The global health pandemic has shined a harsh light on the vulnerabilities and challenges
humanity faces. It has provided a clear picture of existing inequalities—and a clearer picture
of what steps forward we need to take, chief among them addressing the education of more
than 1.5 billion students whose learning has been hampered due to school closures.
This report is the result of the collective work of the International Commission on the Futures
of Education, established by UNESCO in 2019. I would like to acknowledge the Members of
the Commission for contributing to the timely preparation of this report.
It presents nine key ideas for navigating through the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath,
contending that we cannot forget core principles and known strengths as we face
unprecedented disruption to economies, societies and—our particular focus here—
It is evident that we cannot return to the world as it was before. One of the strongest
messages in the attached report is that our common humanity necessitates global solidarity.
We cannot accept the levels of inequality that have been permitted to emerge on our
shared planet. It is particularly important that the world supports developing countries
with investment in 21st century education infrastructures; this will require the mobilization
of resources and support from developed countries, in particular with debt cancellation,
restructuring, and new financing. The magnitude of this challenge is clearly evident with
regard to the digital divide in Africa. For example, only 11% of learners in sub-Saharan Africa
have a household computer and only 18% have household internet, as compared to the
50% of learners globally who have computers in the home and the 57% who have access to
internet. Already we see that the disruptions brought on by the pandemic are exacerbating
inequalities both within and across countries. We urgently need investment and structural
change so that short-term setbacks do not grow into larger, long-lasting problems.
There is a serious risk that COVID-19 will wipe out several decades of progress—most
notably the progress that has been made in addressing poverty and gender equality.
While the pandemic demonstrates that we belong to one interconnected humanity, social
Education in a post-COVID world
and economic arrangements mean that the impacts of the virus are disparate and unjust.
Gender discrimination means that girls’ educational attainments are likely to suffer greatly,
with a risk of many not returning to school post-COVID-19. This is not something we
should accept; we must do everything in our power to prevent it.
COVID-19 has the potential to radically reshape our world, but we must not passively sit
back and observe what plays out. Now is the time for public deliberation and democratic
accountability. Now is the time for intelligent collective action.