Amidst global school closures UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative receives strong support

Amidst the rapidly evolving global health crisis of COVID-19, the Advisory Board on the Futures of Education held its first virrtual meeting on 12 March 2020 with the participation of H.E. Ms Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia and Chair of the International Commission on the Futures of Education, and Ms. Stefania Giannini, Assistant-Director General for Education at UNESCO.  The virtual meeting provided an opportunity for some of the leading organizations working on education to exchange ideas for collaboration and share resources.

Participants agreed that the school closures that are rapidly spreading around the globe perfectly illustrate the importance of UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative.  Not only does the current situation require innovation and renewed attention to ensuring the right to education, it also forces us to think about the multiple roles that schools play and the contributions that knowledge and learning make to common global solidarity and wisdom.

Open up creativity and imagination

President Sahle-Work Zewde opened the meeting with a report on the implementation of the initiative and a summary of the first meeting of the International Commission.  In explaining that the initiative uses the horizon of “2050 and beyond” she expressed her hope that “the uncertainty and possibility of thinking 30 years ahead in the future will open up creativity and imagination,” adding that “the vision of this foresight exercise is to explore predicted, possible and preferred futures and bring creative rethinking into the present so that we can create roadmaps for the next thirty years.”

Members of the Advisory Board offered comments on the ambition and scope of this foresight initiative.  When looking at education and learning in the future, “values need to underpin the education we want,” remarked Hilligje Van’t Land, Secretary-General of the International Association of Universities.  Numerous participants in the meeting expressed concerns about inequalities deepening and emphasized the importance of collaboration and solidarity—particularly in ensuring that educational opportunities reach the most vulnerable and marginalized.  Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University suggested that the “shockingly inadequate” financing of education has resulted in a global educational crisis.

“When schools are closed, most people think about the impact on academic outcomes and do not consider the social outcomes,” said Refat Sabbah, President of the Global Campaign for Education, echoing the observation of several others that we should bear in mind the multiple ways that schools enable people to live fulfilling, successful lives.

Strong support for UNESCO’s new flagship initiative

Several speakers on the call expressed concern that the school closures will deepen inequalities in education.  Jaime Savendra of the World Bank noted that “our starting point is extreme inequality, we live on too many planets within the planet earth.”  Savendra recommended that if education is to be a global good we need to begin treating it differently.

Members of the Futures of Education Advisory Board expressed their strong support for UNESCO’s new flagship initiative and pledged to activate their networks to mobilize expert inputs as well as broad public engagement.  The next meeting of the Advisory Board is envisioned for September 2020, to take place concurrent to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Learn more about UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative and ways that you can get involved and contribute your ideas.