More than a role model
Alice Albright is CEO of the Global Partnership for Education. Samuel Koo is a senior adviser for the group.
With Covid-19 profoundly disrupting education worldwide, Korea has a crucial part to play both as a role model for keeping children learning during the pandemic, and as a leading supporter of education efforts in lower-income countries.
As early as March 2020, Korea had already recognized the new threat to education and was moving quickly to transform the way its children learn by shifting to online classes.
Even with Korea’s population enjoying widely available and fast internet, the government grasped that the success of this sudden shift to virtual classrooms would hinge on properly-trained teachers, fully-prepared and secured online learning sites and a vast supply of appropriate content, delivered through the web and by television.
Tackling these challenges brought swift rewards. By the third week of April, nearly 99 percent of Korea’s 5.3 million school children were participating in full-scale, online classes.
This admirable response to an unprecedented crisis is nearly unmatched by other advanced economies. In lower-income countries, the coronavirus threatens to rob hundreds of millions of children of any chance to resume their education, or to begin school at all. Even before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19, one-fifth of the world’s children were already out of school.
Now, the global education crisis is becoming an emergency that could damage an entire generation. At the height of the pandemic, more than 1 billion students were forced to suspend their education. As many as 600 million young people remain shut out of classrooms months later.
As the world fights this pandemic, the temptation will be to return to business as usual and accept that some children will simply be left behind. But we can use this moment to profoundly rethink our approach to learning and transform education systems so that all children can learn, no matter who they are or where they live.
For nearly two decades, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has been making this a reality by mobilizing funds, partnerships, and innovative technical assistance to help get 160 million more children in school and double girls’ enrollment in its partner countries.
For example, with support from GPE, Sierra Leone is broadcasting radio and TV lessons and distributing paper materials to households that are entirely off the grid. Children in Sierra Leone who normally get their main meal at school are now receiving food rations at home so that children can learn on a full stomach.
In response to the pandemic, Kenya has enlisted GPE’s help in rolling out an ambitious distance education program and ensuring a smooth transition back to school. As the country moves beyond the coronavirus emergency, GPE will continue to support Kenya’s efforts to strengthen education quality and equity, especially for preschool children and children with disabilities.
Just as Korea recognized the importance of training teachers to adapt to a changing learning environment, GPE is also helping train teachers in Zambia to prevent children at highest risk from dropping out of school for good. In Myanmar, teachers are being instructed in psychosocial support, including how to identify and refer children with the most acute needs.
GPE recently launched the “Raise Your Hand” campaign calling on world leaders to commit at least $5 billion to fund GPE’s efforts in 87 countries and help ensure that 175 million children can learn. A fully funded GPE will mean more and better-trained teachers, new or improved schools, and textbooks suited to the needs of the 21st century. It will also pave a return to school for many students and a new path for the millions of children who have never had the chance to learn.
By supporting GPE’s fundraising campaign, Korea can play a leading role in reimagining global education in a way that mirrors its own innovative and effective response to the pandemic.
By helping ensure GPE is fully funded to achieve these goals, Korea can have a far greater impact than it would as a role model alone.