Ahead of the Transforming Education Summit, the education community needs to ensure that its outcome brings positive change to all students.
Southern Voice consulted education experts from its networks in Africa, Asia, and Latin America about accelerating SDG achievement in their respective national education systems.
Acceleration must be set within a realistic timeframe and must not compromise the achievement of quality- and human-based education goals.
By Andrea Ordóñez, Zamiyat Abubakar, Tracy Mamoun, and Kenechukwu Nwagbo, Southern Voice
Acceleration has been one of the more popular concepts in the discussions on the 2030 Agenda. The notion of picking up the pace on development goals is indeed appealing. Yet, we should be mindful not to pursue acceleration for its own sake. Ahead of the Transforming Education Summit convening from 16-19 September in New York, the education community needs to ensure that its outcome brings real positive change to all students.
Accelerate: Is it the answer?
There are a few caveats to speeding: the destination should be clear and so should be the approach to get to that destination. When it comes to the SDGs, COVID-19 has put the destination and the approach to the test. Do we still have the right plans and policies in place? Are the goals still aligned with meaningful change? Are they still achievable in time, given the pandemic-related setbacks?
At Southern Voice, we consulted education experts from our networks in Africa, Asia, and Latin America about accelerating SDG achievement in their respective national education systems. Most of them agreed that their systems are not ready to speed up action. In their view, governments should consider other approaches, such as reflecting on the current situation, reimagining the goals, and redirecting the efforts.
Reflect: Do we have sufficient knowledge?
Before devising solutions, we need to appraise the new education context, what has been done so far, and how it has worked. For example, Southern Voice scholars suggest a reflective approach for curriculum reforms.
First, we need a simple, yet thorough evaluation of students’ learning level post-pandemic. While performance disparities have always existed in the classroom, COVID-19 exacerbated them. Too many children did not have learning opportunities for months. New curricula and pedagogical approaches have to take into account these new inequalities.
Furthermore, any new plans must respond to the future needs of society and to emerging challenges, such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Artificial Intelligence (AI). An evaluation of changes in classroom practices due to COVID-19 – such as remote education – and their impact on learning is also needed before moving forward with pedagogical reform. In many countries, education is one of the most heavily impacted sectors by COVID-19. Fully understanding the current state of affairs is essential.
Reimagine: What are the goals and targets?
In some instances, society should focus on proposing new or adapted goals or targets based on the new information and tools we receive. This is crucial given the significant context change. In the Global South, there is a pressing demand to have enough teachers and to bring their skills up to par with students’ current needs. However, small tweaks in their recruitment and training systems are not enough. Experts suggest dedicating time to reimagining the teaching profession as a whole and its place in society. It is time for some creative thinking to envision a vocation that can attract and sustain talent now and in the future.
Reimagining can also be relevant for areas such as infrastructure. It might seem straightforward to simply build more schools. Yet, our experts highlight the need for smarter investments. School buildings should have an inclusive design, keeping in mind the special needs of students with disabilities. Schools can also play a significant role in socioeconomic integration. This reform is about reimagining the schools not only as places where education happens, but also as places where society improves.
Redirect: Time to change the path?
To meet the end goal(s), we might have to shift away from the current implementation, towards new activities. During the pandemic there was little choice but to accelerate the use of technology to maintain some level of learning during school closures. However, experts caution that maintaining this rapid approach to digitalization might not yield the desired positive effects on the delivery of quality and accessible education. Present efforts to incorporate more technology in education should be redirected to updating teachers’ ICT skills. Experts call for collaborations among public, private, and local stakeholders to include rural and marginalized communities. They also highlight the need for better infrastructure to ensure that everyone can access learning through digitized means. It is increasingly critical for us to ensure that we stop detrimental approaches.
This is not to say the concept of acceleration should be completely dismissed. In some cases and in certain conditions, acceleration is warranted.
When do we accelerate action?
Our members back acceleration when the existing approaches are on the right track and relevant to current circumstances. This is best illustrated in the calls for accelerating initiatives around community-level awareness, advocacy, and partnerships for girls’ education that have been successful. Experts indicate that existing efforts in engaging local communities in promoting the need for girls and boys to have equal access to schools have shown positive results. There is consensus among them that addressing the gender gap in Global South education systems is crucial, and outreach initiatives need to be scaled up.
A substantial number of education initiatives are targeted at the Global South. Therefore, it is critical that education experts and stakeholders from the respective regions are part of education reforms. That is also why we invited them to share their insights ahead of the Transforming Education Summit.
The discourse on acceleration is not a new one and we must encourage stakeholders to dissect the concept and its implications for education. While it can be beneficial, acceleration only helps when the work already being done is bringing about positive results. Acceleration must be set within a realistic timeframe and must not compromise the achievement of quality- and human-based education goals. Otherwise, we need to take a step back and look at how we can achieve targets in the present that will lay the foundation for work after 2030. As we do so, we must ensure that this foundational work in education is human- and sustainability-centered, to ensure an equitable future for all.