The Role of Young People in Building Resilience to Crisis in Education Systems.
Education is undoubtedly the foundation upon which our evolution and development as human societies lie. Yet, disparities in education systems and several other social, economic, and geographical barriers continue to prevent us from achieving our goal of quality education for ALL. With the COVID 19 pandemic outbreak in 2020, many of these barriers were exacerbated, and we saw a multi-level drawback in education systems across the world. If we are talking numbers, UNESCO estimates that about 1.25 billion students have been affected by the pandemic, presenting a critical challenge to achieving the SDGs. A significant proportion of this number will never return to school, an estimated 24 million children and youths. Eliminating the drivers of exclusion in the education system and creating resilient education systems are the two foundations upon which we must lay the work to attain the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.
Building a resilient system of education does not only imply a system of education that can adapt to critical and risky situations but also a system within which both students and educators can thrive, learning outcomes are maintained, and social and mental impacts of difficult situations are properly managed. This requires a concerted effort of governments, civil society organizations, educators, school representatives, parents and student bodies. According to a Covid-19 Education Issue Note produced by UNESCO's section for Health and Education and the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), crisis and risk management should be institutionalized in education systems, and specific programmatic options can help prevent disease outbreaks and pandemics from affecting education communities.
According to UNICEF, education systems need to analyse, plan, do, review and sustain strategies in five critical but interrelated areas, which are:
- Access to education provision
- Qualitative and inclusive learning
- Safe Schools
- Nutrition and School Feeding
We can develop strategies for building resilient education systems when we break these down. When we speak of access to education provision, we would need to develop new ways to redefine the meaning of classrooms. Crisis-sensitive educational planning would accommodate remote* and online learning and address the digital divide that already exists due to socioeconomic inequality. Without these, access to education would still be impossible for the majority in times of crisis.
Qualitative and inclusive learning is another pillar of resilient education systems. To achieve this, we must first and foremost identify the major drivers of exclusion in education, such as disability, gender, domestic situations, war and conflict, and diseases. Then we can go ahead and restructure our instruction strategies (pedagogy). Instructional materials should be inclusive by intent, design and content. Physical and learning disabilities should be adequately provided for in the design of learning resources and instructional materials.
As earlier mentioned, a resilient education system also refers to the ability of children, families and communities to adapt in times of crisis. It is not just sufficient for us to put learning systems in place; we must also ensure that the students are mentally, emotionally and physically healthy enough to continue getting an education. A school is not just a place for academic learning, it is also a place for emotional and social learning, support and interaction. Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) interventions must be embedded in school systems to ensure the well-being of students and educators alike.
Similarly, safe school practices that emphasize hygiene and sanitation and education (WASH) must be improved where they already exist and introduced where absent. Such practices must also be reinforced by parents and guardians to drive home their effectiveness. As part of my work with the dRPC Safe School Movement project, we are building a coalition of local CSOs, community leaders, and schools to implement the Safe School Declaration in Nigeria and West Africa to ensure schools are safe for learning in emergency contexts.
We should not forget the gendered perspective to all the aforementioned courses of action that are critical to building a resilient educational system. A gender-responsive approach to education is a necessity, and we must find means to integrate it into education system planning, especially for times of crisis when girls are disproportionately affected. Evidence suggests that both education and gender are neglected with any disease outbreak. My experience with some of the work done in designing and implementing a gender-responsive approach to education as a gender consultant for dRPC shows us that when we put things into perspective for girls and women, we are more likely to achieve phenomenal results.
Having identified the critical areas for action, we must then look inwards to examine our role as youth in bringing all of these into implementation. As a member of Generation Unlimited’s Young People’s Action Team, I sit on an advisory board made up of over 70 young people from over 30 different countries with the express purpose of steering and strengthening GenU’s programming and strategy. I know as a YPAT that for any work benefitting youth to be sustainable and resistant to shock, young people’s real-life experiences must be embedded in every single plan and mechanism. Young people are often the most exposed to crises or conflicts. they can also be equal partners in responding to conflicts and crises.
As innovators and inventors, young people can develop the technologies that would be deployed in building our education systems. In India, for example, the local group of YPATs created a WhatsApp information campaign in response to Covid-19 misinformation that was spreading around the country. A truly youth-led solution, “Covid Warriors”, reached hundreds of thousands of people with Covid-19 prevention tips, vaccination information, and best practices to prevent the spread of the virus. As advocates, lobbyists and activists, we young people can drive the agenda of resilient education systems at the national and local levels and influence policymakers and administrators into taking a novel approach to education planning. The youths will be the ones engaging the local communities and enlightening them on their roles in providing quality and inclusive education for ALL. In fact, as youths, we need to consider taking on careers as educators to drive the reforms we need from a stakeholder's perspective.
To conclude, I would say that building a resilient educational system is not a task we are allowed to leave to policymakers alone. We need to do the work, get our hands dirty in understanding the context within which we would be working in our respective countries and communities and come up with innovative solutions. Quality and inclusive Education for ALL is a debt we owe ourselves and the generations to come and one we all must pay.