UNESCO on Education Day 2022: ‘We Must Rethink Education’

In News by Porter Anderson

Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO chief in Paris, calls for ‘a broad movement’ to reframe and revitalize education.

An outdoor class at the University of Bogotá. Image – Getty iStockphoto: MN12

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Azoulay: ‘To Repair Past Injustices’
With our news today (January 24) of Springer Nature’s 17th and final Sustainable Development Goals-related portal—focused on education, Goal N0. 4, to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of Education–it’s important to look at the material being released by UNESCO and the UN.

Figures produced in an infographic provided to the news media (we’ll run it below for you) are particularly concerning, even as many markets in world publishing struggle to open—and keep open—schools so that students can return to the in-person learning environment so sharply disrupted by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Educational publishing is not the only sector of the international book business affected by issues in education, of course. The entire industry is based on the assumption that enough educational foundation is in place in the many cultures of the world to produce reading populations: consumers.

The UN’s information on “Quality Education,” its fourth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, includes the stark projection that as many as 20 years of educational gains may have been lost during the still ongoing pandemic years as 101 million children—nine percent of those enrolled in their first through eighth years of school—”fell below minimum reading proficiency levels in 2020.”

Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s secretary general,  in her remarks today from the agency’s headquarters in Paris says:

“As we mark the fourth International Day of Education, our world stands at a turning point.

Audrey Azoulay

“Glaring inequalities, a damaged planet, growing polarization, and the devastating impact of the pandemic present us with a generational choice: continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course.

“Education can help us solve all of these issues—but it faces serious challenges.

“We have yet to deliver on our commitment to ensure the right to quality education for all.

“COVID-19 disruptions have only exacerbated an educational crisis that, even before the pandemic, excluded 268 million children from school, especially girls. As a result of this exclusion, millions of children, youths, and adults are exposed to poverty, violence, and exploitation.

“In these exceptional times, business as usual is no longer an option. If we are to transform the future, if we are to change course, we must rethink education.

“This means forging a new social contract for education, as called for by the UNESCO report on the Futures of Education, released last November [2021]. We need to repair past injustices and orient the digital transformation around inclusion and equity. And we need education to fully contribute to sustainable development—for instance, by integrating environmental education in all curricula and by training teachers in this field.

“To do this, we need to support education financially, keeping in mind that it is not an expense, but an investment. This is why our member states reaffirmed their commitment to devoting at least 4 percent of GDP, or at least 15 percent of public spending, to education, in the Paris Declaration adopted during UNESCO’s Global Education Meeting last November.

“We also need to strengthen international aid and global cooperation, because this pandemic is a stark reminder of just how fragile and interconnected our societies are. We can only effect this change together, through solidarity and cooperation. This calls for a broad movement encompassing governments, civil society, educators, students, and young people to mobilize our collective intelligence and reimagine our future together.

“This is our message for this International Day of Education–because education is a common good, a fundamental right, and the foundation of a sustainable future.”

Several statistical points are particularly concerning in today’s report from UNESCO accompanying Azoulay’s commentary:

  • As many as 258 million children and youths still don’t attend school
  • Up to 617 million children and adolescents cannot read or do basic math
  • Fewer than 40 percent of the girls living in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school
  • Roughly 4 million children and youths who are refugees are out of school

While many in education—and in publishing—like to speak of “celebrating” International Day of Education, such terminology tends to gloss over the facts of deeply rooted problems in education which stand at the center of many of the problems the UN Sustainable Development Goals have been created to address. For that matter, which market in world publishing today can look at its own political climate and not see where a stronger educational framework would deliver desperately needed critical thinking and collegial consciousness?

This video from UNESCO presents several key tenets of the Futures of Education Report, that attempt that Azoulay has articulated, “to rethink education and shape the future.”

There’s more about the development of the Futures of Education report here.

And below is the infographic produced by the SDG program at the UN relative to the international educational crisis:

More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing and education is here, more on UNESCO is here, and more on publishing and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.