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COVID-19: How the UNESCO Global Education Coalition is tackling the biggest learning disruption in history

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2020 is not just the year when the world came to a halt faced against the worst pandemic in over a century. It is also the year that saw the largest education disruption in history which forced, at its peak, nearly 1.6 billion students out of their classrooms in more than 190 countries. That represents over 90% of the world’s student population.

The COVID-19 education disruption has been dramatically exacerbating learning inequalities across the globe. That is why in March 2020, UNESCO launched the Global Education Coalition, a multi-sector partnership to meet the urgent need worldwide for continuity of learning on an unprecedented scale.

What is the Global Education Coalition?

The Global Education Coalition is a platform for collaboration and exchange to protect the right to education during this unprecedented disruption and beyond. It brings together more than 150 members from the UN family, civil society, academia and the private sector to ensure that learning never stops. Coalition members rally around three flagships, namely connectivity, teachers and ​gender.

How exactly is the Global Education Coalition operating?

The Global Education Coalition has become an essential platform to support countries to respond to the unprecedented challenges facing the education sector. The actions of the Coalition are many and varied depending on the requests made by countries. The Coalition is designed to work in a flexible and agile manner in order to deliver responses for the continuity and quality of education. This new model for partnership to support education response has benefits in the way its initiatives are implemented in this crisis because interventions are fast, efficient, and able to leverage resources not normally available to deliver results. Coalition contributions do not replace national responses in different countries. Instead, the Coalition engages new actors that normally would not have been obvious partners, such as technology and media organizations, to complement and support national efforts to ensure continuity of learning.

What are some of the achievements of the Global Education Coalition so far?

The Global Education Coalition Members are currently engaged in supporting over 70 countries across the world. They are targeting 400 million learners and 12.7 million teacher beneficiaries – directly and indirectly. Below are some country-specific examples of actions that have been achieved:

The Ministry of Education of Senegal, UNESCO, Microsoft, and Huawei have joined forces to support tens of thousands of teachers and students to continue learning. 82,000 teachers and 500,000 learners enrolled in the Ministry Distance Learning Platform and have started learning. Going forward, 1.5 million learners and teachers will be added with support from Microsoft. UNESCO is supporting training for 200 teachers to be ‘master trainers.’ Devices to improve connectivity of the 200 master trainers were distributed by Huawei.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) and UNESCO’s CapED programme are co-financing education response activities. With the country’s internet coverage estimated to be less than 20%, these joint interventions focus on remote learning via radio, especially community radio, with the aim of reaching over 4 million learners. UNESCO and ECW are adapting the primary education curriculum, as well as year 8, into radio lessons. The programme is also helping strengthen the capacities of 120 community radio stations and 240 community radio staff to broadcast the lessons.

In Lebanon, UNESCO is supporting the production of communication and education resources targeting teachers and parents (brochures, videos and guides) and capacity building for the Ministry in the fields of ICT and education. 50 coordinators benefitted from this intervention. In addition, 280 video lessons from CANOPE/France, are being acquired for the online platform of the Ministry of Education, which will reach 1000 schools and 200 000 leaners in Lebanon.

Vodafone is mobilizing US$7.5 million to offer free access to education data for 60 000 learners and teachers in Samoa.

Orange through its subsidiaries, is providing free internet access to accredited learning platforms in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Similar packages are forthcoming in Botswana, Cameroun, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Madagascar. This best practice extends to other regions: in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, free connection is provided for digital education content.

A Global Skills Academy has also been established to equip 1 million youth with digital skills and help them find jobs during the looming recession. Partners are Coursera, Dior, Festo, Huawei, IBM, Microsoft, Orange Digital Centres and PIX. Organizations including ILO, ITU and OECD and WorldSkills International. The Academy is operating through a matching process facilitated by UNEVOC Network, UNESCO’s global network for institutions specialized in technical and vocational education and training.

More country examples are available in the Progress report (available soon).

**What are the main education challenges and what are the next steps for the Coalition? **

According to UNESCO data, some 24 million learners are at risk of not returning to school, threatening a loss of learning that may stretch beyond one generation of students. Over 11 million girls – from pre-primary to tertiary education - may not return to school in 2020. This alarming number not only threatens decades of progress made towards gender equality, but also puts girls around the world at risk of adolescent pregnancy, early and forced marriage, and violence. UNESCO and members of the Coalition are currently running a girls’ education campaign to bring attention to this situation.

In addition, the COVID-19 crisis risks increasing the annual funding gap for education in poorer countries to as much as US$200 billion per year.

Many countries are still facing significant challenges when it comes to reopening schools and ensuring the continuity of learning especially for the most marginalized. The Coalition will continue its actions within the main strategic priority areas to ensure that learning never stops for everyone throughout this pandemic.

On 25 September, UNESCO is hosting a side event to the United Nations General Assembly entitled ‘Education During Covid-19 and Beyond: The Global Education Coalition in Action’. The aim of the event is to share with countries measures and best practices in responding to immediate challenges of school closures and re-openings. Concrete examples on how the Coalition members are engaging in supporting country needs will be showcased. More about the event