UNESCO urges G20 Education and Labour Ministers to sustain investment in young people
Education ministers from the G20 countries affirmed the importance of putting education at the centre of the political agenda to recover from the pandemic during a meeting in Catania, Sicily on 22 June 2021.
Addressing the meeting, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education said that “Innovation and inclusion are the only way forward. As vaccination campaigns gain pace and societies reopen, every education system faces the challenge of mitigating learning losses, scaling up digital learning for all and reorienting education around the urgent stakes of sustainable development. Education and training cannot be dependent on economic barometers. They need sustained investment and global cooperation.”
Under the Italian presidency, the G20 is focusing on three broad pillars of action within the 2030 Agenda – People, Planet and Prosperity – to ensure a swift international response to the pandemic.
To build back better and resilient, the Ministers focused their Declaration on ensuring education continuity through blended teaching and learning, and measures to support young people and children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who face a higher risk of falling further behind due to the pandemic’s impact.
According to UNESCO, full or partial school closures from March 2020 to March 2021 amounted to an average of 36.5 weeks in G20 countries.
Ms Giannini warned that a major increase in educational poverty threatens to reverse decades of progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education. Already before the pandemic, a significant share of youth in G20 countries were leaving school without completing secondary education. According to UNESCO, the average completion rate was just 62%.
To inform the meeting, the Italian presidency of the G20 conducted two surveys on policies aimed at organizing blended education and addressing educational poverty. Throughout the pandemic, countries relied on a mix of high and low tech technologies to deliver distance education. Online solutions and television are the most common modalities. Almost 80% of G20 countries provided free or subsidized devices and internet access.
Ms Giannini noted that the shift towards distance education during the pandemic has created a tremendous knowledge base to build back better on, placing equity at the centre.
Ministers highlighted that educational poverty has to be tackled through measures that are preventive to address the structural roots of exclusion, interventionist to meet the needs of learners, and compensatory to provide second chance opportunities.
Ministers also welcomed the efforts of the international community to jointly review cooperation in the field of education.
In a joint meeting of education and labour and employment ministers the same day, Ms Giannini said that the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of our economies and societies.
Girls are twice as likely than boys to be neither in employment, education or training, while employment losses were higher for women and young workers during the pandemic. Graduates are entering shrinking job markets.
“In short, young people have borne the brunt of this crisis – their education and training must be prioritized in the recovery. The transformation towards digitized, green economies requires new skills, competences and mindsets. Every country will gain by strengthening pathways between school and work.”
She welcomed that the Declaration acknowledges the importance of acquiring digital and green skills, and as well “as competencies in relation to global citizenship and sustainable development that allow us to respond to the complexity of our societies,” referring to UNESCO’s leading programmes.
The G20 is the international forum that brings together the world’s major economies. Its members account for more than 80% of world GDP and 60% of its population.