From rescue to recovery: education’s priorities for 2021

By Justin van Fleet
President, Theirworld and Executive Director, Global Business Coalition for Education

The new year offers the chance to build on the lessons of a traumatic 2020 with higher aspirations for our children and our world.

2020 showed us how fragile our world is. Last January, very few of us could have imagined that just a few months later, at the height of a global pandemic, more than 500 children would be forced out of school every second for a whole month.

The year that none of us will ever forget showed how entrenched inequality is in our world. While many children adapted to remote learning, the most marginalized young people lost access to education for months because of lack of devices or connectivity.

How poor a child was, the color of their skin or their gender determined how difficult their year would be. Meanwhile in the US, the work that still needs to be done to end racism echoed throughout the world.

At the same time, 2020 unleashed the spirit of human innovation and kindness. From support for frontline workers, helping elderly neighbors and donating whatever people could to help someone in a worse situation, we saw the best of humanity also shine through. That meant showing resourcefulness and creativity – and perhaps nowhere was this more evident than in education.

Teachers adapted overnight, going the extra mile to help children. New technologies were introduced rapidly, allowing educators to try to close the digital divide.

As we look towards the transition from pandemic response to recovery, education will be the key to unlocking opportunity and hope. At Theirworld and the Global Business Coalition for Education we believe these are the priorities for education in 2021.

Education must be placed at the heart of financial recovery

We must protect government education budgets, encourage philanthropists to dig deep and allow innovative finance to take on the daunting challenge of filling the additional $455 billion shortfall in education over the next decade created by the pandemic, beyond pre-existing shortfalls.

The International Finance Facility for Education must move from rhetoric to action, with multilateral development banks and donors understanding the scale of the challenge and making the funding of IFFEd a priority. The G20 needs to step up with a global financial package with education front and center.

Diversity and inclusion must drive the conversation

The voices of those who are facing adversity and advocating change must be the voices driving progress in education. Our youth campaigners will be the voice of Theirworld and our project partners will be the face of innovation.

The 10% budget commitment to give every child the best start in life

Whether it’s employment, resilience, creative thinking or working with others, these skills are hardwired in the early years. We know what it will take in terms of quality early childhood education programs and funding to achieve this, and we won’t rest until every government recognizes that 10% of their education budgets will be needed to support the youngest learners.

There is so much that businesses can achieve towards ending the global education crisis

Justin van Fleet

Innovate and equip for scale

Our projects are a place for testing ideas and taking them to scale. From refugee children impacted by emergencies to marginalized girls seeking opportunities to enter the workforce, our projects will focus on solutions for the most vulnerable young people.

In 2021 we will launch our first ever global search for innovation. We will nurture ideas, support teachers and educators, and work with partners to develop local advocacy capacity to take projects and sound policy to scale.

Broader business partnerships for bolder results

From pro-education policies, harnessing goods and services, bringing forward ideas and business models, using their voice and influence to help governments prioritize education, there is so much that businesses can achieve towards ending the global education crisis.

Our Global Business Coalition for Education will show business how to be a more effective partner – from the small business owner paying school fees in the community to the large corporation advocating on the global stage for youth skills.

The new year starts with a glimmer of hope: the light at the end of the tunnel as we move towards recovery. How quickly that light approaches depends on our ability to look beyond our own needs and rebuild a world focused on equity, hope and opportunity for all.