global education ecosystem is undergoing widespread, accelerated disruption and uncertainty. Pre-existing challenges such as adapting to changes in policy and guidelines, as well as preparing students to meet the demands presented by the future of work, have been intensified by the pandemic. It is now more important than ever to ensure that we can embrace change and adapt to current and future disruption with ease.

In the face of these challenges, we must recognise and harness the belief that education systems have an integral role in building resilience at an individual, community and systemic level. As highlighted by the USAID’s Office of Education at the beginning of 2020: “A strong education system has the potential to improve individual, community, and institutional resilience, and resilient populations are best able to deliver safe, relevant, quality education and learning for all children and youth.”

The pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to deepen engagement on many of these aspects that extend beyond the use of technology in education. So, the question is: how do we all come together and strengthen education systems? Importantly, we need a better mechanism for all of us to connect and contribute to public education systems, ensuring that no one is left behind as a result of the pandemic. To achieve this critical mission, all stakeholders must put aside differences to focus on how this school-going generation can move forward and flourish.

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