As countries grapple with severe disruptions to education caused by COVID-19, several UN agencies – as part of the Global Education Coalition – issued new guidelines on Thursday to help Governments make decisions on safely reopening schools for the world’s 1.3 billion students affected by ongoing closures.
Launched in March by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Bank, the Coalition works to foster inclusive learning opportunities.
“Rising inequality, poor health outcomes, violence, child labour and child marriage are just some of the long-term threats for children who miss out on school”, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Unless we prioritize the reopening of schools – when it is safe to do so – we will likely see a devastating reversal in education gains.”
Indeed, the adverse effects of school closures on children’s safety and learning are well documented.
Millions rely on schools for food
In the poorest countries, children often rely on schools for their only meal of the day. David Beasley, World Food Programme Executive Director explained that with many schools now closed, 370 million children are missing out on these meals, as well as the health support they normally receive. “When schools reopen, it is critical that these meal programmes and health services are restored,” he said.
The agencies are urging Governments to assess the benefits of classroom-based instruction compared to remote learning, and risk factors related to reopening of schools. In those calculations, they note the inconclusive evidence around the infection risks related to school attendance.
While far from straightforward, the decision of when and how to reopen schools should be a priority. “Once there is a green light on the health front, a whole set of measures will need to be in place to ensure that no student is left behind”, said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
Right to education
The guidelines provide all-round advice for Governments and partners to facilitate reopening, she said. “We share one goal: to protect and advance the right to education for every learner.”
In terms of policy, the guidelines recommend having clear directives in place for school opening and closure during public health emergencies. Expanding equitable access for marginalized and out-of-school children is also important, as are efforts to standardize remote learning practices.
They also recommend addressing the impact of COVID-19 on education and investing in education systems to stimulate recovery and resilience.
Soap and water
In the area of safety, they advise ensuring conditions are in place to reduce disease transmission and promote healthy behaviour. This includes access to soap and clean water for safe handwashing and protocols on social distancing.
Practices that compensate for lost instructional time, strengthen teaching methods that work, and build on hybrid learning models are also covered, as are ways to ensure students’ wellness and protection, including through the provision of essential school-based services such as healthcare.
Focus on ending marginalization
Throughout, the guidelines prioritize the most marginalized. They cover how to expand school opening policies and practices to those who are often excluded –particularly displaced and migrant children – by making critical communications available in relevant languages and accessible formats.
“Once schools begin to reopen, the priority becomes reintegrating students into school settings safely and in ways that allow learning to pick up again”, said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education.
“To manage re-openings, schools will need to be logistically prepared with the teaching workforce ready”, he said. That includes plans specifically to support learning recovery of the most disadvantaged students.
In the end, schools must look at how they can “reopen better”. The agencies say the best interests of children and overall public health considerations – based on an assessment of associated benefits and risks to education, public health and socioeconomic factors – must be central to these decisions.
Lao PDR: New Project to Protect Landscapes and Enhance Livelihoods
The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$57 million project to help Lao PDR promote sustainable forest management, improve protected area management, and enhance livelihoods opportunities in eight provinces across the country. Project funding comes from the World Bank’s International Development Association, with contributions from the Global Environment Facility and the Canada-World Bank Clean Energy and Forest Climate Facility.
The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods Project will support economic recovery in light of the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on preservation of natural capital such as forests, biodiversity, water resources, soil, and land. The Project will help communities in over 600 villages and 25 forest areas to secure livelihoods and jobs from sustainably managed forests, including opportunities in timber and non-timber products, and nature-based tourism.
“This project will be crucial to helping Lao PDR recover from the global coronavirus shock by protecting and enhancing its natural capital, and supporting the creation of green jobs in vulnerable communities,” said the World Bank Lao PDR Country Manager Nicola Pontara.
Despite enjoying sustained periods of high economic growth in the last three decades, Lao PDR has experienced a gradual deterioration of its natural capital, making vulnerable rural people more susceptible to floods and droughts while jeopardizing their access to food, fiber, fresh water and income.
The Government of Lao PDR will implement the project through the Department of Forestry at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. To create jobs and livelihoods and secure environmental benefits, the project will develop environmentally and socially sustainable partnerships among communities, government, nature-based-tourism companies, and forest plantations.
The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods Project complements other partnerships between Laos and the World Bank on biodiversity protection, carbon emission reductions and nature-based tourism. It also supports the priorities of the government’s ninth National Socio-Economic Development Plan for 2021-25 and the 2030 National Green Growth Strategy.
Policy Measures to Advance Jordan’s Transition to Renewables
A new report published today by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has identified a series of policy measures that can help advance the energy transition towards renewable energy in Jordan.
The “Renewables Readiness Assessment: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” – developed in co-operation with Jordan’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, suggests opportunities exist to deepen private sector engagement in national efforts to reach a 31 per cent share of renewables in total power by 2030.
“The recommendations of this report comply with the newly issued Energy strategy 2020-2030 and its action plan,” said H.E. Engineer Hala Zawati, Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources in Jordan. “We are fully aware that to achieve all these ambitious targets, a strong partnership between the public and private sectors is needed. We are also eager to work with international friends and partners to make renewable energy a main pillar of the Jordan energy sector.”
The report presents policy action areas to increase energy security and boost supply diversity through the accelerated uptake of renewables and includes ideas to boost end-use electrification and increase the availability of energy transition investments from domestic institutions.
Jordan’s share of electricity from renewables grew from almost zero in 2014 to around 20 per cent in 2020 thanks to enabling frameworks and policies that have supported the deployment of renewable energy technologies, including solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind.
“Jordan boasts significant renewable energy resource potential that if realised will reduce consumer energy costs, improve national energy security, create jobs and stimulate sustainable growth – boosting post COVID-19 economic recovery efforts,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “This report highlights a series of policy and regulatory measures that will allow Jordan to build on its energy transition progress to date and align it with 2030 national decarbonisation goals.”
Capacity building in local financing institutions and project developers can drive their engagement in the energy transition, the report says, while helping the country to meet its needs in important areas such as the build-out of electric charging infrastructure for the transport system.
Challenges associated with integrating higher shares of renewables in Jordan can be addressed by building and upgrading transmission and distribution infrastructure, deploying storage, promoting demand-side management and incentivising electrification of heating, cooling and transportation.
Renewables Readiness Assessment: Jordan lists concrete recommendations around the following seven action areas:
- Provide the conditions for renewables to grow in the power sector
- Foster continued growth of renewable power generation
- Plan for the integration of higher shares of renewable power
- Incentivise the use of renewables for heating and cooling
- Support renewable options for transport and mobility
- Catalyse renewable energy investment
- Strengthen local industries and create jobs in renewables
‘No place’ for coups in today’s world
On the opening day of a new UN Human Rights Council session on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his “full support to the people of Myanmar”, three weeks after the military takeover that has brought thousands out onto the streets in protest.
“Coups have no place in our modern world”, Mr. Guterres said in a pre-recorded video address at the Council’s 46th regular session, his comments coming after the forum held a special session on 12 February, in which it adopted a resolution expressing deep concern at the junta’s move.
“Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately”, the UN chief continued. “Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights and the will of the people expressed in recent elections. I welcome the resolution of the Human Rights Council, pledge to implement your request, and express my full support to the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy, peace, human rights and the rule of law.”
14-year old victim
Mr. Guterres’s comments followed his censure at the weekend of the use of “deadly force” in Myanmar, in which a protester – reportedly 14 years old – was killed in Mandalay, along with one other.
Also addressing the Council at the start of its month-long session, which is being held almost entirely remotely to prevent the spread of COVID-19, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, focused on the massive and negative impact of pandemic.
“I think we all realise that the use of force will not end this pandemic. Sending critics to jail will not end this pandemic. Illegitimate restrictions on public freedoms, the overreach of emergency powers and unnecessary or excessive use of force are not just unhelpful and unprincipled. They deter public participation in decision-making, which is the foundation of sound policy-making.”
Help for the most vulnerable
In another video message, President of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, underscored the need to focus on people’s basic needs – including new coronavirus vaccines – as the best way to recover from the pandemic.
“It is essential that all responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are centred around human rights, and promote the protection of our citizens, including the most vulnerable who need our care and consideration the most”, he said. “This includes ensuring the equal and fair distribution of vaccines for all. It is critical that civil society, the private sector, and all stakeholders are facilitated to participate and provide feedback throughout the planning and assessment of responses.”
Echoing the call for equitable vaccine access in a wide-ranging address that included a broadside against right-wing extremists becoming a “transnational threat” and the manipulation of personal digital data by Governments to control citizens’ behaviour, the Secretary-General described the fact that only 10 countries had administered “more than 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines” as “the latest moral outrage”.
Vaccine equity “affirms human rights”, he said, but “vaccine nationalism denies it. Vaccines must be a global public good, accessible and affordable for all.”
Taking up that theme, Ms. Bachelet insisted that the new coronavirus crisis had illustrated the “deadly realities of discrimination”.
Deep inequalities and chronic under-funding for essential services were to blame, she added, with policymakers largely responsible for ignoring these basic needs.
Pandemic rolls on
“Today, the medical impact of the pandemic is far from over – and its effects on economies, freedoms, societies, and people have only just begun”, she said. “The global rise in extreme poverty, accelerating inequalities; setbacks to women’s rights and equality; to education and opportunities for children and young people; and to the Sustainable Development Agenda are shocks that could shake the foundations of societies.”
Despite the scale of the challenges posed in this second year of the pandemic, the High Commissioner struck a positive note, insisting that “we have the possibility of rebuilding better, more inclusive systems, which address root causes and prepare us to meet the challenges we will certainly face”.
Among the many major problems facing people everywhere, the UN Secretary-General highlighted the disproportionate gender impact of COVID-19.
Crisis ‘has a woman’s face’
“The crisis has a woman’s face”, he said. “Most essential frontline workers are women — many from racially and ethnically marginalized groups and at the bottom of the economic ladder. Most of the increased burden of care in the home is taken on by women.”
Persons with disabilities, older persons, refugees, migrants and indigenous peoples had also paid a higher price than others during the first year of the pandemic. Mr. Guterres continued, before calling for “a special focus on safeguarding the rights of minority communities, many of whom are under threat around the world”.
Cautioning against “policies of assimilation that seek to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities”, the UN chief maintained that the diversity of communities was “fundamental to humanity”.
Extremists a ‘transnational threat’
And without identifying any specific countries, Mr. Guterres also spoke out against the rising and potentially international threat of right-wing extremist movements.
“White supremacy and neo-Nazi movements are more than domestic terror threats. They are becoming a transnational threat”, he said. “Far too often, these hate groups are cheered on by people in positions of responsibility in ways that were considered unimaginable not long ago. We need global coordinated action to defeat this grave and growing danger.”
Under the presidency of Jordanian Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, the 46th Human Rights Council session is due to meet until Friday 23 March.
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