LONDON—Schools should not have been closed during the coronavirus pandemic, Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s global director for education, told the Education World Forum 2022.
Saavedra, a former education minister of Peru, said “while it was perhaps understandable at the beginning, bars were open, football stadiums were open, but schools were closed. In the future we hope they will let international organisations set the agenda.”
The forum brings together ministers of education, higher education and skills from around the world to discuss how to build stronger educations systems. This year’s forum put special emphasis on how the disruptions caused by Covid-19 had affected those efforts. (See a related article, “Narrowing Education Equity Gaps: Experts Cite Examples That Show It’s Possible”)
Many of this year’s speakers dealt with their countries’ experiences during the pandemic and how they were responding.
Matsie Angelina Motshekga, South Africa’s minister of basic education, spoke on the same panel as Saavedra. She noted that school closings had affected whole families, not just children. Perhaps it had been forgotten that schools provided childcare as well as education, she said.
Accelerating School Reforms
Saudi Arabia’s minister of education, Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sheikh, said his country had regarded the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate change and reform the education system. Things that would have taken ten years normally took two during the pandemic, he said.
“Bars were open, football stadiums were open, but schools were closed. In the future we hope they will let international organisations set the agenda.”Jaime Saavedra The World Bank’s global director for education
“When the pandemic struck, halting the education service, we established a distance learning programme for more than six million students, 25 educational satellite channels covering all levels, an interactive educational platform for all children and a parental programme to involve the family in the education of their children,” Al Sheikh said.
“We introduced subjects related to labour-market skills and opened more than 50 new applied colleges,” he added. “We also increased the number of school days to 183 per year to help those struggling in specific subjects.”
Abbas Halabi, Lebanon’s minister of education, later told the conference about his country’s experience during the pandemic. Distance learning had to be set up for a million Lebanese children enrolled in private and public schools and 350,000 Syrian and Palestinian refugees, he said.
Lebanon’s economic crisis and the staggering impact of the 2020 explosion in Beirut’s port have meant that more than 20 percent of children were not in school because their parents could not afford it.
The theme of this year’s forum was “Education: Building Forward Together; Stronger, Bolder, Better”. Besides ministers of education and skills, participants included delegates from industry and leaders of international organisations like Unicef, the World Bank, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
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Peter Phillips, chief executive of Cambridge University Press and Assessment, noted that the number of education ministers attending this year (more than 100) was the largest ever, and said this showed how important education was.
- Covid-19 School Closures Could Cost $17 Trillion in Lost Earnings, Report Says
- Post-Covid-19, Arab Countries Need New Approaches to Education, U.N. Official Says
- Schools in Lebanon Remain Closed, Stirring Fears of a Lost Generation