Transforming education: Young professionals speak

International Day of Education was commemorated under the global theme, ‘Changing Course, Transforming Education’ on the 24th of January 2022. UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA) young professionals convened a discussion highlighting the day’s impacts on sustainable development goals. Transformation of education is critical to ensure every child’s right to education to build a more sustainable, inclusive, and peaceful future for all.

The current global context requires changes to be made in the way that education is delivered. 

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.
UNESCO Director General, Audrey Azoulay

During the discussion, UNESCO ROSA young professionals deliberated on how UNESCO’s different areas of competencies can contribute to the transformation of education. They noted that transforming education accelerates efforts to reduce gender-based violence, school dropouts, HIV infections, national pandemics ( e.g. Covid-19) and early unintended pregnancies. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a pre-existing education crisis. Reliance on digital technology for learning has deepened exclusion and gender inequalities. Without remedial action, better support to teachers and increased financing, learning losses and school dropout will continue to rise, reversing progress towards all the Sustainable Development Goals and depriving youth of a future of dignity and opportunity. 

COVID-19 has illustrated that education in a classroom set up is not a sustainable option during pandemics. It is imperative to consider other communication mediums to enable education to continue such as radio, which can allow students to continue learning through radio programmes broadcasted in various languages particularly for marginalized communities. 

Communication via technology helps to foster education development by use of various online tools such as emails, google classroom and platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp to connect staff, teachers, students, and parents.

In 2020, UNESCO ROSA launched a WhatsApp chatbot called Dzidzo Paden that has made it easy for students to access past exam papers, assignments, and academic lessons during national lockdowns. Such innovations are required to allow learning to continue and more can be done to reach rural communities who may not have access to smartphones.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) enables the use of innovative educational resources and the renewal of learning methods, establishing a more active collaboration of students and simultaneous acquisition of technological knowledge. The young professionals however noted that we must not lose sight of communities without access to ICT who need to be considered so they are not left behind.

UNESCO ROSA Young Professionals namely, Stella Piwai Madamombe, Kumbirai Comfort Mhandu, Applaude Masuka, Panashe Alick Mashabidze, Goden Tomu, Munongedzi Mabhoko, Rudo Ndudzo, Tendai Kaniso brought together all UNESCO ROSA staff to rethink education and how it can be delivered to enable learning for all. 

UNESCO calls all stakeholders to be part of the new social contract for education called for in the global report released in November 2021 titled, Futures of Education entitled Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education. The Report proposes answers to three fundamental questions: What should we continue doing? What should we abandon? What needs to be creatively reimagined? The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of our fragilities and interconnectedness. We can only transform together, through solidarity and cooperation. If we stand together, education for all is possible.