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From learning recovery to the futures of education: Snapshot of UNESCO’s action in 2021


At the start of 2021, UNESCO’s main focus in education was urging governments to safely reopen schools for millions of learners who were still affected by COVID-19 closures. Through the Global Education Coalition, learners and teachers around the world have been supported through this unprecedented crisis that is still sweeping across continents.

The long-awaited Futures of Education report, the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development and the Paris Declaration on increased funding in education are just a few examples of many major milestones and events that have taken place throughout the year.

Here are some of the main actions and stories from 2021.

UNESCO Member States unite to increase investment in education

Heads of State and Government and Ministers of Education from more than 40 countries adopted the Paris Declaration during the Global Education Meeting held during the General Conference of UNESCO. The Declaration is a global appeal initiated by UNESCO and France to increase investment in education in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. At the height of the pandemic, 1.6 billion children and adolescents were deprived of tuition in the classroom. Among them, 500 million students, mainly in the South, had no access to distance learning. UNESCO quickly rallied by bringing together States, international organizations and businesses within a Global Coalition for Education, which made it possible to ensure educational continuity in 112 countries.

What you need to know about UNESCO’s Futures of Education report

Let’s reflect on education as we look to 2050: What should we continue doing? What should we abandon? What needs to be creatively invented afresh? UNESCO is proposing answers to these three essential questions in its new global report on the Futures of Education entitled Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education. Over a million people have taken part in the global consultation process that informed this long-awaited flagship publication which calls for a major transformation in education to repair past injustices and enhance our capacity to act together for a more sustainable and just future.

Meet Angel and Fatma: Empowered through education in Tanzania

“If a woman is uneducated, unemployed, doubtful and unable to stand on her own two feet, life can be cruel to her,” says Asela Mataba, Angel’s mother. Angel, aged 17, is a student in Sengerema, Tanzania. Tanzania has one of the lowest rates of secondary education enrolment in Africa at 32%, with challenges in the transition from primary to secondary school. This is especially the case for girls. While progress has been made in ending child marriage and increasing access to education for both girls and boys, the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the existing challenges faced by girls.

Learn for our planet: What you need to know

Learning is key to finding solutions and creating a more sustainable world. Transformative education is the long-term solution to help change the way we live and care for our planet. Yet, not all learners today are receiving the adequate tools and knowledge to be empowered to act for the planet. That is why at the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, UNESCO is launching a campaign calling on the world to invest in education for sustainable development and ensure that it is embedded in learning systems globally. For the survival of our planet, we need to #LearnForOurPlanet.

UNESCO calls for better oversight of private education to reduce inequalities

UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report warns of growing inequality and exclusion due to high costs of private education and weak regulation by states.  It advocates five measures to ensure the provision of quality education for all. 40% of pre-primary pupils, 20% of primary pupils and 30% of secondary and tertiary students are now educated in non-state schools worldwide. The Report shows that many countries lack adequate regulations on private education or the capacity to enforce them, undermining quality and potentially widening the educational divide between rich and poor.

Learning losses from COVID-19 school closures could impoverish a whole generation

This generation of students now risks losing US $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value, or about 14 percent of today’s global GDP, as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures, according to a new report published today by the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF. The new projection reveals that the impact is more severe than previously thought, and far exceeds the $10 trillion estimates released in 2020.

How UNESCO is helping adults resume their education in Cambodia

“I am now more hopeful than ever before.” These are the words Mut Vibol, a graduate of a UNESCO-supported programme. As an orphan who needed to support his grandmother, he dropped out of school in Grade 6. Mut earns his living as a taxi driver but dreams of becoming an electrician. He found the programme interactive and was able to continue working alongside his studies. He plans to enroll in an electronics course at Battambang Institute of Technology (BIT) and then open an electronics shop outside his home.

UNESCO sounds a warning on what is at stake for education in Afghanistan

“What is at stake in Afghanistan is the absolute necessity of preserving the gains made in education, especially for girls and women,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. Since 2001 Afghanistan has made advances, according to a UNESCO report. Yet these critical gains for the country’s development are at risk and the right to education for all learners, especially girls, must be upheld in the face of a looming humanitarian crisis. The report found that the total number of enrolled students increased from around 1 million to 10 million learners; the number of teachers increased by 58%, and the female literacy rate almost doubled from 17% to 30%.

Learn the facts, think critically, take action: Stand together against hate speech

In every country around the world, hate speech threatens human rights and social stability, exacerbating conflict and tensions in all regions. In the context of COVID-19, hateful content, disinformation and conspiracy theories have swept the globe, aggravating pre-existing biases, harmful stereotypes and discrimination, including xenophobia, racism, antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQI+ hatred. The first Global Ministers Conference and Multi-stakeholder Forum addressing hate speech through education, organized in September and October 2021, were major milestones convening education policy-makers, experts and civil society from around the world to seek consensus on addressing and countering hate speech and discrimination.

Qualified Syrian refugees in Iraq receive UNESCO Qualifications Passport

Following the successful implementation of a pilot project implemented by Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and scientific Research, UNHCR, NOKUT and UNESCO, 21 UNESCO Qualifications Passports (UQP) were officially issued for candidates during a conference on 27 May 2021. The certificates were given out by H.E. the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Dr Nabil Kadhim and UNESCO Represented to Iraq, Paolo Fontani. This successful pilot of the UQP illustrates the importance of such recognition mechanism for the inclusion agenda in Higher Education and shows the potential of a shared global mechanism in the field of credential recognition.