0648 GMT February 25, 2020
“The education sector is wrestling with mammoth challenges worldwide”, said Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, in his message for the day, un.org reported.
Listing them, he said there was a “precipitate decline” in the quality and standards of education; a widening knowledge gap between students in technically advanced societies and those in developing countries; a crisis of learning in conflict zones; growing school bullying, and “the declining esteem of the teaching profession” overall.
Muhammad-Bande maintained that today’s education must “bridge the yawning gap” between the modern employment needs for specialized skills, and actual learning opportunities.
“School curricula have yet to anticipate and respond to workplace needs for hands-on, vocational, ICT applications, and sundry technical skills, while still advancing the traditional scholastic pursuits,” he stated.
Moreover, he highlighted, “the significance of the deficits in education outcome becomes obvious when viewed alongside the spiraling population crisis.”
Education in a crisis
The fate of school children trapped in conflict zones deserves even more urgent attention.
According to UNICEF, in 2017, 500 attacks were staged on schools in 20 countries worldwide. In 15 of those 20, troops and rebel forces turned classrooms into military posts.
Thousands of children were recruited to fight, sometimes made to serve as suicide bombers, or forced to endure direct attacks.
“The learning environment may also be rendered unsafe by gun-toting, machete-wielding, gangs and unruly youths, and by sexual predators on school premises,” Muhammad-Bande said.
And natural disasters pose additional threats to the learning environment.
Cyclones, hurricanes and storms are among the climatic conditions that periodically wreak havoc on school buildings and facilities, making learning difficult, if not impossible.
“The choices that education stakeholders make have direct impact on various social groups, particularly, disadvantaged groups like rural communities, the urban poor, persons with disabilities, and women,” upheld the PGA, noting that nearly two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are female, mostly in under-developed countries.
Choice also becomes critical in the struggle to elevate the status of the teaching profession, recruit competent and motivated teachers, and expose teachers to innovative techniques.
But there are bright spots he said, “Forward-looking education policies have contributed to the attainment of SDG targets in some countries,” asserted Muhammad-Bande.
And participants at this year’s International Day of Education are given the opportunity “to share international good practices in inclusive quality education.”
Partnerships are key
Education enhances the “analytical, inventive and critical thinking capacities of human beings,” the Assembly president said, adding that in the process, it accelerates each nation’s technological attainments and economic growth.
“When a society remains perpetually under-developed, it must among other things re-evaluate its education system,” said Muhammad-Bande. “If the system is dysfunctional or does not facilitate the acquisition of pertinent knowledge and skills, the economy will, at best, stagnate, and at worst, collapse.”
Bearing in mind the “tremendous amount of work” that lies ahead, he shared his belief that partnerships can play an important role in implementing and attaining the SDGs, which is why his office “has placed strong emphasis on engendering partnerships across key priority areas,” including education.
In conclusion, Muhammad-Bande urged member states and other key partners to examine the feasibility and value-added support in establishing a network of key existing education networks to exchange information and ideas, "including sources of support, relating to all aspects of education.”