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New UNESCO education report calls for ‘new social contract’

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With schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, children are studying from home. The pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to education and skills development globally, particularly in Asia and the Pacific. Photo: ADB

Imagining a new future for education by 2050, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is asking three questions: What should be continued? What should be abandoned? And what needs to be creatively invented afresh?  

In its new global report published on Thursday, entitled Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education, the agency is proposing answers to these three essential questions.  

Over a million people took part in the global consultation process that informed the report, which calls for a major transformation to repair past injustices and enhance the capacity to act together for a more sustainable and just future. 

Two years in the making, UNESCO wants the publication to start a global debate and movement, to forge a new contract between parents, children, and educators around the world.  

Turning point 

According to the agency, the world is at a turning point and global disparities mean that education is not yet fulfilling its promise to help shape peaceful, just, and sustainable futures.  

High living standards coexist with gaping inequalities and, even though the public square is largely active, “the fabric of civil society and democracy is fraying in many places around the world.” 

For UNESCO, rapid technological changes are also transforming lives, but these innovations “are not adequately directed at equity, inclusion and democratic participation.” 

“That’s why we must reimagine education”, the report argues.   

‘Urgent’ reinvention 

During the twentieth century, public education was essentially aimed at supporting national citizenship and development efforts through the form of compulsory schooling for children and youth. 

Today, however, as the world faces grave risks to the future, UNESCO believes “we must urgently reinvent education to help address these common challenges.” 

In that context, the agency is asking for a new social contract that must unite the world “around collective endeavours and provide the knowledge and innovation needed to shape sustainable and peaceful futures for all anchored in social, economic, and environmental justice.”  

It also must “champion the role played by teachers”, the report says. 

Key principles 

For UNESCO, this new social contract must build on the broad principles that underpin human rights, such as inclusion and equity, cooperation, and solidarity. 

It should also be governed by two foundational principles: assuring the right to quality education throughout life, and strengthening education as a public common good, the agency says. 

Widening social and economic inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, democratic backsliding and disruptive technological automation, are some of the challenges highlighted.  

“The ways we currently organize education across the world do not do enough to ensure just and peaceful societies, a healthy planet, and shared progress that benefits all. In fact, some of our difficulties stem from how we educate”, the report says. 

New ideas 

The publication includes some proposals to renew the sector.  

To start, pedagogy – the practice of teaching – needs to move from a focus on teacher-driven lessons centred on individual accomplishment, to instead emphasize cooperation, collaboration and solidarity, UNESCO argues. 

Curricula, that has been often organized as a grid of subjects, needs to emphasize ecological, intercultural and interdisciplinary learning. 

Teaching needs to “move from being considered an individual practice to becoming further professionalized as a collaborative endeavour.” 

The publication calls schools “necessary global institutions that need to be safeguarded” but argues that the world “should move from the imposition of universal models and reimagine schools, including architectures, spaces, times, timetables, and student groupings in diverse ways.” 

The agency concludes saying the report “is more an invitation to think and imagine than a blueprint”, and the questions should be answered in communities, countries, schools, educational programmes and systems all over the world.

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Development

Despite COVID-19 connectivity boost, world’s poorest left far behind 

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Digital connectivity is indispensable to overcome the pandemic, and for a sustainable and inclusive recovery. Photo: United Nations/Chetan Soni

Some 2.9 billion people still have never used the internet, and 96 per cent live in developing countries, a new UN report has found. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the estimated number of people who have gone online this year actually went up, to 4.9 billion, partially because of a “COVID connectivity boost”.   

This is good news for global development, but ITU said that people’s ability to connect remains profoundly unequal – as many hundreds of millions might only go online infrequently, using shared devices or facing connection speeds that hamper their internet use. 

“While almost two-thirds of the world’s population is now online, there is a lot more to do to get everyone connected to the Internet,” Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General said. 

“ITU will work with all parties to make sure that the building blocks are in place to connect the remaining 2.9 billion. We are determined to ensure no one will be left behind.” 

‘Connectivity boost’ 

The UN agency’s report found that the unusually sharp rise in the number of people online suggests that measures taken during the pandemic contributed to the “COVID connectivity boost.” 

There were an estimated 782 million additional people who went online since 2019, an increase of 17 per cent due to measures such as lockdowns, school closures and the need to access services like remote banking.  

Uneven growth 

According to the document, users globally grew by more than 10 per cent in the first year of the COVID crisis, which was the largest annual increase in a decade. But it pointed out that growth has been uneven. 

Internet access is often unaffordable in poorer nations and almost three-quarters of people have never been online in the 46 least-developed countries.  

A ‘connectivity Grand Canyon’ 

Speaking in Geneva, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU said: “The internet divide runs deep between developed and developing countries. Only a third of the population in Africa is using the internet. 

“In Europe, the shares are almost 90 per cent, which is the gap between those two regions of almost 60 percentage points. And there is what the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, has called in his Common Agenda blueprint for the future, “a connectivity Grand Canyon”. 

‘Digitally excluded’ 

The report found that younger people, men and urban dwellers are more likely to use the Internet than older adults, women and those in rural areas, with the gender gap more pronounced in developing nations. 

Poverty, illiteracy, limited electricity access and a lack of digital skills continued to hinder “digitally excluded” communities, ITU noted. 

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Development

World Bank Group and Azerbaijan Sign Agreement to Strengthen Partnership

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The Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the World Bank Group signed today an Agreement on Establishing and Operation of Offices in Azerbaijan.

The Agreement was signed by Minister of Finance Samir Sharifov, on behalf of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Anna Bjerde, on behalf of the World Bank Group. Prime Minister of Azerbaijan Ali Asadov and Governor of the Central Bank of Azerbaijan Elman Rustamov also took part in the signing event.

The signing of the new Establishment Agreement will greatly facilitate the work of the World Bank Group in Azerbaijan, including administration of its offices in Baku, to support joint efforts to achieve a green and resilient recovery through sustainable, inclusive and equitable growth.

“Our partnership with the World Bank has seen Azerbaijan’s incredible transition from a lower-income country to a donor of the International Development Association, the part of the World Bank Group that helps the world’s poorest countries,” said Ali Asadov, Prime Minister of Azerbaijan. “This agreement will help augment these achievements.”

The World Bank has financed over 50 projects, with total commitments of $4.4 billion, spanning many national development priorities, including building human capital, strengthening access to infrastructure, public services and jobs, investing in agricultural competitiveness and rural development, and supporting the livelihoods of internally displaced persons.

“We look forward to continuing to grow and develop our collaboration with the Government of Azerbaijan and to bringing the best experience and expertise the World Bank can offer in support of Azerbaijan’s 2030 vision and development goals,” said Anna Bjerde, World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia.

As the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets, IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, has been supporting the private sector in Azerbaijan and has invested around $850 million in the country, including mobilization.

“A vibrant private sector is crucial for economic growth. The signing of this agreement with Azerbaijan comes at a time when the country is taking steps to have the private sector drive economic diversification. IFC is committed to continue supporting sustainable growth in Azerbaijan by helping mobilize the power of the private sector,” said Wiebke Schloemer, IFC’s Acting Vice President for Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

2022 will mark the 30th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s membership in the World Bank.

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ILO launches new tool on social dialogue

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The ILO has launched a new tool  to help its constituents enhance the effectiveness and inclusiveness of their national social dialogue institutions.

The tool was developed as part of the Plan of Action on social dialogue and tripartism  (2019-2023) that was endorsed by the ILO Governing Body at its March 2019 session . The Plan also implements the resolution and conclusions on social dialogue of the International Labour Conference (ILC) held in June 2018 .

The self-assessment method for social dialogue institutions (SAM-SDI) guides the social dialogue actors – governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations – through a process that analyses the inclusiveness and effectiveness of their social dialogue institutions. Based on this analysis, they can devise and implement an action plan to increase the institution’s impact on policy-making.

Social dialogue, based on respect for freedom of association and the right to effective collective bargaining, has a crucial role in designing policies to promote social justice and social and economic progress.

Social dialogue institutions have a key role to play in the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGs), particularly SDG 16, which promotes peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, access to justice for all and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Social dialogue is also an essential component of SDG 8 , which promotes sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. It is also central to the achievement of SDG 5, on gender equality.

The SAM-SDI consists of six inter-linked steps. It is available online in English, French and Spanish, on a self-contained USB card and through an interactive e-Platform hosted by the ILO’s International Training Centre.

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