A gaze into the future

Malene Aadal Bo
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What themes and events are likely to appear on the agenda of education advocates in the year to come? We have asked Kira Boe, policy advisor, Oxfam Denmark; and Ramya Vivekanandan and Margaret Louise Irving, GPE technical leads on learning and teaching and on domestic financing respectively.

There is hope that 2022 will see the end of the pandemic that has been setting the global agenda for close to two years now. But even if we get back to normal, and schools around the world reopen, the pandemic will still be the cause of many of the things we will need to think about, discuss, decide, and do in the year that lies ahead, our experts predict.

1. We might go back to talking about enrolment

There is no doubt that education worldwide has suffered a major setback due to the pandemic. It is a concern not all children will return to school. Everywhere will see a big need for initiatives supporting this transition back to school. Some even say that we will see a need to lay aside the newly won focus on quality in education and go back to talk about mere access. Kira Boe from Oxfam Denmark predicts that 2022 will see a need for both.

“Education needs of course to be available and accessible, and families and communities aware of their rights to and the benefits of education. But quality will still be a key word and I expect the discussion to center more around retention than enrolment. At this point you already see practitioners, advocates and politicians think hard about the measures we might use to eliminate the barriers for children’s return.

For instance, in Tanzania the number of teenage pregnancies had increased during lockdown to an extent so that the authorities have decided to allow young mothers and pregnant girls in school. In other places rising poverty levels, fear of illness or shame of now being overaged, might be the thing to address to prevent children from dropping out.

I anticipate these issues on enrolment and retention to be high on the agenda almost everywhere. And if they are not, at least they should be,” says Kira Boe. 

2. Growing interest in “citizen-led assessment tools”

GPE’s thematic lead for teaching and learning Ramya Vivekanandan expects to see a growing interest in the data-collection and mobilization approach called “Citizen-led Assessment”, which can offer rapid assessment of, for instance, the level of learning lost during pandemic lockdowns. And maybe more importantly, it is an approach designed to reach learners in their homes and is therefore applicable in jurisdictions that are still partly closed due to the pandemic.

“In the aftermath of Covid-19, there is an urgent need to assess the skills and competencies of learners in order to inform efforts to reintegrate them into schools and catch up on the learning lost. And it’s quite possible that both authorities and civil society organizations will look for tools that can reach learners in their communities, as many schools are still closed or at least not in a position to carry out large-scale assessments of learning.

There may also be a higher sense of trust for families in enabling their children to participate in this kind of assessment, as it is typically carried out by someone from the local community and in the family home. Especially for those who want to combine the data collection with efforts to mobilize or initiate a dialogue with the parents and the communities, citizen-led assessments might be something they want to test.

We have seen numerous times how assessing kids while their parents/guardians are observing, which is a hallmark of the approach, has been very illuminating for everybody and that the immediate sharing of knowledge with the community has, in many instances, led to action in favor of better monitoring of the quality of education offered to their children. This is a way of allowing all people a role to play in ensuring quality education.

The People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network was established to facilitate the uptake and sharing of this approach across countries,” says Ramya Vivekanandan.

For more information on the citizen-led assessment approach, please visit the PAL Network webpage.

3. We will all relate to the issue of fragility

2022 will also be the year where the education community gears up for the replenishment for “Education Cannot Wait” – a new global fund to increase the quality of education in emergencies. The replenishment is scheduled for the spring of 2023 but the debates on how to deliver a more collaborate and rapid response to the educational needs of children affected by crisis will present itself throughout the year, predicts Kira Boe from Oxfam Denmark.

“There is a realization that relatively stable situations can easily become vulnerable or turn into a crisis, as we have just seen in Afghanistan. Therefore, I expect a push from both GPE and Education Cannot Wait to link the normal-situation advocacy with the work related to education in emergencies.

I look forward to following this and really encourage those of you with seats in the local education groups or education clusters to take this opportunity of including new actors and perspectives on education,” says Kira Boe.

4. But more than anything… the question of financing

There is no guarantee that education funding will lead to quality, but it is almost guaranteed that you cannot get quality education without funding. Hence alarm bells started to sound last year in February when the World Bank revealed that two thirds of all development countries were already in the process of cutting budgets for education. 2022 will see intense advocacy to maintain the current budgets and to make sure that the funds that are there are spent efficiently and in an equitable way. This is the prediction of Margaret Louise Irving who is GPE’s technical expert on domestic financing.

“GPE’s 2021 Global Education Summit created an unprecedented moment for education financing, with heads of state from 19 partner countries signing on the Heads of State Call to Action, spearheaded by President Kenyatta. It will be important to leverage this momentum in high-level political will, while also remaining cognizant of the deep impacts of the pandemic on economies and therefore on budgets.

For countries that suffer high debt burdens, this creates pressure on national governments to ensure education remains prioritized among competing needs, but also generates a responsibility for international creditors to rethink the terms for repayment of loans that may otherwise constrain fiscal space.

In this resource-scare environment, increasing the value-add of each dollar also becomes essential, which is why a focus on efficiency is so important – estimates suggest almost a third of education spending is wasted due to inefficiencies. Similarly, advancing equity objectives means ensuring that mechanisms for directing resources to the most marginalized is hardwired into budget decisions. Working towards improved transparency and accountability, including timely release of financial data, will be critical – this reaches right from national-level budget reporting down to better understanding expenditures and relative performance at the school and community level,” says Margaret Louise Irving. 

So, as stated in the beginning, we are looking into a year of mitigating the consequences of the crisis and reestablishing education for all. We hope to build back fast but also to build back better.

“I trust and hope that we have learned something. That it has led people to value education and educators higher so that more people will support education in the time to come. I hope that many more will support the teachers and students and movements fighting to protect and improve education. Activism is key,” concludes Kira Boe from Oxfam Denmark.