US Under threat, education requires global action

19:32  12 august  2022
19:32  12 august  2022 Source:   thehill.com

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We are in the age when gene-editing technologies are able to modify function and correct genetic defects to treat and prevent the spread of disease. Artificial Intelligence sets the foundation for machine learning now revolutionizing health care, transportation and financial services, among other industries. Stunning advances are flowing from robotics, quantum computing, augmented reality and computer-assisted everything. New technologies made it possible for the world to witness gorgeous vistas detailing the very birth of the cosmos billions of years ago. All of these developments sprout from basic education — seeding and cultivating the love of discovery, science and human curiosity scaffolded into transformational knowledge.

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  Under threat, education requires global action © Provided by The Hill

But ours is also the age of catastrophic climate change, growing racialized inequality, the ascendency of the “post-truth” society, as well as a weakening of the practice of democratic citizenship. Alas, these failures also find their root in education. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, our age contradicts itself, it contains multitudes.

Now, educators are being called to address ever-more complex challenges, but they can’t do it alone.

First, the basics. The purpose of education is cultivating healthy, flourishing and engaged children ready to learn, love, work and serve the common good. Education at its best advances truth-seeking and finding, democratic citizenship, social justice and the virtues. In short, it makes the planet a better place to live.

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John Dewey, philosophy’s most influential voice in education, anticipated two enduring ideas: education for democratic citizenship and life-long learning. Education, he famously wrote, is a “process of living and not a preparation for future living.” But it was in Massachusetts where Horace Mann in the mid-1800s best articulated the idea of free non-denominational “common schools.” Mann saw them serving as fonts of civic knowledge where through the work of education “parties can become intelligible to each other.” That uniquely American idea traveled around the world.

Around the world today, however, education is being tested by three geologic-force shock waves:

1) A transformed labor market that is the most diverse in the history of work, one that places a premium on the skills needed to work simpatico with others, machines and people

2) Rapidly growing inequalities in economy and society

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3) An unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic taking an enormous toll on children’s learning and well-being.

The good news is that basic primary education is now a normative ideal the world over. Enrollment of children in primary education is nearly universal. The gender gap in student performance has narrowed and, in some places, girls are outperforming boys. (As Darwin noted some 200 years ago, educating girls is by far the wisest investment in human progress.)

Even before the pandemic, the job facing educators was daunting: Millions of children were without schooling, and millions more were illiterate. Quality was far from even.

Then the pandemic slammed into education systems, reversing progress and creating overwhelming challenges. The pandemic robbed millions of the daily social process of going to school and all that entails: learning opportunities, socializing with other children, supports from teachers, sports, nutrition, health, as well as the other scaffolds needed for developmentally appropriate growth. By 2022, well over 5 million children were also mourning the relatives and friends they lost to the pandemic.

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By early 2020, approximately 1.5 billion students were no longer attending school in person because of mandatory closings in 160 countries. By the first quarter of 2021, 160 million children had missed school for a full year. In one manifestation of how the pandemic exacerbated socio-economic inequities, nearly half a billion students could not attend school remotely as more than 800 million had no access to a home computer.

Three challenges define our current crisis in education:

  • Quality. While we have made some gains, too many children in low- and lower-income countries are falling behind their peers in wealthy nations; the same is true for minoritized children in wealthy countries. New technologies create opportunities to learn but gaps in access continue to undermine the democratizing potential of educational technologies.
  • Inclusion. We need to create stronger connections with newcomers — immigrants and their children, which the only sector growing in the child population in multiple high-income countries. Simply put, they are our future. Schools are struggling to properly educate and integrate large and growing numbers of immigrant and refugee youth, who are often marginalized as racially, ethnically and linguistically marked groups. Racism, incivility and intolerance, meanwhile, create new challenges to teachers and administrators.
  • Climate. Climate change is the most pressing threat to humanity along with all living systems, and no discussion of education can neglect it. Research shows that climate change education has inherent value and leads to measurable desirable outcomes. A recent study found that climate change education programs have the potential to change individual behaviors and attitudes, resulting in reductions in carbon emissions of similar magnitude to those of other large-scale mitigation strategies.

The challenges facing global education cannot be denied and will require solutions of scale, coordination and commitment. There is a lot of good news to build upon. University-assisted K-12 programs are creating innovative pathways for disadvantaged youth but colleges can and need to do more. New research by Bridgit Barron at Stanford has shown how new education technologies can be put to better use to create meaningful learning opportunities for underserved children near and far. The University of Massachusetts  Boston Center for Evidence Based Mentoring is developing new tools enabling mentors to better support mentees with scientifically proven education, health and wellness apps.

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New national and global donor investments are necessary to achieve universal access to quality education. According to Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, to achieve global access to quality education through the secondary level, will “require a significant transfer of financial resources from the high-income countries to the low-income developing countries. Estimates put the needed transfer on the order of $50 billion per year, or roughly 0.1 [percent] of the annual national income of the high-income countries.”  To give perspective, the top 10 richest people of the Earth today control well over $1 trillion dollars. If 10 men (yes, they are all men) gave away just 5 percent of their in-expendable fortunes, every child on Earth could have a quality education.

Tired old claims, silver bullets and magical thinking will no longer do. Nor will averting our gaze to growing inequities. We must begin to educate the whole child for the whole world.

Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco is chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is co-editor of “Education: A Global Compact for a Time of Crisis,” published by Columbia University Press.

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