Earlier this year, as education systems around the world began to close as a result of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, it quickly became clear that our individual and collective responses, as with all disasters and emergencies, would occur in two phases: emergency response and recovery.
Globally, we currently find ourselves somewhere in the middle of those two phases. Europe and parts of Asia have made strides towards recovery, while the Americas, Africa and the Indian sub-continent continue to struggle. All told, though, the impacts are becoming clear: nearly 1.6 billion learners in 190 countries have had their education interrupted as a result of COVID-19. A staggering 94% of the global student population. What’s more, the United Nations estimates that 23.8 million children and youth will drop out and/or lose long-term access to education in the upcoming school year.
The educational crisis we face is undoubtedly a unique moment in our history. However, let us be clear: the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that long pre-date this moment.
At the start of 2020, more than 250 million children and youth were out of school worldwide. Nearly 800 million adults were illiterate. Even access to school did not guarantee a quality education, as 56% of primary school age children worldwide are estimated to lack basic reading skills.
This isn’t to say that gains have not been made since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals 20 years ago. Quite the contrary, we have made huge advancements. The reality, though, is we still have a long way to go.
How we respond, though, in the emergency response phase of this pandemic is secondary to the actions we take in the recovery phase. Simply put: what happens next? How do we move on from here? How do we ensure we stay on track to achieving Sustainable Development Goal No. 4 by 2030?
In response to the current educational crisis, the United Nations has issued a policy brief outlining four recommendations to guide education during response and recovery. The Lego Foundation, in partnership with Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait launched Save Our Future, of which Magis Americas is a partner.
La Silla Roja: Protecting Education for Sustainable Lives
There’s a wonderful phrase in Haitian Creole that Fr. Emilio Travieso, SJ taught me on one of my first trips to Haiti. “Yon timoun lekòl se benefis tout moun. Chak timoun ki lekòl se responsabilite nou tout.” “A child in school is to everyone’s benefit. Each child in school is our shared responsibility.”
While these initiatives are important to setting the international agenda, they can often seem far removed from the priorities of our day-to-day lives. They allow us to distance ourselves from issues and view them as “other people’s” problems.
Education is a communal act. Not one of us was educated in a silo or by a single individual. Likewise, we all benefit from an educated society. It’s often easy to forget, but education is not a commodity or a business. It is a human right. It is the essential human right, key to enjoying all other rights. We all share a responsibility in ensuring access to quality and inclusive education.
This week we launched our annual La Silla Roja campaign, which is a global citizenship education initiative to defend the right to education for the over 250 million children and youth worldwide who are still out of school. La Silla Roja (or The Red Chair, in English) is a symbol of the right to quality and inclusive education and calls attention to the impact a lack of access to education has on personal and communal development.
This initiative was first launched in 2012 by our partner Entreculturas – Fe y Alegría Spain and has since been implemented by Fe y Alegría, along with Jesuit Schools, in several countries throughout Latin America, Europe and Africa.
The focus of this year’s campaign, “Protecting Education for Sustainable Lives”, calls attention to the educational crisis brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this year’s campaign, we are launching a three-part challenge with Educate Magis to encourage students and schools across the Jesuit Schools Network to learn about the impacts of COVID-19 on education, reflect on their roles as global citizens, and take individual and collective action to support their peers around the globe.
We hope you’ll join us on this journey to defend access to quality and inclusive education for all.