The global EdHeroes forum “Education 2021: Family in Focus” held in partnership with UNESCO IITE

The new role of the family in education and the importance of partnerships between parents and educators, children and adults – these were the key topics of the global EdHeroes online forum “Education 2021: Family in Focus” held on March 12-14.

The Forum was hosted by the Rybakov Foundation in collaboration with the University of Childhood Foundation and in partnership with UNESCO IITE, the World Bank Education, and OMEP, the World Organization for Early Childhood Education.

The forum’s livestreamed sessions featured 65 speakers from 18 countries who discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic changed both the perception of education and its delivery formats, explained why today’s education should be aligned with family interests, offered advice on how to encourage children and adolescents to learn while combining traditional and innovative forms of learning, and much more.

“The pandemic has strengthened the partnership between home and school, parents and teachers, making it possible for them to share responsibility for children’s education. And technology supports this partnership”, said Steven Duggan, Vice President of Terawe Corporation, Member of the UNESCO IITE Governing Board, addressing the forum’s opening session.


The school alone cannot guarantee quality education, according to Ekaterina Rybakova, co-founder and president of the Rybakov Foundation: “Learning the subjects taught at school is no longer sufficient for quality education. Life skills are also important, and these can be developed via the system of preschool and supplementary education through engagement with society, but primarily in the family”. Rybakova is convinced that the family is the key element of the educational ecosystem, and the pandemic has further emphasised its role.

The lockdown revealed how the parent-child relationship can affect the quality of education. Sergey Plakhotnikov, Deputy Director for Primary School Development at Moscow’s “Novaya Shkola” (New School), explained how adults can interact with children during play: “Even when a child is playing on their own, your attention and your recognition of their autonomy can make a huge difference. Assume an attitude of curiosity: what is it? how did you do it? what will happen next? – instead of imposing your own content on the child’s play. This will take your relationship with the child to a new level and help their progress”.

Tao Zhan, UNESCO IITE Director, spoke about online communities of parents that emerged in China as a way of supporting families during the pandemic and continue today, providing a space for offering encouragement and sharing experience.


Mathieu Brossard, Chief of Education at the UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti, also discussed new support tools available to parents, such as a mentoring program for parents in Peru, a call centre connecting teachers and parents in Libya, and self-organised groups in South Africa serving the same purpose.


A key takeaway from the pandemic experience is that parents are essential participants in the educational process, according to Aram Pakhchanian, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ayb Educational Foundation and Vice-president of ABBYY. “Parents have realised that not being interested in something but expecting their child to engage enthusiastically with it does not make much sense”. Yet at the same time, the sense of autonomy that young students experienced during the remote schooling should be reinforced, because in today’s world of hybrid technologies, young learners will need to get behind the wheel in their own education – once and for a lifetime.

Igor Rybakov, entrepreneur and co-founder of the Rybakov Foundation, invited everyone to contemplate on how much adult attitudes can influence children: “Early on, a child feels that he or she can accomplish anything: they successfully learn how to walk and talk with support and encouragement from adults. But then the child goes to school and by age seven hears from adults that he or she is not so good at certain things and starts getting grades. And before they reach 17, the only thing they know about themselves is that they are not good enough at anything at all”. According to Rybakov, everyone has a superpower, but we all need someone to help us become aware of it and to give us support.

Karen Giles, Head of Barham primary school in Wembley, U.K., adds to this, “Children are social creatures. Many students did not feel engaged during online classes. Now that school is offline, we use a variety of formats to fill this need for interaction, such as board games, activities in outside areas, Forest school, teamwork, and student research”.


What can we do as adults to pass on valuable skills to our children? Veronika Zonabend, Founding Partner and Chair of the Board of Directors, UWC Dilijan College, stressed a fundamental difference between the pre-digital and digital generations: “They find it easier to search for an answer in their smartphone and we prefer to ask another person. The skill that we want to pass on to them is precisely this: being able to communicate and build trusting relationships”.


Following up on this, Tigran Yepoyan, UNESCO Regional Health Education Advisor, stressed that the pandemic had further emphasised the importance of personal and social skills. “School today should not only transfer a certain amount of knowledge but also help students develop as individuals capable of learning, collaboration and adaptation to the rapidly changing reality, creative, confident, autonomous, free from prejudice and stereotypes, and sharing the universal human values”.

Similarly, preschool education is not limited to acquiring a certain amount of knowledge, according to Elena Nepomnyashchaya, senior teacher at Strana Chudes (Wonderland) kindergarten and winner of the Lev Vygotsky Competition for educators. The central purpose of preschool is not so much to teach but to engage children in fun developmental activities. Many parents became aware of it during the pandemic. “At parents’ request, we offered children online ‘events’ rather than ‘classes’. Such events involved virtual travel, dressing up and lots of play. We are still immersed in this mixed learning model created in collaboration with the parents”.

According to Ekaterina Rybakova, this partnership of educators and families meets the global demand for individuality. “When their focus is on the state rather than on the family, schools tend to become all the same and ignore individuality. But schools can be more diverse when they focus on families and their various needs. Then parents won’t have to choose between a bad school and a good one, but between schools which meet – or don’t meet – their needs”.

More than 33 thousand people from 167 countries watched the EdHeroes forum livestream. This fact confirms that transition to an educational system which is more focused on the family is a shared concern worldwide.