UNITED NATIONS, Oct 05 (APP): UN agencies and their partners Monday called for thinking “beyond COVID-19” to reimagine education and realize the goal of providing all students with access to quality learning, as they marked World Teachers’ Day.

This year’s commemoration highlights the critical contribution teachers have made in ensuring that learning continues during the global pandemic, as well as their crucial support to the mental health and wellbeing of students.

“In this crisis, teachers have shown, as they have done so often, great leadership and innovation in ensuring that #LearningNeverStops, that no learner is left behind”, the UN and its partners said in a joint statement.

“Around the world, they have worked individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to allow education to continue. Their role advising on school reopening plans and supporting students with the return to school
is just as important.”

The joint statement was issued by the heads of the UN’s educational agency, UNESCO; its labour agency, ILO, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), alongside the chief of Education International, a global federation of teachers’ trade unions.

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COVID-19 school closures have affected more than 90 per cent of the world’s total enrolled student population, or nearly 1.6 billion learners, they reported.

At the same time, more than 63 million teachers have also been affected, while the crisis has underscored persistent weaknesses in many education systems and compounded inequalities, with “devastating consequences” for the most marginalized.

A joint survey by UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank on COVID-19 response found that only half of all countries surveyed offered teachers additional training on distance learning. Fewer than one-third had psycho-social support to help teachers handle the crisis.

Furthermore, 81 per cent of primary teachers and 86 per cent of their secondary education counterparts have minimum required qualifications, with substantial regional variations, according to data published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the International Task Force on Teachers, and the Global Education Monitoring Report.

“We now need to think beyond COVID-19 and work to build greater resilience in our education systems, so we can respond quickly and effectively to these and other such crises,” the partners recommended.

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This calls for protecting education financing, investing in high-quality teacher education, and the continued professional development of this workforce.

“Without urgent action and increased investment, a learning crisis could turn into a learning catastrophe”, they warned. “Even before COVID-19, more than half of all ten-year-olds in low- to middle-income countries could not understand a simple written story.”

Meanwhile, governments and other stakeholders are urged to protect teachers’ safety, health and wellbeing, as well as their employment.

Other recommendations included improving working conditions, and including teachers and their representative organizations more fully in COVID-19 response and recovery.

“Now is the time to recognize the role of teachers in helping to ensure a generation of students can reach their full potential, and the importance of education for short-term stimulus, economic growth and social cohesion, during and after COVID-19”, the statement said.

“Now is the time to reimagine education and achieve our vision of equal access to quality learning for every child and young person.”