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Education is a human right–but it’s getting deprioritized in an age of crises

September 21, 2022, 11:40 AM UTC
Multiple crises have undermined global efforts to improve children's access to education.
Yousuf Khan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The world is at a pivotal moment. Over the last few years, instability has emerged on a global scale. As a result, ensuring we meet the basic needs of children, such as access to food, water, shelter, safety, and security, has rightfully been on the global agenda. With children’s needs often competing for attention and resources, we must remember that education provides a huge force of stability for both children and society. 

While literacy and numeracy are incredibly important, education teaches far more than ABCs and 123s. Learning is an important mechanism for developing problem-solving skills, building resilience, growing confidence, and improving the ability to communicate with others. These are pivotal skills that children will need to address the challenges and opportunities of the world we live in. Beyond the direct benefits of education, schools are often a place of stability and peace, particularly for crisis-affected children, and can provide a way to address basic needs like food insecurity.

However, the gap between what education systems could be and the reality of what they are is immense. A report from the World Bank and UNESCO earlier this year found that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened already existing gaps in education investment. The World Economic Forum has predicted that at least 263 million children and youth are out of school. Even before the pandemic, the world already faced a learning crisis–57% of children in low- and middle-income countries could not read and understand a simple text by the age of 10. That figure is now a staggering 70%. 

These sobering statistics show we’re letting children down. What we’ve been doing is simply not good enough.  

The Transforming Education Summit, which came to a close this week, marked an opportunity, for education leaders and policymakers to commit to transforming global learning systems.

It wasn’t another moment to talk shop, but instead a chance for real action for children.   

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the opening of the summit, we will not end the education crisis by doing more of the same. The only way to truly transform education is to mobilize a global movement. 

Change won’t happen overnight–and the summit was only the beginning. As Rebecca Winthrop wrote in a recent paper for The Brookings Institution, the education sector needs to be united in our approach if we are to successfully implement real systemic change. The LEGO Foundation is urging the global education community to work collaboratively in the face of crises to safeguard children’s learning by:  

  • Ensuring those closest to the issues can determine what transformation looks like. It is critical that we work to decolonize the mechanisms that have historically taken the decision-making away from those who matter most.
  • Ensuring learning systems are inclusive of all children. Regardless of gender, ability, location, or privilege.
  • Promoting strong collaboration between sectors to ensure good health, adequate nutrition, safety, and security.
  • Involving parents, families, childcare, healthcare providers, and social services in education systems to surround every child with the highest-quality opportunities for joyful, meaningful, lifelong learning and responsive caregiving.  
  • Recognizing our collective responsibility to invest in children and put education financing back on the global agenda.  

Most importantly, let’s make sure we listen to what children want and need from their learning. As the world rebuilds from a period of instability, leaders must remember who we are rebuilding for.  

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen is the CEO of the LEGO Foundation.

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