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Right to Education as an elementary Human Right: From Thinking to Living it

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The situation of education in general, and of higher education in particular, is not considered as a priority in developing countries. Unfortunately, all development depends on a good education. Many countries suffer not only of the absence of quality education, but also from a lack of accessibility for its citizens. Many of them suffer from not being able to study.

The exercise of citizenship must allow everyone to become an actor of society. To be an actor requires a good understanding of the role, the place and the rights be recognized by everyone. To be an actor means to be responsible in a social and democratic framework relying on values and references shared by all. «The practice of citizenship relies on participation spaces open to all. Otherwise, in many developing countries, as the level of education is very low, citizens do not consider themselves actors of their country’s development. »[1]They block the progress of their country and create other problems in security, the economy, politics, social issues and above all in an increase in unemployment. Indeed, a large part of the population is active, but instead of creating jobs, it is looking for employment. Thus, if everyone looks for a job, the number of openings is small. This has a negative impact on the resources of the State. «The challenges of contemporary societies are mostly characterised by complexity and are part of a global interdependence. In the face of globalization, the education of people to be good citizens must widen its scope from local, regional and national levels to a global dimension ».[2]

According to the document (UNESCO, 2014) UNESCO Education Strategy 2014-2021, approximately 774 million adults, of which two thirds are women, could neither read, nor write in 2011. More than 50% of this adult illiterate population lived in South and West Asia and a quarter approximately in sub-Saharan Africa; 10 countries alone represent 72% of the total. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of illiterate adults has, in fact, increased by 37% these last twenty years to reach 182 million in 2011. According to these forecasts, the world total will still be of 743 million in 2015, a reduction of only 16% as against the number in 1985-1994 with regard to data on illiteracy (UNESCO, 2014b). It is the aim of education for all (EFA) which is the most difficult to reach.

Although illiteracy is mostly concentrated in the developing and highly populated countries, the problem continues to be pervasive. Developed countries also present large pockets of poverty, in which evaluations show that no less than one adult on five, in other words 160 million persons, have very low literary competencies, being unable to read, write and calculate in daily life (UNESCO, 2012.

Literacy, beyond being a basic competency, is also a prerequisite to access to all forms and all levels of apprenticeship all along life, as well as a base enabling quality education for all.

Being deprived of basic literacy competencies is a factor that leads to being excluded from many aspects of existence, and it covers important dimensions of gender and poverty. Governments and lending institutions are often insufficiently concerned with illiteracy. In the same manner, less than 3% of the national education budget is devoted to literacy and adult education programmes.

Education and life-long training

Education and life-long training are key elements of a strong and reasoned strategy which have become a powerful weapon in a dynamic world obsessed by competitivity. The way we see our neighbours is also part of our worries when we are looking to be inspired by tools and policies that they develop for continuous qualitative and quantitative improvement, of our educational systems, that will lead to a social integration and cohesion of nations (Newgreen, 2002).

Education and higher education are fundamental elements. They allow each individual to build his life, not only on a private basis, but also professionally, and also to contribute to the economic, political, and social aspects of the country in which they live.

To be effective, higher education demands, as a fundamental element, time, a certain slow pace, stability, tranquillity and even a minimum of comfort. Education is one of the most important levers in development. It is also, one of the most efficient mechanisms to guarantee peace and stability of a country. «We live in a rapidly evolving world, increasingly interdependent, in which knowledge and innovation are major development factors ».[3]

Stakeholders in the general environment of higher education

According to Burridge et al, education and higher education are as important as water to ensure life. In light of our research, we have noticed that all the economic, political, and social development of a country depends in large part to education that will impact the general environment of that country, and thus of the entire region. Obviously, education takes its roots at primary school, but we have limited our research to higher education.

In the framework of our research, we have identified certain stakeholders such as the citizens who are directly impacted by war. A well-educated society, capable of distinguishing good from bad, will attempt to avoid certain conflicts so as to live in peace. The Afghan population suffers from a lack of education and this opens the possibility for certain rebel groups to convince young men to undertake acts that are contrary to peace.

Education is one of the important factors in the social and economic development of a country. All the actors of social and economic life, who are stakeholders, suffer the consequences of the absence of penetration of higher education, at best a very low penetration, as outlined by several reports, such as those of the World Bank, UNESCO, and what we also observe in our empirical experience.

All the stakeholders, in the private and public sectors, feel the low use or the near-absence of technological development, which, however, is an absolute need today so as to avoid an important delay in productivity and thus, competitivity. The different educational levels feel the absence of means to train students in the use of basic technology. We have not identified a theory which outlines the fact that societies in developing countries must remain unchanged.«In the competitive and dynamic environment of the modern economies of knowledge, the educational policies occupy a central place and, if needed, can fulfil the functions that are normally traditionally part of investment such as policies of social protection».[4]

The emergence of the notion of ‘Life competencies’

« The four pillars of a quality education as defined by UNESCO (2000) allows to put the basis of a strategy that could assist to raise this challenge. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Afghanistan and in many developing countries.

Learning to know : education must assist students to acquire the instruments of knowledge, in other words, the necessary tools of communication and oral expression, reading, arithmetic and the art of problem resolution, to possess both a solid general culture and the deep knowledge of a few fields, to understand what are the rights and responsibilities and, above all, to learn to learn.

Learning to do : education must assist students to acquire the know-how and the social and psychological competencies that will allow them to make informed decisions in diverse situations, to manage social relations and relations at work, to access local and global markets, use technological tools, satisfy fundamental needs and improve quality of their life and the life of others.

Learning to be: education must contribute to the flourishing of individual personality and allow them to act with more autonomy, of judgement, of critical thought and of personal responsibility. It must develop all the aspects of a person’s potential such as, for instance, memory, reasoning, esthetical values, spiritual values, physical capabilities and the art of communication. It must encourage a healthy lifestyle, the liking of sports, of leisure, of the appreciation of one’s own culture, the respect of ethical and moral code, the art of making oneself valuable and of defending oneself, and the capacity of rebounding.”

Learning to live together: education must reinforce the know-how at students and the aptitudes likely to help them to accept mutual interdependence».[5]

Result:

According to the recommendations of the Organisation of the United Nations (UN), the international responsibility of governments and political leaders regarding the exercise of the right to education is to find a rapid and lasting solution to this challenge so as to better integrate the international community which check the effective exercise of the right enumerated which check, on the one hand, the application and the conformity with the «United Nations Pact relating to economic social and cultural rights» and on the other «the United Nations Pact relating to civil and political rights.»«One can state that facing the uncertain future and the multiple challenges that post-conflict States experience that have led to irreversible, and often permanently damaging, consequences, education must bring a final advantage to re-establish, through freedom and social justice, the conditions of preventive and balanced management of conflicts. This allows it to progress, while respecting the conditions of sustainable development, towards the expected peace ideals. »[6]

« The knowledge generated by the economy of education may thus assist the governments to optimize their policies through better informed choice, thus contributing the attainment of the objective of a sustained and equitable growth that mobilises all the citizens.»[7]

According to UNESCO’s Education Strategy 2014-2021, the political leaders must study to better exploit the potential of information technologies and communication (TIC) in education. The presence of sustainable infrastructure and financing issues, of the content of quality-insurance, represent, in this field, key issues, just like the question of available means to develop and put in place pluri-dimensional policies in matters of online security and ethics.

Education to citizenship allows to acquire new knowledge that will directly impact the economic, political and social life of the country. «The first function of education is to transmit an inheritance and to teach the ethical principles and the framework of law (national and international) that determines communal living. However, society today more than ever, faces rapid changes and challenges in embedded in complex global challenges. These challenges require societal changes to which a citizen should be able to participate. However, transmission and education are insufficient on their own: the education for citizenship must allow the exercise of new competencies: to enter into complexity, to manage uncertainty, to position oneself, to imagine new solutions and to participate in their realization. »[8]

The general experience of life and the ordinary unfolding of things show that when citizens who live and work in a given society are very well educated, there are less conflicts, for they are able to resolve their problems by discussion, dialogue, and common understanding. The example of countries in which social dialogue is the main governance vector, such as Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, etc, is more than welcome.

A well-educated society can only be a democratic society because it constantly counts on the capacity and the behaviour of its citizens; and each citizen feels important for his country.

If we take the case of Afghanistan today, it is a rich country with considerable natural resources, but the country finds itself in extreme poverty. Our analysis brings two explanations for this situation: the poverty of knowledge, first of all, that does not allow citizens to contribute to the development of the country and to correctly use their competencies and their rights; the poverty of the leadership, on one hand, that concentrate themselves exclusively on the acquisition of power instead of concentrating on the best manner to help the population. As a backdrop, one can see a situation in which the political leaders take advantage of the naivety and low educational level of their fellow citizens to stay in power and to profit from their advantages.  

The conclusions of our research shows that it is impossible to develop a country without prioritising education. To illustrate our working methodology, we have developed a competency matrix to helps Afghanistan become a stable state by developing a distance learning system.

Matrix of the competencies of a citizen

CompetenciesCriteriaSituationToolsEvaluation
  Active citizen    Positively participate in his individual development which will impact later, on different scales, such as family, clan, tribal, ethnic and national, and even in light of the entire country’s development, instead of concentrating on his personal interests.    Live together and contribute together to one’s own development as well as that of the country.  Education is the primary source to become an active citizen, positive and understanding.  Living together without conflict Societal progress.      
Know one’s own importance and valuesBe capable of undergoing auto-evaluation, to understand its importance, oneself, one’s values and those that still require development.  Use positive values for oneself and for one’s family; allow all members of one’s family to optimize their capabilities.Schools, universities and the professional environment allow us to be with others and to understand well our values and those of others.Non-violent communication. Personal evolution.
Know one’s rights as well as those of othersUnderstand the importance of one’s fundamental rights as well as those of others.  Mutual respect, whatever the age, gender and/or belief.EducationAvoid violence and live in peace.
Capacity of expressing oneself  Aptitude to develop and defend oneself in a calm and legal manner.  Express oneself without wounding others and make the situation more complex.  EducationRespect others.
Consciousness of power  Understand one’s own values as a citizen, as well as the importance of voting rights.In exercising one’s voting rights, elect deserving persons so as to stabilize the country’s political and social situation.  EducationAppoint leaders according to their and competencies that have a positive impact on the country’s management.
Equality and freedom  Understand the importance of equality as well as truly expressing his claims depending on the situation in which he finds himself.  Rule of lawEducation Citizen’s behaviours that can degrade or improve the situation.  Live in peace and in freedom. Express oneself without fear in the mutual respect.
The possibility of taking responsibilitiesAssume responsibilities for one’s family and in society and understand one’s own contribution.  Be active in social, economic and political life when one wishes to do so.Give the chance in equal proportions to all citizens without any exclusion.Participate in socioeconomic developments.
Incidence on Human RightsDistinguish between good and bad, and become conscious of one’s acts against others.Be capable of understanding sanctions and consequences when one breaks the rules of law.  Education and the application of laws in an equalitarian manner.Respect of law and fundamental freedoms Avoid all sorts of conflicts.
Understand, in a basic way, at a small scale, the phenomena tied to globalisation.  Become conscious of the changes in other parts of the world.Each country develops first of all because of the sum of individual actions.Ensure diversity of the country thanks to the contributions of different nationalities.Understand the economic, political, social situation of other countries, and apply to oneself the positive elements, if necessary.
Importance of the familyUnderstand that the family is very important and that women play an important role in the family well as in society.Each member of the family plays an important role for himself as well as for economic, political and social development of the country.EducationRespect the choices and the points of view of each family member to avoid conflicts and violence.
Use (tools) of the new technologies of information and communication (TIC) in an interactive manner (language, technology).Instrumental competency.Une, in one’s activities, of adequate technologies to facilitate tasks; if necessary, transfer best practices.EducationFaster and more efficient results.
Interact in heterogeneous groups.Social competencies whatever the religion and(or the beliefs. Transcend the differences.  Participate in social life in one’s city, village, town, etc.EducationBe capable of working in groups, whatever its origins and/or beliefs.
Act in an autonomous and consensual manner.  Personal competency for all that concerns the decisions of daily life.  Assume the responsibility of one’s decisions.Education  Work individually if necessary, with the proposed solutions.
Knowledge, know-how, social skills and life planning.Know one’s past, concentrate on the present and create one’s future.Concentrate on the future rather than concentrating on useless subjects.Education  Have a life vision, according to one’s capacities.
Exemplarity  Be an active and contributing citizen thanks to one’s actions.Motivate others so that they also become active in life.Positive action of citizens.Show to others the importance of citizens to one’s country.

Conclusion

We have noted that it is very difficult, and even impossible to respect the citizenship norms or the establishment of democracy or the respect of human rights in a country without putting the accent on the competencies of active and understanding citizens. We have observed that in many countries, there are conflicts between politicians (points of view on political ideology), but they manage to discuss, to negotiate and to obtain power through democratic rights, for they are citizens. The lack of reflection of citizens in the choice of their leaders and their policy in developing countries is the source of numerous conflicts, including civil wars. Hence the importance of insisting on the apprenticeship of citizenship, which allows populations to be in charge of their destiny by actively participating in the life of the nation. This is why education must prioritise the development of the citizen’s competencies, such as the knowledge of oneself, of its importance and its values; the knowledge of the one’s rights and those of others; the ability to express oneself; the knowledge of one’s power; equality and freedom; the possibility of assuming one’s responsibilities; the primacy of human rights; the understanding of the phenomena linked to globalization; the centrality of the family; the use of new technologies of information; the knowledge, know-how, social skills and life planning; empowerment and exemplarity.

Each of these elements include, criteria, situations, tools and parameters to evaluate the citizen’s competency matrix which must serve as a learning tool of citizenship.

For a country to be able to develop economically, politically and socially, the political leaders must give priority above all else to an action plan on the competencies of citizens. This contribution will make it easier for the present and future leaders. If that is not the case, the government will transmit poverty from generation to generation.


[1] Education à la citoyenneté mondiale : https://www.education21.ch/fr/edd/approches/education-a-la-citoyennete-mondiale

[2] http://www.globaleducation.ch/globallearning_fr/pages/BA/BA_Re.php

[3] Stratégie de l’UNESCO : L’éducation 2014-2021.

[4] http://www.eenee.de/fr/eeneeHome/Economics-of-Education.html

[5] Colloque international Education, violences, conflits et perspectives de paix en Afrique, Yaoundé, 6 au 10 mars 2006,

Milène Trabelsi et Jean-Luc Dubois

[6] Colloque international « ducation, violences, conflits et perspectives de paix en Afrique, Yaoundé, 6 au 10 mars 2006,

Milène Trabelsi et Jean-Luc Dubois

[7] http://www.eenee.de/fr/eeneeHome/Economics-of-Education.html

[8] Charly Maurer, L’éducation à la citoyenneté, Fondation Éducation et Développement, 2008, 4

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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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