COVID-19 has hit across continents and across social sectors. That's especially true in education, as shuttered schools shut out, or at least slow, learning for millions of children across the world.
According to data compiled by Global Minnesota, more than 91% of students worldwide have been impacted. And even pre-pandemic, about 250 million youth did not attend school at all, with the impact particularly pernicious on girls of the developing world.
Those challenges and more will be among the topics discussed at Monday's International Day of Education Symposium, a virtual, free event from Global Minnesota. Reflecting the organization's name and mission, there will be an emphasis on education issues in this state and worldwide. Speakers will include Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The Trump administration withdrew from UNESCO, which estimates that 800 million schoolchildren are still facing major COVID-related interruptions, magnifying inequalities and increasing learning loss and psychological stress. Accordingly, the organization says reopening schools should be a global priority, that education urgently needs an economic "recovery package," and that educators should be prioritized for vaccines. Action will be needed post-pandemic, too, Azoulay emphasized to an editorial writer via e-mail. "This crisis — and the innovations it has catalyzed — is an opportunity to make our education systems more relevant, fairer and more resilient."
An energized education sector can have other benefits, like addressing the disinformation scourge threatening democracy. "Schools can be real breeding grounds for democratic citizenship if they promote an ethos of equality and responsibility," Azoulay said.
The disinformation crisis, she added, "is serious and complex. It's now at the heart of our work to promote freedom of expression and access to information all over the world. … But in many ways the horse has already bolted, and this is where education is so crucial: We need to invest much more in teaching people how to think critically about the information they receive, to resist misinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech — what we call 'media and information literacy.' "
Events such as Monday's symposium are part of the effort to bolster education — and, by extension, enlightenment — around the world.