The Covid-19 pandemic has compelled us to come face to face with one of the most devastating crises of our time that is unlike any other large-scale emergency the human race has had to deal with in its entire history. I can cite many examples of past disasters that wreaked havoc on the global economy, but the Covid-19 pandemic is a single event of catastrophic proportions that has shaken the very core of our existence.
That being said, I would like to highlight that some recent events that affected global economies – the Asian financial crisis in 1997, September 11 attacks in 2001 and the global financial crisis of 2008 – did not even come close to affecting our education system in the way that Covid-19 has. The pandemic may or may not have impacted the health of every individual, but it has, without a shadow of a doubt, affected the education dynamic in every single household on this planet.
In addition to drastically damaging the quality of learning, with one-on-one interaction being replaced by hours of screen time, the pandemic has amplified the many challenges that were already crippling the system and it has offset all the progress we had painstakingly achieved with years of effort. It has magnified critical global issues such as gender disparity, school drop-outs and low enrollment rates, among other things.
Even before Covid-19 hit us, 258 million children and youth globally were out of school and 617 million children and youth were attending school but not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.
The outbreak made the situation even worse. At its peak, the pandemic forced 190 countries to close down schools and universities, pushing more than 1.6 billion school-aged children and youth out of school. In addition, over 60 million teachers were also no longer in the classroom. Unsurprisingly, children from underserved communities are suffering the most, including those with disabilities and those from minority communities and low-income families and girls.
These numbers mean that the conversation on education financing can no longer be just a “good-to-have” discussion anymore. It is a conversation that can no longer be swept under the rug or brushed aside. This is a dialogue that needs to take centre stage and lead the agendas of leaders and decision-makers at major global events, because if investments in education stay at the same level, we will still end up having 800 million young people finishing high school by 2030 without adequate skills for the job market.
If we do not open our eyes to the fact that this is a crisis of unimaginable proportions and needs to be addressed with the highest sense of urgency, an entire generation all over the world – not just a marginalised group of people in a few countries – will grow up uneducated. To me, this is a highly disturbing and terrifying thought to say the least.
If education financing is not given the attention and precedence it deserves, if it is not tackled with the utmost level of seriousness, and if we do not act now, we will find ourselves with a young population that either does not have the means to attend school or college, or struggles to integrate itself within the job market because of lack of suitable skill sets.
For nearly two decades, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), among other partnerships and networks, has been on a mission to preserve the progress that has so far been made in securing funding for the global learning crisis. But that’s not enough. Sustaining their efforts through constant replenishment is the need of the hour. But this cannot be achieved by one organisation alone. It is a shared responsibility that requires a bold vision, collective co-operation and enduring commitment.
In support of education financing, Dubai Cares recently pledged $2.5 million for a period of five years to GPE at the launch of its Arabic Case for Investment in the Middle East, which took place recently in Saudi Arabia. This Case for Investment will directly address specific barriers related to access, completion and learning.
Despite these milestones, we still have a long way to go. We must utilise and leverage every opportunity to voice all issues that can make or break the future of underserved children and youth around the world. The discussion has started now with the launch of the Case for Investment, will continue during GPE replenishment in July and culminate with the global education summit, RewirEd, a collaboration between Dubai Cares and Expo 2020 Dubai, delivered in close co-ordination with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation from December 12-14.
I would like to call upon governments, philanthropies, donors, development funds and foundations globally to think twice about where they will direct their grants or loans from now onwards, as access to quality education, post-Covid-19, has become the most pressing challenge facing humanity worldwide. Therefore, we must address this challenge with the utmost sense of urgency and pass this test of sustaining education financing today, because if we don’t, we will fail the children of tomorrow.
Dr Tariq Al Gurg is CEO at Dubai Cares and Global Partnership for Education’s Regional Champion