One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.
These words by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai could not ring more true.
Making sure girls and boys all over the world get good quality education is how we will build a more sustainable, more equal and more peaceful world.
School closures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in unprecedented disruption to children’s education, with more than a billion students across the globe affected.
Children returning to school face new challenges—masks, social distancing, lack of access to handwashing facilities, fears of getting sick and difficulties to catch up.
After schools closed in Malawi, the Ministry of Education set up alternative learning platforms online and on radio. But access to these platforms was limited.
For instance, out of 387 569 children in secondary school, only about 67 000 accessed the online lessons. Of the 5.1 million children in primary school, only 1.3 million accessed the emergency education radio programmes aired from May to July 2020.
The Covid-19 experience has shown us that we must reimagine education and adopt learning technologies that even the poorest, most marginalised children in our communities can access. Revolutionising education requires that we bridge the digital divide and scale up world class digital solutions through public and private partnerships to give every child uninterrupted quality education, even during crises.
This will include building the digital skills as well as developing individualised content and developing hybrid approaches to learning for all children.
Now is the time to universalise digital learning opportunities for all children.
Governments must invest in digital learning to establish more resilient and sustainable education systems in the face of Covid-19 and similar challenges.
By embracing this pace of change and recognising that we can rebuild and think in new ways for the future, we can give all children a comprehensive set of skills including the foundational, transferable, digital, entrepreneurial and jobs-specific skills that they require to transition into adulthood successfully.
We know from previous crises that the longer children stay out of school, the less likely they are to return. When children do not go to school, they are at increased risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.
Girls face the additional risk of early marriage and pregnancy.
Reimagining education systems, embracing technology and removing barriers to give all children the same access to modern education systems requires investment.
It is time to close the online education gap. This includes reshaping the role of teachers and providing them with necessary digital skills to facilitate the process.
We must embrace and invest in the promise of online learning—not just basic skills like reading and math, but digital, entrepreneurial and workplace skills so young people can join the workforce.
The scale of this crisis requires a global, coordinated response and all governments should play their part.
Malawi Government can be a the forefront of this response, building on the long-term partnership with Unicef and the European Union (EU) to improve access and quality of education.
Through the Spotlight initiative in Malawi, the EU and Unicef are supporting government to construct and rehabilitate girls’ hostels and provide scholarships to girls who have survived sexual and gender-based violence so that they can return to secondary school.
More resources are also being allocated at district and school levels to improve learning outcomes.
Embarking on this huge undertaking means realising that business as usual is not an option.
If we learn the right lessons now, we can re-imagine and deliver better education systems for this generation and the next.