COVID-19: 40% of poorest countries did not support learners at risk — UNESCO Report

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 2020 Global Education Monitoring (GEM), has said that nearly 40 per cent of poor countries have failed to support learning in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, which supports inclusion in education for all, showed that fewer than 10 per cent of countries had laws that helped to ensure full inclusion in education.

It provided an in-depth analysis of key factors for the exclusion of learners in education systems worldwide while schools shutdown, including background, identity, beliefs and ability, among other criteria.

GEM 2020 report is the fourth annual report to monitor progress across 209 countries, including Nigeria, in achieving the education targets adopted by the UN Member States in the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development.

It noted that 258 million children and youth were entirely excluded from education, with poverty as the main obstacle to access.

“In low and middle-income countries, adolescents from the richest 20 per cent of all households were three times as likely to complete lower secondary school against those from the poorest homes.

“Among those who did complete lower secondary education, students from the richest households were twice as likely to have basic reading and mathematics skills as those from the poorest households.

“In spite of the proclaimed target of universal upper secondary completion by 2030, hardly any poor rural young women complete secondary school in at least 20 countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa,” it said.

Also according to the report, 10-year-old students in middle and high-income countries who were taught in a language other than their mother tongue typically scored 34 per cent below native speakers in reading tests.

GEM report stated that in 10 low and middle-income countries, children with disabilities were found to be 19 per cent less likely to achieve minimum proficiency in reading than those without disabilities.

The report also noted that two African countries still banned pregnant girls from school, 117 allowed child marriages, while 20 had yet to ratify the Convention of International Labour Organisation adopted by 138 countries, which banned child labour.

“In several Central and Eastern European countries, Roman children were segregated in mainstream schools in Asia, displaced people were taught in parallel education systems.

“In Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, more than two-thirds of students from immigrant backgrounds attended schools where they made up at least 50 per cent of the student population, which reduced their chance of academic success.

“Just 41 countries worldwide officially recognised sign language and, globally, schools were more eager to get internet access than to cater for learners with disabilities.

“Some 335 million girls attended schools that did not provide them with the water, sanitation and hygiene services they required to continue attending class during menstruation.

It further said that when learners are inadequately represented in curricula and textbooks, they can feel alienated, adding that almost half of low and middle-income countries do not collect enough education data about children with disabilities.

UNESCO GEM report team, however, launched a new website, PEER, with information on laws and policies concerning inclusion in education for every country in the world.

PEER shows that many countries still practice education segregation, which reinforces stereotyping, discrimination and alienation.

The report and its PEER website noted that many countries were using positive, innovative approaches to ensure transition toward inclusion.

According to the UNESCO  GEM report, many countries are setting up resource centres for multiple schools and enabling mainstream establishments to accommodate children from special schools.

It added that some countries were using itinerant teachers to reach under-served populations, while others were also seen to go out of their way to accommodate different learners’ needs.

“Odisha state in India, used 21 tribal languages in its classrooms, Kenya adjusted its curriculum to the nomadic calendar.

“In Australia, the curricula of 19 per cent of students were adjusted by teachers so that their expected outcomes could match students’ needs,” it said.

The report on the PEER website revealed that teachers needed and wanted training on inclusion, which fewer than one in 10 primary school teachers in 10 Francophone countries in sub-Saharan Africa said they had received.

“A quarter of teachers across 48 countries reported they wanted more training on teaching students with special needs,” it said.

Ms Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of UNESCO, however, said that rising to the challenges of our time, a move towards more inclusive education was imperative.

According to Azoulay, rethinking the future of education is more important following the COVID-19 pandemic, which further widened and put a spotlight on inequalities.

She said that failure to act would hinder the progress of societies.

Mr Manos Antoninis, Director of the UNESCO  GEM Report, reiterated that “COVID-19 has given us a real opportunity to think afresh about our education systems.

“Moving to a world that values and welcomes diversity won’t happen overnight because there is an obvious tension between teaching all children under the same roof and creating an environment where students learn best.

“COVID-19 has shown us that there is scope to do things differently if we put our minds to it.”

On the dearth of data, Antoninis stated that inadequate data meant the world was missing a huge part of the picture and the inequalities suddenly got exposed during COVID-19 surprisingly.

UNESCO GEM Report urged countries to focus on those left behind as schools reopen so as to foster more resilient and equal societies.

The report included material for a digital campaign, “All means All”, which promotes a set of key recommendations for the next 10 years. (NAN)



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