After two years of human devastation, the world is learning to live with COVID-19 while trying to balance the protection of public health and livelihoods.
For countries in Asia and the Pacific, this is challenging not only because national coffers are heavily strained by record public spending to mitigate pandemic suffering, but also due to deeper structural economic issues.
COVID-19 has exposed a pandemic of inequality in a region which has the world’s most dynamic economies but also half of the global poor. A region where nearly half of the total income goes to just 10 per cent of people while the poorest 10 per cent get just 0.2 per cent.
This failure to grow together meant that the pandemic worsened the circumstances of those left behind. Estimates suggest that more than 820 million informal workers and over 70 million children in low-income households have been denied access to adequate income and education since the outbreak. Even more worryingly, this will leave long-term scars on economic productivity and learning, harming the future earning potential of those already marginalized.
Amid continuing uncertainty over when the pandemic will finally be behind us, the one certainty for the region’s policymakers is that the benefits of recovery and progress must reach everyone.
The prospects of the regional economy are riddled with downside risks related to the pandemic and emerging challenges in the external policy environment, according to the 2022 Economic and Social Survey for Asia and the Pacific released today by ESCAP. The cumulative output loss for the region’s developing economies between 2020 and 2022 is estimated to be nearly $2 trillion. Prolonged pandemic disruptions will further exacerbate the uneven recovery.
Policies for a fairer future
COVID-19 has created a generational opportunity to build a more equitable and sustainable world. As emphasized by the United Nations Secretary-General, this transformation process must be anchored on a New Social Contract with equal opportunities for all.
Countries can pursue a three-pronged policy agenda for laying the foundations of an inclusive stakeholder economy in Asia and the Pacific.
The immediate priority is avoiding fiscal cuts so that the development gains of past decades are not irreversibly lost. Amid fiscal consolidations, developing Asia-Pacific countries must maintain public spending on health care, education and social protection to keep inequalities from deepening and becoming entrenched.
Instead of cuts, “smart” fiscal policies can improve the overall efficiency and impact of public spending and the scope of revenue collection. Public expenditures should be tilted towards primary health care, universalizing basic education and making tertiary education more inclusive while increasing and eventually extending social protection coverage for informal workers. Concurrently, new sources of revenue should be explored, for instance, by bringing digital economy under the tax net. Digital technologies can improve the delivery of health care and social protection services.
Given the fiscal constraints, as the second policy pillar, central banking can move beyond its traditional roles and share the onus of promoting economic inclusiveness, not least because high and persistent levels of inequality can reduce monetary policy effectiveness. Only half of central banks in the region have financial access, financial literacy or consumer protection among their objectives and strategies. This is a missed opportunity.
Conservative reserve allocation strategies deter central banks from deploying part of the region’s $9.1 trillion official reserves towards social-oriented financial instruments. Amendments in central bank laws and investment strategies can make this possible. An appropriately designed central bank digital currency, supported by an enabling digital infrastructure and financial literacy, can enhance financial inclusion among other benefits. Central banks should also promote the use of social impact and sustainability-linked bonds for social purposes.
The third policy pillar addresses the root cause of inequality. Economic structure determines inequality dynamics and the path to “growing with equity”. Thus, policymakers must focus on pre-distributive rather than redistributive policies. Developing countries can learn from the experiences of advanced economies in the region to proactively guide, shape and manage the structural transformation process for inclusive development.
The digital-robotic-AI revolution is increasingly influencing economic transformation with great uncertainties for inclusiveness. To prepare for this, public support is needed to develop labour-intensive technologies, inclusive access to quality education, reskilling, strengthening labour negotiation capacities and social protection floors, among others.
Although COVID-19 is a major setback to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is also a chance to accelerate investments in people and the planet, and to speed up regional progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
This is an opportunity that we cannot waste.
On Contemporary Socialist Revolution
Marx’s critique of capitalism is, in essence, the thought of a socialist revolution. It is the fundamental idea for determining the integrity and relativity of the “Marxist” attribute’s authenticity. The view that a “correct theory is the consciousness of a world-changing practice” is the self-consciousness of Marx’s revolutionary thought. Based on this self-consciousness, and relative to it, Marx’s own thoughts acquire a Marxist legitimacy. Marx’s views do not all correspond to his theory of revolution. Marx’s thought was not the theory of a socialist revolution from the very beginning, it became so later, with the development of capitalism and the workers’ movement. Marx’s thought became the theory of a socialist revolution when the proletariat in the most developed capitalist countries in Europe became a political force capable of changing the world.
According to Marx, the existential and, thus, the general social crises are the result of the economic crisis of capitalism when the relations of production (proprietary relations) become obstructive to the development of the productive forces. This is clearly indicated by Marx’s view in „A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”, the founding stone of his theory of revolution: “At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, which turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution.” The working class is “wedged” between productive forces and productive (proprietary) relations. Class consciousness tells the worker not to try to abolish capitalism as long as it continues to develop its productive forces and thus enables his existence. Since the capitalist mode of developing the productive forces is progressive, the workers’ struggle against capitalism, as long as it continues to develop its productive forces, hinders progress and is therefore unacceptable. At the same time, a socialist order, as the final overcoming of capitalism, can be created only when capitalism has exhausted its potential for development. Without such conditions, a revolution is not based on objective historical conditions, but on political voluntarism. The elimination of the bourgeoisie from the political arena by the proletariat is historically legitimate only when the bourgeoisie becomes a reactionary force, precisely, when capitalism has exhausted all potential for the development of productive forces and when the bourgeoisie, through repression, struggles to safeguard private ownership, which hinders further development of productive forces. According to Marx, the proletariat can become the “grave digger” of capitalism only on the basis of the economic and the resulting general social crises, which cannot be resolved without a radical step out of the capitalist world.
By overlooking that capitalism is essentially a destructive order, Marx overlooked the specificity of capitalist dialectics. According to Marx, the development of capitalism involves the development of conflicts between the productive forces and productive (proprietary) relations, but not between the capitalist development of productive forces, on the one hand, and nature as a life-creating whole and man as a natural and human being, on the other. In spite of Marx’s critique of the plundering and destructive capitalist relation towards the soil, according to Marx, capitalism is progressive as long as it continues to develop its productive forces. Actually, for him, the problem is not in the productive forces of capitalism and the fatal consequences of their development, but in the limited possibilities presented by the relations of production, that is to say, by private ownership, which will stop further growth of the productive forces, “compelling” capitalism to “self-destruction”. It turns out that it is precisely the development of productive forces based on private ownership that leads to the increasingly dramatic existential and, thus, the general social crises, as they arise from an mounting destruction of nature and man as a human and biological being. The increasingly dramatic destruction of the world indicates that capitalist “progress” and the survival of humankind are antagonistic to one another. Marx’s view of soil exhaustion suggests that the survival of humankind is threatened precisely by the economic development of capitalism. It follows that workers should fight against the economic development of capitalism, which means against the capitalist mode of development of productive forces, and not “wait” for productive (proprietary) relations to become an obstacle for further development of productive forces. A contemporary socialist revolution can result from the existential crisis caused by capitalism, but it can also serve as a bulwark preventing capitalism from destroying the environment and climate to such an extent that life would be impossible on the planet. A contemporary socialist revolution cannot be of an aposteriori and essential character, but, rather, of an apriori and existential character.
With capitalism becoming a destructive totalitarian order, Marx’s conception of socialist revolution has become obsolete. Marx does not arrive at the concept of socialist revolution relative to capitalism as a destructive totalitarian order, but relative to capitalism as an exploitatory order with a “revolutionary” character. For Marx, a socialist revolution is the last revolution in the history of humankind and therefore the final act in man’s struggle for freedom. At the same time, by sticking to existential apriorism, Marx does not regard the socialist revolution as the beginning of a decisive struggle for survival, but as the end of the historical process of man’s bonding with nature and the beginning of the true history of humankind. Following that idea, Gajo Petrovic, one of the most distinguished representatives of Yugoslav praxis philosophy, regards Marx’s notion of the revolution as the overcoming of the social and political moment and the final resolution of man’s relation to nature and to himself as a natural being. In those terms, the socialist revolution is the “essence of being” (“The Thought of Revolution”). However, the concrete “essence of being” cannot be acquired from an abstract notion of nature and man, but only in relation to the totalitarian and destructive practices of capitalism. Capitalist “progress” has brought humankind to the brink of an abyss and thus “resolved” all contradictions within it and completed the critique of capitalism. Capitalism does not liberate man from his dependence on nature. It rather makes him, through its destruction of nature, more dependent on it. Not only does it not create the possibilities of “leaping from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom”, it creates a new – destructive and, thus, totalitarian realm of necessity. A socialist revolution can acquire its concrete historical dimensions only in relation to the lethal consequences of the development of capitalism and with respect to its destructive potential. Rather than being the beginning of man’s true freedom, it is the beginning of a decisive struggle for the survival of humankind, which will alleviate the consequences of the capitalist destruction of nature and man and open the possibilities for man’s liberation from the natural elements and class society, enabling him to realize his universal creative powers and turn society into a familial community of free people.
Marx arrives at the idea of a socialist revolution by departing from an idealized anthropological model of man as a universal creative being of freedom, and not from the concrete historical nature of capitalism as a destructive order and, in that context, from the need to prevent the destruction of life on the Earth. The character of the proletarian revolution is no longer determined by humanist ideals, as is the case with Marx. It is, rather, conditioned by the existential challenges that capitalism, as a destructive totalitarian order, poses for humankind. Since the early days of capitalism, destruction has been its immanent feature, but, with the development of “consumer society”, it has become its dominant characteristic. There is an increasing possibility that annihilation of humankind and of the living world will become the “collateral damage” of capitalist “progress”. It is in this context that the development of the contemporary workers’ (socialist) movement and the strategy and tactics of the struggle against capitalism should be considered. It is one thing when revolution is conditioned by economic crisis, but completely something else when revolution is conditioned by an increasingly lethal ecologic crisis. The awareness of the destructive nature of capitalism has become a necessary condition for the development of the contemporary global anti-capitalist movement. The increasingly dramatic ecological crisis creates conditions for a more radical critique of capitalism and for a more radical political struggle for the survival of the planet and the creation of a new world. So, it is of utmost importance to develop a life-creating consciousness, one which will initiate a political movement capable of doing away with capitalism before it manages to degrade nature to such an extent that humankind will not be able to establish the ecological balance necessary for its survival. Given the fact that capitalism is by its nature a destructive order, it can be concluded that the time for doing away with capitalism and creating a new (socialist) order does not come when productive relations become an obstacle to the development of productive forces, as Marx contends in departing from pre-capitalist history, but with the onset of capitalism. This is clearly indicated in Fourier’s critique of (capitalist) progress, which suggests that capitalist development is based on the destruction of the living (natural) environment, i.e., that it has an anti-existential character.
A contemporary critique of capitalism and the political struggle against capitalism should deal not only with its current but, above all, with its potential threats to the survival of humankind. If we wait for the planetary eco-system to be degraded to such an extent that it becomes an immediate threat to the survival of man, then the fate of humankind is sealed. In this context, we can clearly see the fatal consequences of “ecological movements” that seek to alleviate the effects of capitalist “progress” by technical means and in a mechanical way. Ultimately, they serve to suppress the anti-capitalist movement struggling to eradicate the causes of global destruction and erase the illusion that, based on capitalist progress, the survival of nature and humankind can be achieved by scientific and technical means. The technical devices of the “ecological” movement have become coins for buying time for capitalism and thereby reducing the period within which the ecological balance can (still) be re-established to prevent the destruction of humankind. At the same time, man’s “adjustment” to artificial climate conditionscauses such changes in his organism that he no longer has the ability to survive under natural conditions. For a capitalistically degenerated man, a healthy natural environment becomes anathema.
Economic crisis can accelerate the dissolution of capitalism and prevent it from debasing life on the planet so much that man’s survival becomes impossible. However, economic crisis by itself does not necessarily breed a revolutionary consciousness at the levels of the oppressed workers. The most compelling example is the creation of fascism in Germany and other European countries spurred by the capitalist economic crisis of 1929. Ecocidal capitalism has created the possibility for a new fascist barbarism, which, guided by the logic of “it’s either them or us”, could destroy billions of “superfluous” people in order for the most powerful capitalist corporations to gain control of the globe’s raw materials and energy resources. The theory of the “golden billion” indicates the way in which the most powerful capitalist clans are planning to “solve” the increasingly dramatic economic and ecological crises. Similarly, to believe blindly that the economic crisis by itself could incite workers to start a revolution may result in the workers being destroyed, as natural and human beings, before they can even take their place on the last historical battlefield, where the destiny of humankind is to be decided. One of the most important tasks for leftists is to organize working people in such a way as to prevent the dissatisfaction created by capitalism from becoming the means for establishing a capitalist dictatorship – as was the case in Europe at the time of the great economic crash of 1929.
With its growing destruction of life on the planet, capitalism increases existential anxiety that, unless a new order based on a rational treatment of nature is initiated, becomes an existential panic causing man to support any measures, regardless of their validity or justification, that he believes (being convinced by the ruling propaganda machinery in which he has been terrorized into placing his faith) will enable him to survive. The ruling order manipulates its subjects with the fear of a “perceived threat”. Capitalists actually use this existential fear to provoke conflicts among people, races, nations, religious groups… The Nazis used the same kind of manipulation. The fear of existential uncertainty caused by the capitalist economic crisis was turned by the Nazi propaganda machinery into a fear of “judeo-bolshevism”. Through propaganda, the destruction of “judeo-bolshevism” was made an obsession: by destroying the “enemy”, man can “free” himself from the existential fear caused by capitalism. It is a targeted sublimation, where the “enemy” acquires certain characteristics that most efficiently provoke a desired reaction through the activation of two of the most important instinctive drives: existential fear and suppressed sexual energy. The very sight of Hitler triggered in the Germans a hysterical reaction of an orgasmic quality. Today, this fear is all the greater since we are facing the biological demise of the white race, ever deeper economic crises and ever harder struggles for employment, fatal climate changes, exhausted energy resources and raw materials, reductions in commerce, and the disappearance of the “American dream”, which demands a constant rise in the consumer’s standard of living…
Capitalism in the most developed capitalist countries may also deprive people of their humanity to such an extent that they come to regard the destruction of other nations as the only “solution” for their own survival. This will come to be the basis of the collective counsciousness: a struggle for survival by technical means used to annihilate billions of people. An increasingly hard life and the immediate existential threat looming over entire nations deprive man of humanity and thus of compassion for and solidarity with other people and nations. Just as contemporaneous with Hitler’s “thrust toward the East” (Drang nach Osten) the German petty-bourgeoisie did not want to know about the atrocities committed by the German army, so today’s petty-bourgeoisie in the most developed capitalist countries close their eyes to the everyday atrocities of capitalist companies and their mercenaries (united in NATO) and consciously blend into the dull dissonance of the destructive capitalist chorus – submissively reconciling themselves to the loss of their elementary human and civil rights and passively accepting the creation of a police state. The “consumer society” is for the petty-bourgeois the only world in which they can live and the only world they can fantasize about. The ever deeper crises of capitalism do not bring people who have been degenerated by a “consumer” way of life to fight against capitalism for a humane world, but, rather, to fight for their own consumer standards at the cost of becoming, themselves, capitalist executioners. The immediate reaction of a petty-bourgeois to the decline in consumer standards is not to wish for change in the ruling order, but, instead, to plunder and destroy other people. They are well aware that the story about “terrorism” is but a mask hiding the strivings of the most powerful capitalist corporations to conquer the world, but they accept this fable as a sedative to appease their consciousness, since the ruling order (still) provides a relatively high standard of living to the “consumer”. The capitalist petty-bourgeois continues to be one of the pillars of fascism. The systematic reproduction of technical and biological means of mass destruction is indicative of the true intentions of the most powerful capitalist groups in the West. One of the most horrible truths, which demonstrates the utter monstrosity of capitalism, is that the survival of over six billion “superfluous” people is not based on thousands of years of civilization and “democratic values” in the West, but on the fact that Russia is capable of annihilating Europe and the USA within twenty minutes.
The degeneration of “consumer society” leads to a decline in the purchasing power of working people and grossly increased unemployment. There is a need to stabilize capitalism at a lower production-consumption level, while with the growth of overall capitalist reproduction, with further the development of science and technology, the “white collars” will become predominant. The working “masses” from the traditional lines of production are no longer the means by which the reproduction of capital will be accelerated, but they are, in fact, a burden on and an increasing political threat to the ruling order. Instead of integrating workers into capitalism through the consumer way of life, the strategic landmark of the ruling order is the elimination of the “superfluous” population. With the ever deeper economic crises of capitalism, an growing number of workers become the mortal enemies of capitalism, and the ruling order will employ any available means (criminalization of society, narcotics, alcohol, contaminated food and water, lack of medicines and medical services, deadly viruses, sterilization and the like) to eliminate the “superfluous” and ensure survival. This is one of the causes of contemporary fascism, whose contours are most visible in the USA. It is the realization of the idea of the “golden billion”, which, with the demise of “consumer society”, will have an effect not only on the populations in the countries on the “margins of capitalism”, but also on an ever-broader spectrum of working people in the most developed capitalist countries. The increasingly threatened existence of humankind creates the conditions for radical implementation of the social-Darwinist concept according to which only “the strongest will survive”, while science and technology become the exclusive means for ensuring the dominant position of capitalism and for the creation of artificial living conditions that will protect these survivors from increasingly dangerous climate changes. That is why the Western rulers from the shadows try to use science and technology to create a “new man”, one who, with his artificially created “genetic qualities” and thanks to the military techniques at his disposal, will be capable of exterminating the surfeit of the “unfit” and establish global domination. The “terminators”, “Rambos”, “predators” and similar Hollywood freaks, glorifying the destructive power of the capitalistically misused technology, clearly show the psychological profile of contemporary capitalist fanatics. The power to rule becomes the power to destroy.
The plight of the bourgeois class is the best indicator of the tendency of capitalist development. The development of capitalism goes hand in hand with the development of the bourgeois class; when the bourgeois class starts to perish, so does capitalism. In the West, the general social crisis acquires a pre-revolutionary character. The bourgeois class is disintegrating and, in so doing, is creating a society where fewer and fewer people can become rich, while the number of poor people is increasing. We are witnessing the proletarization of the bourgeois class and the fascization of the capitalist class. Consequently, the emancipatory heritage of civil society is being destroyed and the space for pacifist political options diminished. The biological demise of the European peoples is gaining momentum, becoming one of the most important sources of fascistoid hysteria. At the same time, we see the rise of technocratic utopias and apocalyptic consciousness: the myth of the omnipotence of science and technology, idea of the man-cyborg, the idea of leaving the planet… Due to the global “balance of fear”, based on the nuclear arsenals of the USA and Russia, a new global war to revive the living potential of capitalism becomes impossible. The political stability and economic development in the East are becoming extremely important, as they prevent the increasing crises in the West from breeding a new fascist beast that could destroy the Slavic and Asian peoples. Political and social conditions are being created that could resolve the crises in the West by abolishing capitalism and creating a true socialist society.
The existential crisis is the basic precondition to the struggle for a new world. Just as the Great War fully revealed the contradictions of capitalism and led to the existential crisis that caused the workers’ rebellion, directed by the Bolsheviks and leading to the creation of a socialist order, the existential crisis brought about by contemporary capitalism should be directed towards the creation of a communist society. Capitalism manages to alleviate, by way of technology, the immediate effect of the ecological destruction of the planet and to dampen the power of reasoning, marginalizing the existential issues through a consumer life style and the entertainment industry. The ever more dramatic consequences of capitalist destruction force man to develop his mind and his universal creative powers, since they are the only way to mitigate the consequences of capitalist destruction and create a humane world.
The struggle for the development of the mind is, actually, a political struggle, as it enables the development of libertarian humanism, which is at the heart of man’s refusal to come to terms with the existing world and the source of a visionary consciousness. Similarly, capitalism creates the possibility of establishing a rebellious sociability. Increasingly difficult living conditions force people to leave their solitary hide-outs and unite in the fight for survival. With capitalism threatening the survival of mankind and causing ever greater poverty, the increasingly serious ecological crisis could become the immediate cause of a socialist revolution. A severe accident in one of the nuclear power plants in Europe, as was the case in the Fukushima nuclear disaster, could trigger a revolutionary wave, which might mark the end of capitalism.
The increasing contamination of the environment; the ever wider social differences and the growing immiseration of the working classes; the conversion of the state and other social institutions into the means for servicing private capitalist business interests; the alienation through privatization of the political sphere from the citizenry … – all this creates conditions for the development of a broad political movement with the possibility of overcoming traditional class divisions and class struggle and preventing a dilution of the struggle against capitalism, a struggle that redirects this energy for potential change towards “ecological projects” in an attempt to lessen the deleterious consequences of capitalism and contribute to its “perfectioning”. The “anti-globalist movement” is one of the potential forms of the struggle against capitalism. It has the potential to unite the global political forces and movements opposed to contemporary imperialism, with its genocidal and ecocidal character. At the same time, it could have a corrective effect on the development programs which are based on the destruction of nature and the development of a consumer mentality.
The most important result of the economic crisis of capitalism in 2008 is that the working class in the West has shown that it is still alive as a political force and that the struggle against workers as a potentially revolutionary force is still the primary concern of capitalists.The economic crisis of 2008 showed that class war in the most developed capitalist countries is not over and that, after a long futile experience of “consumer society”, the working class is still capable of doing away with capitalism and creating a new world. In the light of new developments, it turns out that one of the most invalidating “oversights” of the Frankfurt philosophers was their dismissal of the working class as a possible agent of social change.
By becoming a destructive totalitarian order, capitalism “has overcome” both the principle of progress and the principle of social justice, making the principle of struggle paramount for the survival of humankind. It is no longer about man being threatened just as a citizen and a worker, but also as a human and natural being. Capitalism has “transformed” the historical being of the working class in such a way that its main historical task is no longer to abolish class society and liberate workers from oppression, but now it is to prevent the destruction of life and save humankind from destruction. The struggle against capitalism as a destructive order should become the basis for the political integration of workers and their cooperation with the social movements fighting for the survival of life on the planet. Since the issue is global ecocide, there is a need for a global struggle against capitalism. It is the most efficient and most humane way in which humankind can become united. The struggle against capitalism enables the working class to “come of age” in every corner of the world and to become part of a global anti-capitalist front. With capitalism becoming a worldwide destructive order, the distinction between center and periphery has become irrelevant. Every corner on this planet where the struggle against capitalism is being carried out has become the center of a global revolution.
Translated from Serbian by Vesna Todorović, English translation supervisor, Mick Collins
Reimagining ageing: Older persons as agents of development
Older persons are highly visible across Asia and the Pacific: they work in agricultural fields producing our food supplies, peddle their wares as street vendors, drive tuk-tuks and buses, exercise in our parks, lead some of the region’s most successful companies and form an integral part of our families.
Indeed, population ageing is one of the megatrends greatly affecting sustainable development. People now live longer than ever and remain active because of improved health. We must broaden the narrow view of older persons as requiring our care to recognize that they are also agents of development. With many parts of the Asia-Pacific region rapidly ageing, we can take concrete steps to provide environments in which our elders live safely, securely and in dignity and contribute to societies.
To start with, we must invest in social protection and access to universal healthcare throughout the life-course. Currently, it is estimated that 14.3 per cent of the population in Asia and the Pacific are 60 years or older; that figure is projected to rise to 17.7 per cent by 2030 and to one-quarter in 2050. Moreover, 53.1 per cent of all older persons are women, a share that increases with age. Therefore, financial security is needed so older persons can stay active and healthy for longer periods. In many countries of the region, less than one-third of the working-age population is covered by mandatory pensions, and a large proportion still lacks access to affordable, good quality health care.
Such protection is crucial because older persons continue to bolster the labour force, especially in informal sectors. In Thailand, for example, a third of people aged 65 years or over participate in the labour force; 87 per cent of working women aged 65 or over work in the informal sector, compared to 81 per cent of working men in the same cohort. This general trend is seen in other countries of the region.
Older persons, especially older women, also make important contributions as caregivers to both children and other older persons. This unpaid care enables younger people in their families to take paid work, often in metropolitan areas of their own country or abroad.
Older persons should also have lifelong learning opportunities. Enhanced digital literacy, for example, can close the grey digital divide. Older women and men need to stay abreast of technological developments to access services, maintain connections with family and friends and remain competitive in the labour market. Through inter-generational initiatives, younger people can train older people in the use of technology.
We must also invest in quality long-term care systems to ensure that older persons who need it can receive affordable quality care. With the increase in dementia and other mental health conditions, care needs are becoming more complex. Many countries in the region still rely on family members to provide such care, but there may be less unpaid care in the future, and care by family members is not always quality care.
Finally, addressing age-based discrimination and barriers will be crucial to allow the full participation of older persons in economies and societies. Older women and men actively volunteer in older persons associations or other organizations. They help distribute food and medicine in emergency situations, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, monitor the health of neighbours and friends, or teach each other how to use digital devices. Older persons also play an active role in combatting climate change by sharing knowledge and techniques of mitigation and adaptation. Ageism intersects and exacerbates other disadvantages, including those related to sex, race, and disability, and combatting it will contribute to the health and well-being of all.
This week, countries in Asia and the Pacific will convene to review and appraise the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. MIPAA provides policy directions for building societies for all ages with a focus on older persons and development; health and well-being in old age; and creating enabling environments. The meeting will provide an opportunity for member States to discuss progress on the action plan and identify remaining challenges, gaps and new priorities.
While several countries in the region already have some form of policy on ageing, the topic must be mainstreamed into all policies and action plans, and they must be translated into coherent, cross-sectoral national strategies that reach all older persons in our region, including those who inhabit remote islands, deserts or mountain ranges.
Older persons are valuable members of our societies, but too often they are overlooked. Let us ensure that they can fully contribute to our sustainable future.
70% of 10-Year-Olds now in Learning Poverty, Unable to Read and Understand a Simple Text
As a result of the worst shock to education and learning in recorded history, learning poverty has increased by a third in low- and middle-income countries, with an estimated 70% of 10-year-olds unable to understand a simple written text, according to a new report published today by the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, UK government Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), USAID, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This rate was 57% before the pandemic, but now the learning crisis has deepened.This generation of students now risks losing $21 trillion in potential lifetime earnings in present value, or the equivalent of 17% of today’s global GDP, up from the $17 trillion estimated in 2021.
The State of Global Learning Poverty: 2022 Update report shows that prolonged school closures, poor mitigation effectiveness, and household-income shocks had the biggest impact on learning poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), with a predicted 80% of children at the end-of-primary-school-age now unable to understand a simple written text, up from around 50% pre-pandemic. The next-largest increase is in South Asia, where predictions put at 78% the share of children that lack minimum literacy proficiency, up from 60% pre-pandemic. Emerging data measuring actual learning levels of children in reopened school systems around the world corroborate the predictions of large learning losses. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), increases in learning poverty were smaller, as school closures in this region typically lasted only a few months, but stand now at an extremely high 89%. In all other regions, simulations show increases in learning poverty.
The report also shows that even before COVID-19, the global learning crisis was deeper than previously thought. The global average pre-pandemic learning poverty rate, previously estimated at 53% for 2015, was even higher – with updated and revised data revealing that 57% of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries were not able to read and understand a simple text, the measure for learning poverty. In regions, such as LAC and SSA, in which temporally comparable data is available, the report notes that learning poverty has remained stagnant in this period. This highlights that returning to the pre-COVID status quo will not secure the future of the world’s children – a vigorous learning recovery and acceleration is needed.
Prolonged school closures and unequal mitigation strategies have worsened learning inequality among children. Evidence is mounting that children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and other disadvantaged groups are suffering larger learning losses. Children with the most fragile grasp of foundational literacy before the closures are most likely to have suffered larger learning losses. Without strong foundational skills, children are unlikely to acquire the technical and higher-order skills needed to thrive in increasingly demanding labor markets and more complex societies.
The need for sustained commitment at all levels of society
The new World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, FCDO, USAID, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation report emphasizes that learning recovery and acceleration requires sustained national political commitment, from the highest political levels to all members of society. Turning the tide against the longer-term learning crisis will require national coalitions for learning recovery – coalitions that include families, educators, civil society, the business community, and other ministries beyond the education ministry. Commitment needs to be further translated into concrete action at the national and sub-national levels, with better assessment of learning to fill the vast data gaps, clear targets for progress, and evidence-based plans for learning recovery and acceleration.
Given the scale of the challenges and scarcity of resources, countries need to concentrate their efforts on the most cost-effective approaches to tackle learning poverty.
The RAPID framework offers a menu of evidence-based interventions that education systems can implement to help children recover lost learning, and to accelerate long-term progress in foundational learning. Governments must make sure that education systems:
- Reach every child and keep them in school
- Assess learning levels regularly
- Prioritize teaching the fundamentals
- Increase the efficiency of instruction, including through catch-up learning
- Develop psychosocial health and well-being.
These interventions must be implemented as part of a national learning recovery program that can also serve as a springboard for building more effective, equitable, and resilient education systems. To lead to broad, sustained change, the program will need to be accompanied by much-needed systemic strengthening. This is critical to closing learning gaps as much as possible by 2030 to ensure that all children and youth have the opportunity to shape the bright futures they deserve.
Jaime Saavedra, Global Director for Education, World Bank: “COVID-19 has devastated learning around the world, dramatically increasing the number of children living in Learning Poverty. With 7 in 10 of today’s 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries now unable to read a simple text, political leaders and society must swiftly move to recover this generation’s future by ensuring learning recovery strategies and investments. The World Bank is committed to supporting countries during these challenging times. Together, we can build forward better more equitable, effective, and resilient education. We owe it not only to the children and youth of this generation, but to ourselves – in their minds rests our future.”
Alicia Herbert OBE, Director Education, Gender and Equality and Gender Envoy, FCDO: “This important document helps us to better understand where we are on education globally, and how we can ensure that all children are supported to get on track to achieve 12 years of quality education. The report shows what we feared. Even fewer children are now able to access a quality education, due to the impact of COVID-19 and school closures globally, especially the most marginalised. An estimated 7 in 10 of all children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read a simple text with comprehension by age 10. This is unacceptable. We must come together to pay attention and to act, so that all children can get back to school and learn.”
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:
Dr. Benjamin Piper, Director of Global Education, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: “I want readers of this report to have at least two responses. The first is profound sadness at the magnitude of the learning crisis. The learning poverty data highlights the shocking inequality that persists in learning outcomes, with 87% of children in Africa unable to read and understand a simple text. This data was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the new simulations suggest this has increased to 89%. This is sad, but it’s also wrong. The second is that we have solutions that can work at scale and in government systems. Committing to substantial learning recovery programs is a start, but the composition of those programs matter: measure learning outcomes, but also invest in improving instruction through structured pedagogy or teaching at the right level interventions while increasing instructional time. Countries that do this have a real opportunity not only to recover learning lost due to COVID-19, but to make significant progress to reduce learning poverty by 2030.”
Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant-Director General for Education: “These estimates ring the alarm louder than ever on the urgency to prioritize education in recovery plans and beyond. We must invest in holistic and transformative policies that act on the multiple causes of the learning crisis, mobilize the international community, and put in place all the conditions to ensure that no child falls behind. The Transforming Education Pre-Summit, from June 28 to 30 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and the Transforming Education Summit, on 19 September in New York, are our opportunity to set learning on the right tracks and fulfill the SDG4 promise to ensure quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Global Director of Education: “Getting children back into the classroom is just the first step – but if we stop there, we will rob millions of children of the chance to reach their full potential. Every child has a right not only to be in school, but to learn in school, acquiring the basic skills that are the foundation for higher learning and higher income levels someday – in turn supporting equitable development and sustainable growth. We need to reach every child, in every situation. We need to assess their learning level and help them master the basics, so they can move ahead as confident learners. And especially for children living through conflicts and crises, we need to support children’s learning by making sure they have the psychosocial support they need. We can’t let children’s learning become yet another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
LeAnna Marr, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation, Center for Education, USAID: “The State of Global Learning Poverty is an urgent call for commitment. Recovering from this massive shock will require all of us – governments, families, educators, civil society, and the private sector – to double our efforts to ensure every child is supported to return to school and catch up on learning. In the wake of the worst shock to education and learning in a century, USAID is committed to continuing our support to the recovery and transformation of education to ensure all children and youth are able to return to safe and quality learning. USAID will continue to build on our investments and lead globally in foundational learning, strengthening resilience in education systems, and equipping the next generation with the skills needed for lifelong success.”
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