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Comprehensive sexuality education protects children and helps build a safer, inclusive society

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Sexuality is an integral part of human life. Children and young people have the right to receive reliable, science-based and comprehensive information about it. Yet, sexuality education in schools is a sensitive issue. Ever since it was first introduced in European school curricula in the 1970’s, parents, religious leaders and politicians have been arguing, often in highly polarised debates, about how much, and what should be taught at what age.

Many Council of Europe member states have made considerable progress over the last decades towards delivering such education and improving its content so that it goes beyond biology and reproduction and truly equips children with knowledge about their bodies and their rights, and informs them about gender equality, sexual orientation, gender identity and healthy relationships (an approach often referred to as comprehensive sexuality education).

A renewed resistance to sexuality education

Despite overwhelming evidence that comprehensive sexuality education benefits children and society as a whole, we currently face renewed opposition to the provision of mandatory sexuality education in schools. Such resistance is often an illustration of a broader opposition to the full realisation of the human rights of specific groups, in particular women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons and, to some extent, children themselves, on grounds that it would threaten traditional and religious values.

In 2019, a draft bill labelled “Stop Paedophilia” was put forward in the Polish Parliament by a group of citizens. It envisages the introduction of harsh penalties – including possible imprisonment – for anyone acting in the educational context or on school premises who “propagates or approves the undertaking by a minor of sexual intercourse or any other sexual act”. I expressed serious concern that the bill may be used to effectively criminalise the provision of sexuality education to school children. Most recently, the President of Poland, running for a second term, made it a campaign pledge to essentially forbid schools from teaching LGBT issues in sexuality education classes. Last year, in Birmingham (UK), religious communities and parents organised protests in front of schools that were providing information about same-sex relationships and transgender issues to their pupils. The recent adoption, in June 2020, by the Romanian Parliament of a bill repealing the mandatory provision of comprehensive sexuality education in school curricula is yet another example of this renewed opposition to the right of children to sexuality education. This move came after the adoption, in early 2020, of legislation introducing such mandatory sexuality education in schools, a development which was labelled by religious organisations as “an attack against the innocence of children.”

In Italy, as noted by the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), which monitors the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention), the government’s initiative in 2015 to prepare “National Guidelines for Education to Affectivity, Sexuality and Reproductive Health in Schools” was stopped due to growing resistance to education on sexuality and the stigmatisation, often channelled through disinformation campaigns on the content of such education, of those partaking in it. In the Spanish autonomous region of Murcia, it is now possible for parents to request that their children opt out from certain classes provided by external educators, should the parents consider that the subject or the providers are not in line with their views on certain issues. This could have a negative impact on these children’s access to sexuality and relationships education, as this subject, as well as other human rights education-related content, is often provided by external actors, within the context of the ordinary curriculum.

Dispelling the myths about comprehensive sexuality education

Campaigns have multiplied across the continent, disseminating distorted or misleading information about existing sexuality education curricula. They have presented sexuality education as sexualising children at an early age, “propaganda in favour of homosexuality”, spreading “gender ideology”, and depriving parents of their right to educate their children in accordance with their values and beliefs. Disinformation about the actual contents of the curriculum is deliberately spread to scare parents.

It is time to set the record straight. UNESCO has spelled out the aims of sexuality education as “teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to: realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.”

Contrary to what opponents claim, research carried out at national and international level has demonstrated the benefits of comprehensive sexuality education, including: delayed sexual initiation; reduced risk-taking; increased use of contraception; and improved attitudes related to sexual and reproductive health.

Sexuality education in schools is today all the more necessary as children in most cases can – and do — obtain information otherwise, in particular through the Internet and social media. While these can be useful and appropriate sources of information, they can also convey a distorted image of sexuality and lack information on emotional and rights-related aspects of sexuality. Through websites or social media children can also access scientifically inaccurate information, for example as regards contraception.

It is worth emphasising that sexuality education in schools comes as a complement to and not a replacement of what may be shared by parents at home. However, it cannot be left entirely to families. In what other field of science would we relinquish the education of our children to the Internet or families exclusively?

Comprehensive sexuality education is a powerful tool to combat violence, abuse and discrimination and to promote respect for diversity

The benefits of sexuality education, when comprehensive, go far beyond information on reproduction and health risks associated with sexuality.

Sexuality education is essential to prevent and combat sexual abuse against children, sexual violence and sexual exploitation. The Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (“the Lanzarote Convention”) requires from states that they “ensure that children, during primary and secondary education, receive information on the risks of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, as well as on the means to protect themselves, adapted to their evolving capacity.” The Lanzarote Committee, in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Convention, stressed for example that the school environment was particularly appropriate to inform about the widespread problem of sexual abuse against children within the family framework or in their “circle of trust”.

The importance of sexuality education to prevent children from falling prey to  sexual offenders online was highlighted during the period of confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As stressed by the Lanzarote Committee, during this period, children became increasingly vulnerable to online grooming, sexual extorsion, cyber-bullying or other sexual exploitation facilitated by information and communication technologies. The Committee urged states to step up information on risks and on children’s rights online, as well as counselling and support services. In this context, I note with interest that in some countries, such as Estonia, sexuality education continued to be provided as part of online schooling.

Likewise, sexuality education is crucial to prevent gender-based violence and discrimination against women. It should therefore contribute to conveying, from the early stages of education, strong messages in favour of equality between women and men, promoting non-stereotyped gender roles, educating about mutual respect, consent to sexual relations, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships and respect for personal integrity, as requested by the Istanbul Convention.

It is also an ideal context for raising awareness about the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, including access to modern contraception and safe abortion. Research carried out in the European region under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that the teenage birth rate tends to be much higher in countries, such as Bulgaria and Georgia, where no mandatory comprehensive sexuality education programmes are in place. Early pregnancy is not only potentially very damaging for the health of teenage girls, but it also results in serious limitations to their educational opportunities.

Existing sexuality education curricula often tend to completely exclude LGBTI people and issues, or even to stigmatise them. Yet, LGBTI youth frequently face bullying at school and are at higher risk of committing self-harm or suicide because of societal rejection of their sexual orientation. Like all other children, they should be provided with comprehensive sexuality education that meets their needs. Therefore, sexuality education must include information that is relevant to them, scientifically accurate and age appropriate. This means helping children to understand sexual orientation and gender identity and dispelling common myths and stereotypes about LGBTI persons.

By providing factual, non-stigmatising information on sexual orientation and gender identity as one aspect of human development, comprehensive sexuality education can help save lives. It can contribute to combating homophobia and transphobia, at school and beyond, and to creating a safer and more inclusive learning environment for all.

Children and young people have the right to receive comprehensive sexuality education

International human rights bodies have established that children and young people have the right to receive comprehensive, accurate, scientifically sound and culturally sensitive sexuality education, based on existing international standards. These include the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Violence against Women, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and, at European level, the European Social Charter and the above-mentioned Lanzarote and Istanbul Conventions.

The right to receive comprehensive sexuality education derives from a range of protected rights, such as the right to live free from violence and discrimination, the right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health, but also the right to receive and impart information and the right to quality and inclusive education, including human rights education. In a 2010 report on sexuality education, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education stressed that “sexual education should be considered a right in itself and should be clearly linked with other rights in accordance with the principle of the interdependence and indivisibility of human rights.” The need for sexuality education is also acknowledged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations and is necessary to achieve several of the goals included in the agenda.

Key steps to improve the delivery of comprehensive sexuality education

Comprehensive sexuality education is part of a good quality education. Thus, it should be provided for by law, be mandatory and mainstreamed across the education system as of the early school years. It is of concern that, according to a 2018 survey, sexuality education was mandatory in only 11 out of the 22 Council of Europe member states reviewed.

Opponents to sexuality education often advocate for a right of parents to opt out on behalf of their children from mandatory sexuality education. However, international human rights standards on the right to freedom of religion or belief do not entitle parents to withdraw children from sexuality education classes where relevant information is conveyed in an objective and impartial manner, as also stressed in an Issue Paper on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights published by my Office in 2017. Therefore, I was pleased to learn that in January 2020, the government of Wales removed the possibility for parents to prevent their children from attending classes as part of the curriculum on inclusive sexuality and relationships.

The curricula and teaching methods should be adapted to the different stages of development of children and take into account their evolving capacity. The 2018 UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education covers a range of age groups, from 5 to 8 years old up to 15-18+ years old. As highlighted in UNESCO’s Technical Guidance, it is essential for children to learn about sexuality and safer sex behaviours before they become sexually active, in order to be adequately prepared for healthy and consensual relationships. UNESCO also recommends using participatory and learner-centred approaches that allow children to develop critical thinking.

Information provided to children as part of sexuality education should be relevant and based on science and human rights standards. Sexuality education should not include value judgments or perpetuate prejudices and stereotypes. The European Committee on Social Rights stressed that “sexual and reproductive health education must be provided to school children without discrimination on any ground” and that it should not be used “as a tool for reinforcing demeaning stereotypes and perpetuating forms of prejudice which contribute to the social exclusion of historically marginalised groups and others that face embedded discrimination and other forms of social disadvantage which has the effect of denying their human dignity.” Curricula on sexuality education should also be regularly evaluated and revised, in order to ensure that they are accurate and meet existing needs.

It is essential to provide families with accurate information about what sexuality education really entails -and what it does not- and to explain the benefits for all, not only children. Clearly, if sexuality education is to be accepted and successfully implemented, it should take into account the communities’ and parents’ cultural and religious backgrounds. Therefore, schools should be supported to engage with them, including as appropriate with religious leaders, and to take their views into account as long as they do not contradict the very aims of sexuality education, the best interests of the child, or human rights standards.

It is important to consult and involve young people themselves, first and foremost, to ensure that the content of education that is provided to them is relevant and adapted to their needs. Peer learning can play an important role. For example, the Ukrainian Ministry of Education decided at the end of 2019 to introduce peer education training programmes on sexuality education and HIV prevention in schools, to be delivered by an international youth organisation.

Comprehensive sexuality education should also be provided to out-of-school children and youth. This is particularly relevant for children and young people with disabilities, many of whom, unfortunately, do not yet have access to mainstream education. Their sexuality tends to be ignored, or even perceived as harmful, and they are therefore often deprived of any access to adequate information on sexuality and relationships, despite their heightened vulnerability to sexual abuse and exploitation. Online sexuality education can be a useful tool for out-of-school children, provided they have access to safe and inclusive digital spaces.

Lastly, it is of crucial importance for teachers to receive adequate specialised training and support for teaching comprehensive sexuality education, irrespective of whether part of the teaching is also carried out by external actors. Integrating training on sexuality education in regular teacher training programmes, as has been done in Estonia and Finland, is an effective way of ensuring that all teachers are adequately prepared. The delivery of sexuality education by schools should also be closely and regularly monitored and evaluated.

With challenges and resistance to sexuality education increasing, what is most needed is strong political leadership to remind society that access to comprehensive sexuality education is a human right and that it is for the benefit of all. Sexuality education is about knowing one’s rights and respecting other people’s rights, about protecting one’s health, and about adopting a positive attitude towards sexuality and relationships. It is also about acquiring valuable life skills, such as self-confidence, critical thinking and the capacity to make informed decisions. There is obviously nothing wrong with this.

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Classroom crisis: Avert a ‘generational catastrophe’

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Teachers and students wear face masks and maintain physical distance at a school in Cambodia. © UNICEF/Chansereypich Seng

The world is at risk of suffering “a generational catastrophe” as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the education of students globally, the UN chief said on Thursday. 

In a video message to the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Global Education Meeting (GEM), Secretary-General António Guterres reminded delegates that the pandemic had had a “disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable and marginalized children and youth”.

“The progress we have made, especially for girls and young women, is under threat”, he said. “We now need to support the learning recovery in low and middle income countries – and to factor education into every stimulus package”.

Tackling the situation

To successfully avert the crisis, Mr. Guterres upheld the importance of recognizing education as “a common global good”, with teachers, safe schools, digital technologies and those at greatest risk, in need of far greater investment. 

“Financing and political will are critical”, he stressed. 

‘Vital linkages’ of education

Deputy UN chief Amina Mohammed observed that the COVID-19 pandemic had clearly highlighted “the vital linkages between education, nutrition, gender equality, health and social protection”.

She noted education systems had managed to undergo “rapid transformation” and pointed to the work of Governments in minimizing the educational impact on students, the flexibility and creativity of teachers and how caregivers have taken on “frontline roles” to support children’s education.

“Learners persevered and adapted to new realities”, continued Ms. Mohammed, as UN agencies have worked together with external partners, including through the Global Education Coalition, to deploy support and guidance to Governments.

However, these efforts have not been enough.

Since the pandemic hit, at least one-third of the world’s students have been deprived of any form of learning; close to half a billion pupils are still affected by school closures; and the most marginalized, including at least 11 million girls, are at high risk of never returning to school, according to the deputy UN chief.

Putting words into actions

Leading up to the meeting, UNESCO undertook a series of consultations for a draft GEM Declaration, which was informed, among other things, by the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Brief and the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of education.

Central to transforming words into action, Ms. Mohammed highlighted the priority areas of financing, inclusion, teachers, safe school reopening, connectivity and coordination. 

“Over the coming year, political leaders in national and local governments, donor agencies and financial institutions must ensure that the resolve to support education is backed up with resources”, she asserted. 

She also called for innovation, attesting that going back to “normality” was neither possible nor desirable as it would mean ignoring the “profound changes” in technology and labour markets across the world.

“And it would mean accepting the unacceptable fact that even before COVID-19, some 250 million children were out of school and more than half of primary school age children worldwide lacked basic reading skills”, she stated.

Finally, the UN official underscored that “effective multilateral collaboration” and “greater solidarity with the most vulnerable countries” were needed to coordinate education among actors. 

“Implementation of this Declaration, therefore, requires a reimagining of education; a dramatic push to train millions of teachers…scaling up of partnerships to connect every school, teacher and learner to the internet; and…equipping young people with the skills they need to thrive in a complex and rapidly changing world”, spelled out the Deputy Secretary-General.

Fourth Global Goal

Turning to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, Ms. Mohammed called education the “docking station” for the SDGs, from achieving gender equality to learning about human rights and acquiring new skills for a digital green economy, to developing tools for boosting tolerance and peace efforts.

“Delivering SDG 4 is a great responsibility on us all — led by the education community”, she concluded.

Other voices

UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay paid tribute to Samuel Paty, the teacher who was decapitated close to his school near Paris, last week, after showing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad to his pupils, “and to all the teachers in the world who take risks to educate our children”. 

Meanwhile, Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, a co-sponsor of the event, said that “as countries start to reopen in the era of COVID-19, education must come first”. 

And Baroness Sugg, the United Kingdom’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Development, another co-sponsor, said “we know just how critically important it is to place education at the heart of our global COVID response”. 

From Ghana, the third co-sponsor, Education Minister Matthew Opoku Prempeh flagged on behalf of President Nana Akufo-Addo that the digital divide in developing have left many children “deprived” of online teaching and learning tools. 

In her remarks, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie emphasized that the biggest problem in this education crisis is not a lack of awareness or ideas, but instead a lack of will, saying “we know what should be done and we know the consequences if we do not act”.

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Women ‘far from having an equal voice to men’- UN Study

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Women in Pakistan learn computing skills © World Bank/Visual News Associate

The COVID-19 pandemic is “interrupting efforts” to achieve gender equality and threatening to “reverse hard-won gains” over the past decades, a senior UN official said on Tuesday.

Introducing the 2020 edition of The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics, Liu Zhenmin, chief of the UN’s economic and social affairs department (DESA), said that over the last two decades, “attitudes of discrimination are slowly changing” and women’s lives have improved with regard to education, early marriage, childbearing and maternal mortality, all while progress has stagnated in other areas.

“Women are far from having an equal voice to men”, spelled out the DESA chief. “And, in every region of the world, women are still subjected to various forms of violence and harmful practices”. 

Beijing still pending 

Overall, progress continues to fall far short of what Member States committed themselves to, at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women.

“Twenty-five years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, progress towards equal power and equal rights for women remains elusive”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres
“No country has achieved gender equality”.

To effectively measure progress in that regard, reliable, timely and disaggregated, data are critically needed and closing data gaps requires regular collection and use of gender statistics. 

Pushing a boulder uphill

Mr. Liu pointed out that while the coronavirus pandemic is having “devastating social and economic impacts” across the world, women are fighting “on the front lines…in healthcare settings, in home care, in the family and in the public sphere”.

With less internet access, particularly in developing regions, women also face difficulties maintaining valuable personal connections and carrying on day-to-day activities during lockdowns. 

“Many may also have been trapped in unsafe environments…and at risk of experiencing intimate partner violence”, Mr. Liu stated.

Moreover, he pointed out that women face reduced access to sexual and reproductive health services; and need more time to care for the elderly, sick and children, including home-based education; adding that they are also at higher risk of infection than men in the workplace.

Glass ceiling intact

In terms of power and decision making, World’s Women 2020 revealed that last year, women held only 28 per cent of managerial positions globally – almost the same proportion as in 1995.

And only 18 per cent of enterprises surveyed had a female Chief Executive Officer in 2020. 

Among Fortune 500 corporate rankings, only 7.4 per cent, or 37 CEOs, were women.

In political life, while women’s representation in parliaments worldwide has more than doubled globally, it has yet to cross the 25 per cent barrier of seats and although representation among cabinet ministers has quadrupled over the last 25 years, it remains at 22 per cent, well below parity.

Call to action

Mr. Liu called on all countries to “accelerate efforts” in empowering women and girls, towards improving data gaps in covering key gender topics. 

“Timeliness and comparability of data over time and across countries, need to be improved, and data disaggregation and dissemination by age, sex, location and other key variables, need to become a priority in order to fully measure and address intersecting inequalities, respond to crises, and ensure gender equality by 2030”, he upheld. 

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Of Here and Now: Pandemic and Society in 2020

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Photo by E. Dos Santos-Duisenberg : Labirinto de David, Búzios, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

After a century, the world population faced a new pandemic that fast spread globally, affecting individuals both physically and mentally. Covid-19 started in late 2019 in Asia, spreading so fast that despite the global connectivity and highly sophisticated information technology and communication systems, the interconnected society of the 21st century was incapable to fast react in order to avoid contagion and prevent the worst. Gradually, the pandemic is making a tour around the globe contaminating citizens even in rural communities from all continents. Worldwide, there have been 32 million confirmed cases with over 1 million deaths during the first 9 months of this year[1].

From this universal pandemic we learned that the interdependent globalized world of 2020 is connected but not synchronized – or as earlier in crisis, prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic well-noted ‘world on autopilot’[2]. All scientific, technological and digital knowledge accumulated over centuries remains inept to protect our civilization from an invisible virus that, ironically, can be eliminated with just soap and water. Obviously, the magnitude and the economic, social and cultural impact of this pandemic took humanity by surprise.

Society was already undergoing a deep process of transformation on all fronts. Debates were focused on the fragility of democracy, climate change and sustainability, inequality and inclusion, gender and race, social media and fake news, virtual payments and crypto currencies, artificial intelligence and blockchain. Science, knowledge and technology were advancing at a fast rate in all fieldsincluding genetics, neuroscience and biotechnology. Nevertheless, health-care was not a top priority for public investments or national budgets. Yet, with the eruption of the pandemic, priorities had to be immediately revisited.  A human-centred and inclusive approach became imperative in every corner of the planet. Incontestably, the 2020s is bringing irreversible disruptions.

Lockdown measures and social isolation deprived individuals of free movements, restricting social gatherings and citizen’s mobility. The home-office dismantled solid organizational structures of daily work conviviality. Closure of schools prevented children from accessing formal in-person education, creating a childcare crisis for working parents.  Crowded metropolis became empty urban centres, no shopping, no restaurants and no city life. Cultural festivities and spaces such as theatres, cinemas, and museums had their activities suspended leaving artists, cultural and creative professionals as well as street-vendors out of jobs. Parks and sportive centres became inactive and international tourism ceased.

Conversely, family life became the heart of social order. Parents that were extremely busy with their jobshad to juggle between work and the education of their children. People became less egocentric and started showing more empathy with the needed ones. Solidarity has been manifested in donations and collective assistance by civil society. Companies engaged with social responsibility.  Artists, cultural and creative workers were defied to work even harder at home to find new niches in the virtual domain. The confined society had to rediscover its ethical values, principles and priorities.

Free-time and leisure at present

Paradoxically, this shift in human behaviour brought us back to a theory of economics that emerged a century ago (Ruskin, 1900) “There is no wealth but life”. In this new-old context, free-time, leisure, well-being and culture are closely associated. Usually, we use our free-time to carry out activities that are not directly related to work, duties or domestic occupations. May be free-time is an illusion because only in exceptional occasions our time is completely free. Leisure, however, is a subjective concept which varies depending on the society which we belong. It is connected with our participation in cultural life, reflecting the values and characteristics of a nation. Thus, it can be considered a human right according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and in particular the International Convention on the Economic, Social and Cultural rights (1967).

Despite some divergent definitions of leisure there is convergence around three distinctions: (i) leisure as time; (ii) leisure as activity; and (iii) leisure as a state of mind. Firstly, it is defined as the constructive use of available time. Leisure as a variety of activities includes the practice of sports or actions related to intellectual and human development like reading, painting, gardening etc. and those can be leisure for ones and work for others. Understanding leisure as a state of mind is complex since it depends on individual perceptions about concepts such as freedom, motivation, competency etc. Certain skills can be considered leisure depending on the degree of satisfaction, emotion or happiness it causes. Yet, the most important is the possibility of free will.

Time available for leisure also varies according to cultural, social and even climate considerations. The notion of time can be different in Africa, Asia, Latin America or Europe. Usually people who live in areas of hot climate enjoy outdoor activities and sports while Nordic people whose habitat is in cold weather prefer indoors socialization and hobbies like playing chess, classic music etc. Social leisure embraces communitarian happenings such as going to the beach, practicing sports in a club etc. Behavioural studies indicate the benefits of social leisure for the well-being of individuals, self-esteem and cultural identity[3].

Moments of leisure are essential in all phases of our life. During childhood and adolescence most of our time is devoted to study and sports while at adulthood our time is mostly consumed with work and family. Indeed, it is at senior age that retired people generally have extra free-time to enjoy cultural events, leisure and tourism.  Globally people are living longer and a newage structure is taking shape: the young senior (65-74 years), the middle senior (75-84 years) and the older senior as from 85 years old. According to the United Nations,[4] in 2018 for the first time in history, persons aged 65 years or over outnumbered children under age five. This partially explains the vast number of people in the group of risk requiring quarantine protection throughout the pandemic period.

Well-being and spirituality in pandemic times

During the pandemic, reflections about well-being and spirituality gained space in our minds. It is undeniable that the constraints brought about by lock-down measures and social distancing, offered us more free-time but very limited leisure options. We gained additional time to be closer to loved ones and to do things we like most at home. Enjoying family life, including eating and even cooking together became a shared pleasure and a new leisure style. Individuals had to optimize the quality of their temporarily sedentary lives.  

Global pandemics affect our collective mental health. Given the prevailing health and economic insecurity, the focus of our attention has been on well-being, strengthening friendships, expanding social network, practicing solidarity, improving self-esteem as well as reflecting on spirituality and religion. Suddenly the exuberant society of 2020 is afraid of the unknown virus and its long-term harmful consequences on day-to-day life. Well-being and happiness became the essence of achievable goals.

People are emotionally fragile in this moment of anxiety. Individuals are suffering losses that will persist long after the pandemic will be over.  Some feel stressed or depressed while others react by searching for relief in exercising, relaxation, meditation, yoga or mindfulness training. Individuals are finding new ways to overcome solitude and boost mental resilience. Current philosophical thinking (Harari, 2018) is reminding us that homo sapiens have bodies but technology is distancing us from our bodies[5].

Inspirational talks in likeminded groups have been helpful for reconnecting people dealing with an uncertain future. Social engagement and advocacy for health causes are used for promoting social change. Thus, besides upgrading healthcare systems and putting in place special measures for accelerating economic and cultural recovery, targeted governmental support will be needed to improve mental well-being and raise the overall level of satisfaction and happiness of citizens in the post-crisis.

Culture and e-learning nowadays

In a short period of time, many went from an exciting social and cultural lifestyle to a simple life. People had to assume the role of protagonists of their actions. Due to open-air limitations, free-time activities had to be less physically-intensive (no bike, tennis, jogging etc.), and more creative-oriented such as designing, playing music, writing. Much time has also been spent watching TV series, surfing the internet, viewing live music concerts, video-gaming, attending video-conferences as well as socializing in virtual chats. Equally, there are growing concerns about the ethics of consumer technology and internet addiction “time well spent” (Tristan, 2015)[6].

 A recent study[7] carried out in the UK to track digital cultural consumption during the pandemic, indicates that the median time spent daily watching TV are 4 hours, while listening to music, watching films and playing video games each day are 3 hours respectively. Understanding human behaviour, in particular youth habits can help to indicate new cultural trends and consolidate social cohesion in post-pandemic times. Moreover, policy-makers could consider engaging cultural institutions and employing artists and creatives to help facilitate a collective healing process and kick-start recovery.

It is widely recognized that the arts, culture and creative sectors were hit hard by the pandemic. Whist digital cultural and creative products for home consumption were in high demand, others tangible creative goods like arts, crafts, fashion and design products sharply contracted. Many artists and creatives had no option than to experiment on work in digital spaces, since they had to go global from home.

Despite the fact that 4.5 billion people (60% the global population) use internet[8], the availability of affordable broadband access is a pre-condition to use and benefit from the opportunities provided by digital tools. This applies to both producers and consumers of cultural and creative digital content. Currently, videos account for 80-90% of global digital data circulation, but at the same time Latin America, the Middle East and Africa together represent only around 10% of world data traffic[9]. This evidence points to digital asymmetries that are being aggravated. Creativity only is not enough to transform ideas into marketable creative goods or services if digital tools and infrastructure will not be available.

The pandemic also had a strong impact on education and learning.  Re-thinking education was already a topic on the agenda of many countries in order to respond to the realities of the jobs market in the 2020s.  Besides the need to adapt methodology and pedagogical practices, many believe it is necessary to bring an interdisciplinary and applied approach to curricula with focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)[10], preferably also integrating arts (STEAM). In any case, the education system has been forced to quickly adjust to remote learning. Globally over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom in 186 countries[11]. In Latin America schools are closed and around 154 million children between the ages of 5 and 18 are at home instead of in class[12]. Furthermore, access to school-related inputs is distributed in an unbalanced manner; wealthier students have access to internet and home-schooling while the poorer have not. Young people are losing months of learning and this will have long-lasting effects. The loss for human capital is enormous.

On the positive side, continuous e-learning became a trend and a necessity.  Innovation and digital adaption gave rise to a wide-range of on-line courses. Millions of learners are upgrading their knowledge and skills in different domains through distance learning, whether through language and music apps, video conferences or software learning.  Some are free others have to be paid for, but what is absolutely transformative is that access to knowledge became more democratic.  Independently of age or field of interest, learners from different parts of the world can have access to prestigious universities or practical training.  E-learning, where teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms already existed, but demand has sharply increased during pandemic and this might be a point of no return.

Over these critical 9 months, there are growing signs that the 2020s will face a new set of challenges and life will not be back as usual. The future will be very different when compared to the recent past.  Hope and fear are likely to co-exist for a certain time. There are new values, new lifestyles, new social behaviour, new consumption standards, and new ways of working and studying.  The pandemic has imposed a deep ethical and moral re-assessment on society. This turning point is leading to a deep socio-economic renovation and hopefully to a more inclusive and sustainable society.


[1]https://covid19.who.int/

[2]https://www.diplomatic-press.net/ueber-uns/geschichte.html

[3]E. Dos Santos-Duisenberg (2013) – Tempo livre, lazer e economia criativa, Revista Inteligência Empresarial (37), Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazilhttp://www.epapers.com.br/produtos.asp?codigo_produto=2455

[4]https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/world-population-prospects-2019-highlights.html

[5]https://www.ynharari.com/book/21-lessons-book/

[6]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_for_Humane_Technology

[7]https://pec.ac.uk/policy-briefings/digital-culture-consumer-panel

[8]https://internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

[9]https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2466

[10]https://www.livescience.com/43296-what-is-stem-education.html

[11]https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/

[12]https://blogs.iadb.org/ideas-matter/en/pandemic-and-inequality-how-much-human-capital-is-lost-when-schools-close/

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