A United Nations leader described the world as being at a turning point where society has a unique opportunity to decide what kind of education will strengthen global inclusion, resilience and peace, while speaking at an international online conference organised by the education think-tank of Qatar Foundation.

During WISE’s Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined Part II – a three-day virtual gathering addressing the impact of COVID-19 and the future of education systems around the world –Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO, focused on the importance of building a better future through learning.

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The crisis caused by the pandemic, she said, has exposed the consequences of digital inequality that deprived millions from learning, of gender inequality that exposed girls – more than boys – to violence, of social inequalities that left the poorest behind, and geographical inequity.

According to UNESCO, approximately 500 million children and learners do not have access to education, partly due to lack of connectivity. And, according to a recent survey, 60% of teachers in 60 countries lack the digital skills to facilitate online platform learning.

Giannini asked participants to consider what ‘building back better’ after COVID-19 means.

The global pandemic will not be defeated by health measures alone. Public health and public education are interconnected; they are the two main pillars for a better society. We cannot allow them to be set in opposition.

She said that the crisis has revealed the importance of digital connectivity and online platforms. Governments are already planning for the future along the lines of hybrid learning solutions and models that can combine traditional face-to-face learning and teaching with new technologies. These require not only the appropriate infrastructure, but access to digitalised curricular, digitalised training, and measure to protect privacies. This is why education needs more resources, not less than before.

And let’s recognise that the centre of an educational process is the human relationship, between a student and a teacher. The education systems best prepared to respond to crises will be those that are capable of valuing their teachers, granting them more freedom and autonomy, and giving them the conditions to work collaboratively.

In closing, Giannini said that education can save the future and empower every child and young person, for a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable world.

We need everyone on board to steer the future in the right course. We need political leadership, we need an unprecedented commitment to this mission. Public education, common good, and global solidarity – these commitments should be our compass for recovery.

Eddie Dutton, Emergency Manager for Education at the non-profit organisation Education Cannot Wait, meanwhile stressed the importance of teachers. In a session titled, The Impact of COVID-19 on Education Systems Now and in the Future, he said that ‘teachers can’t be replaced’.

He said that teachers play an important role in not just delivering education, but also in understanding the learning needs and psychosocial needs of children, and whether there’s something at home or in the community environment that may be preventing children from engaging in learning.

Qatar University President Hassan Al Derham, who was also among the conference panelists, highlighted how moving education systems forward will require the involvement of many different stakeholders.

WISE CEO Stavros N Yiannouka also spoke of the dedication of teachers, parents and students to learning in his opening address. He said that he hoped the appreciation for these everyday heroes outlast the pandemic.

With nearly 5,000 registered participants, the three-day conference – a follow up to the first Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined event that took place in April 2020 – is seeing more than 50 contributors, including politicians, school principals, TV personalities, teachers, social entrepreneurs, and learners lead discussions and debates.

For more information and to register to any of the upcoming sessions or watch the previous sessions, visit wise-qatar.org