Address inequalities in access to learning - GulfToday

Address inequalities in access to learning

Only good on paper

Antonio Guterres. File

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption to education in history and prolonged school closures could further entrench inequalities in access to learning. The situation certainly underlines the need for bold steps to address the crisis, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres suggests.

The UN estimates that the pandemic has affected more than one billion students worldwide.

Despite efforts to continue learning during the crisis, including through delivering lessons by radio, television and online, many are still not being reached.

Learners with disabilities, members of minority or disadvantaged communities, as well as refugees and displaced persons, are among those at highest risk of being left behind.

Even those students who can access distance learning face challenges, as success depends on their living conditions, and other factors such as fair distribution of domestic duties.

As the UN Secretary-General stated, a learning crisis existed even before the pandemic as more than 250 million children were out of school.

Furthermore, only a quarter of secondary school children in developing countries were leaving school with basic skills.

The UN policy brief calls for action in four key areas, starting with the re-opening of schools once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control.

There is a need for greater investment in education, as low-and middle-income countries had already faced an annual funding gap of $1.5 trillion prior to the pandemic.

Yes, it is also critical that education is at the heart of international solidarity efforts, from debt management and stimulus packages to global humanitarian appeals and official development assistance.

The shutdowns have also left many parents struggling to balance childcare and paid employment, a situation that is placing a larger burden on women who, on average, spend more than three times longer on care and housework than men.

In poorer countries, the closures have made life even harder for many families with young children, for whom schools are an essential provider of a range of services, including nutrition, stimulation and the development of social, emotional and cognitive skills.

In the UAE, the Ministry of Education recently completed a comprehensive evaluation of the distance learning programme applied in public schools nationwide and private schools in Ajman, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujairah, based on the recommendations of the Education and Human Resources Council.

The process to evaluate and improve the learning experiences and wellbeing of students using distance learning is in response to the prevailing exceptional circumstances. It is part of the Ministry of Education’s efforts to monitor the performance of schools and to ensure the effectiveness of their implementation of the distance learning programme.

Evaluation teams at the Ministry of Education visited 29 per cent of public schools, and all private schools in Ajman, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah.

According to the evaluation results, 22 per cent of public schools received a ‘Developed’ judgement while 78 per cent of schools received a ‘Partially Developed’ judgement. No public school received the ‘Not Developed’ judgement.

Interestingly, the key strengths of the distance learning programme seen by the evaluation teams were in students’ attendance rates, students’ knowledge of the concepts of cyberbullying and their need to protect their privacy on the Internet while working on distance learning programmes and platforms.

In Guterres words:  “We need investment in digital literacy and infrastructure, an evolution towards learning how to learn, a rejuvenation of life-long learning and strengthened links between formal and non-formal education.”


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