The United Nations 76th General Assembly (UNGA76) which opens in New York today, will be under the shadow of Covid-19 pandemic.
Unlike in 2020, when world leaders delivered their pre-recorded speeches by video, this year’s gathering will be attended in person in strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols.
Covid-19 pandemic will dominate this years’ UNGA meeting under the theme “Building resilience through hope”
The president of this year’s General Assembly, Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid has made ‘building back better and building back stronger’ one of the pillars of his leadership.
No aspect of life, including education, has escaped the disastrous effects of the pandemic. The World Bank’s Education Director Jaime Saavedra recently called the prolonged closure of schools due to Covid-19, the most serious education crisis in the last 100 years.
For every one of the 193 national governments represented at the General Assembly, the challenge of meeting UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 -inclusive and equitable quality education for every child by 2030 - has been made difficult.
According to Unesco, sub-Saharan Africa struggles more than any other region on every education measure.
It has the highest out of school rates, lowest literacy rates, lowest percentage of qualified teachers and biggest gap between the poorest and richest children completing primary education.
All this has been made worse by the pandemic. More than 250 million African children found their schools closed last year because of the virus. Some learning institutions in Uganda have been closed again because of a fresh wave of infection.
But if the disruption to education in Africa has made African leaders to focus on what must be done, and what can be done to improve the sector.
At the recent Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Summit, President Uhuru Kenyatta challenged his fellow leaders to support education.
In the Kenyatta Memorandum, the Kenyan Head of State asked for national commitments not just on domestic financing for education, but also to place greater emphasis on improving learning outcomes. He emphasised on the use of proven new techniques and methodologies for better results.
It endorsed the role of technology in improving learning outcomes and committed signatories to leveraging technology-supported learning to improve equity in access to education. To date, the Kenyatta Memorandum has been signed by the leaders of 16 African countries.
Crucial to delivering on the commitments of the Kenyatta Memorandum, and building the resilience and recovery from Covid-19 that UNGA76 is calling for into education systems, is a focus on outcomes driven by data. This is something NewGlobe is supporting political leaders to do across Africa.
Learning is a science. It requires the gathering and processing of accurate data to deliver the best possible outcomes. Without data, there is limited measurement, little accountability and no improvement, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Nigeria’s Edo State explained in an interview with CNBC Africa.
During the interview, he discussed the success of his EdoBEST basic education transformation programme which is in its third year.
The governor said that today, each primary school has a handheld device that can tell when a teacher is in class. They enable the institutions to tell whether a teacher has completed his or her lessons for that day. They can also tell how many children are in school. At the end of the period, they can test whether the teaching-learning process took place
The programme has 250,000 children. The results in over 1,000 schools in Edo State have been stunning. Children in EdoBEST now learn at about 70 per cent.
The use of the same scientific and data-driven approach has also brought huge learning gains in Liberia, where Bridge Liberia, another NewGlobe programme, is the biggest supporter of the Liberian government’s LEAP initiative in basic education.
A three-year study found that 81 per cent of learners who joined a Bridge Liberia-supported school in the first grade and spent 2½ years in class were proficient in reading compared to only 33 per cent of those in public schools.
The World Bank’s education head, Jaime Saavedra sees this as a major factor in the success of EdoBEST. Saavedra says Edo has been very fast at adapting to the reality of Covid-19 pandemic.
A similar @home initiative created by Bridge Kenya Schools, another programme supported by NewGlobe, has been equally successful.
In 202, Bridge Kenya pupils taking the postponed 2020 KCPE scored an average of 21 points higher than pupils nationally, the highest in Bridge Kenya history - despite the pandemic.
But there is still much work to be done in improving the gathering and use of data in education systems across Africa and the rest of the developing world. The recent Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Result Report 2021 showed that only one third of GPE’s partner countries report on at least 10 of 12 key education-related outcomes.
As the General Assembly prepares to commit itself once again to achieving SDG4 and to recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need to create powerful technology-enabled public education systems.