Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of the International Day of Education
24 January 2021
We are celebrating this third International Day of Education in an exceptional situation: the greatest disruption in history to the lives of students, teachers and the entire educational community.
As the pandemic picks up speed again, half the world's learners continue to face interruption to their schooling.
At the peak of the pandemic, schools were actually closed for 91% of learners, or 1.5 billion pupils and students.
It then became apparent to everyone that education was a global public good and school was more than just a place of learning: it was also a place that provided protection, well-being, food and freedom.
For many, a non-school education has had to be organized through radio, television, correspondence and online. But, lacking online access, too many pupils – 470 million – have been left behind, resulting in further inequality.
Today, the situation remains worrying. Twenty-four million pupils, including millions of girls for whom school provides a safe haven, may never return to the classroom, to say nothing of the 258 million children and teenagers already out of school before the crisis.
Reopening schools, and keeping them open, should therefore be the priority. But it must be done while fully protecting the health of teachers, pupils and their families. For this reason, UNESCO has produced practical guidelines with clear guidance in this field.
This is also why UNESCO, together with Education International, has called on governments and the international community to consider teachers and education support staff a priority group for vaccination.
At the same time, we must continue to develop distance teaching: because the pandemic is still with us, because we will have to cope with future crises, and because distance teaching is also a good way of improving teaching approaches and ways of learning.
This is the aim of the Global Education Coalition launched by UNESCO, which brings together over 160 partners and is working in 70 countries for continuity of learning and reopening of schools.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, educational programmes have been produced to reach 4 million pupils by radio. The ImaginEcole platform has also been set up to offer resources to over 6 million pupils in Africa both online and offline.
In this unprecedented situation, UNESCO calls upon states to give fresh impetus to action on education.
At the Global Education Meeting organized by UNESCO last October, over 70 ministers and heads of state and government made significant commitments: to reopen schools, provide better teacher training, bolster pupils' skills, narrow the digital divide and provide more funding for education.
Education needs to be better funded, but it also needs to be rethought.
Because the past few months have highlighted new challenges: science and health education, of course, but also media, information and digital literacy as well as environmental and global citizenship education, to respect the planet just as we respect each other.
In this radically changed world, UNESCO is rethinking education with its Futures of Education initiative. This global debate has involved some million pupils, teachers and parents – and we invite everyone to join it.
On this International Day of Education, UNESCO invites you to promote education as a fundamental right and the most powerful aid to development that we have. Defending the future of this right means defending the right to the future.