The response of Arab cities to COVID-19 with respect to the provision of youth and adult education and learning

COVID-19 has been with us for several months now. What it has done to the world in this short period is beyond our imagination – a third of the world population has been under some form of lockdown, 91% of pupils suddenly found their schools closed, and as many as 25 million people are projected to lose their jobs. Indeed, education is one of the sectors most disrupted by the pandemic, especially school (formal) education. Governments, education authorities and development agencies have joined forces to the best of their abilities to ensure the continuity of formal education during and after the pandemic. However, such dynamic reprogramming and reallocation of the education budget to respond to an educational emergency seldom extends to non-formal education and adult learning.

On the contrary, in the past few months it has become apparent that the demands for new knowledge to deal with the unprecedented situation are higher than ever. From health education, digital skills, financial management and parenting skills to the ability to perform tasks under high pressure with limited resources, the current crisis not only demands that citizens have a unique set of skills and adaptability, but also places the burden of sustaining existing skills and building new skills in a post-pandemic society on the citizens.

Indeed, the brief periods of confinement have shown that adult education is a fundamental but mostly neglected component of modern societies. Widening inequality in skills and learning outcomes, especially among the marginalized, such as women, adults with low literacy, refugees, migrants and school leavers, will be inevitable if we keep deprioritizing this sub-sector.

Against this background, UNESCO Beirut, in partnership with UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), organized on 10 June 2020 an Arab regional webinar on “The response of Arab cities to COVID-19 with respect to the provision of youth and adult education and learning “,  to support members of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) and cities around the world in this difficult time. The webinar aimed to enable  learning cities in the Arab region to share practices and information on the strategies implemented at the city-level in response to COVID-19 on key topics identified in this situation and utilize the joint knowledge of the 173 UNESCO GNLC members, representing a broad range of cities who are tackling the pandemic at very different stages.

After welcoming remarks by Ms Samah Shalaby, Member of the Monitoring and Assessment of Learning Team at UIL and   Mr Jamal Bin Huwaireb, Member of UIL Governing Board and CEO of Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation UAE), Dr Hegazi Idris, UNESCO Beirut’s Regional Programme Specialist for Basic Education, made a speech in which he highlighted the importance UNESCO devoted to promoting youth and adult education and learning to achieve SDG4. Dr Idris spoke of the challenges the Arab region faces in this regard, especially in light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak. Commanding the efforts made by Arab states to develop alternative solutions for school closure and ensure that learning never stops despite the pandemic, Dr Idris shed light on the pressures and challenges posed by remote learning, especially in terms of inclusion.

Dr Idris’s speech was followed by cases studies from UNESCO GNLC Aswan, Egypt, UNESCO GNLC Tunis, and UNESCO GNLC candidate city Jubail, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The presentations shed light on the good practices of these learning cities in terms of providing learning for youth and adults during the COVID-19 crisis.