A better future for education: The time for change has come

This year, on the 24th of January, we celebrate International Day of Education for the fourth time. The United Nations decreed it to highlight the initiatives put in place to develop education. This year is significant as the education system is slowly recovering from the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

Education is more than a fundamental right. It is a necessary cornerstone for the development of our society. But unfortunately, access to it is still limited for many people around the world as economic, social and, in many cases, cultural factors make access to education difficult.

The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced the inequalities already present in the past. According to statistics collected by Save the Children on education issues, children across the world have lost more than a third of days of education due to school closures and a lack of access to remote learning. Besides that, according to the Sustainable Development Goals report, COVID-19 has wiped out 20 years of educational gains. It is also crucial to highlight the difficulties children from poor households faced to attend classes at home. Ellen Helsper, Professor of Digital Inequalities in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics, points out that it is a mistake to think young people are digital natives as the studies show that young people do not have any technical skills at a high level. We can also add that for those in the lowest parental income category, 12-13% of learning outcomes are negative, while for the highest 20%, only 4% are. Therefore, it is important to consider not only the social status of young people but also their affinity with new technologies.

These unsettling data force us to sound the alarm and invite the community to find solutions to avoid or limit the progression of this gap and inequalities. Thus, the issue of diversity and technological inclusion was at the heart of the debate at our annual EMINENT conference. One of the challenges raised was how we could reimagine the technology used in education to overcome the issues of equity, diversity and related challenges facing the education system. The European Union representatives, ministers of education and industry partners present at the event framed their speeches around the Digital Education Action Plan, a policy initiative to support the sustainable and effective adaptation of EU Member States' education and training systems to the digital age. They also shared their initiatives in terms of internal policy: strengthening ICT training, funding for training, improving teachers' knowledge of digital technology, and others, as it is essential to train society and give them the means to do so.

In its aim to support education stakeholders, European Schoolnet has published two reports prepared by the experts: "The Future of Schools beyond COVID-19" and "Learning Lessons to Build Resilience in Times of Crisis". In a broader sense, both of them deal with the fractures caused by the pandemic. The reports urge us to take stock of the current situation and work together on action plans to build resilience.

In 2021, UNESCO published the "Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education - UNESCO Digital Library" report that deals with the issue of the digital age. A large-scale work carried out over two years by a group of professionals who wish to fix the mistakes made in the past in order to create a better future for education. They want to bring back to the centre of the debate the primary characteristics of education: a fundamental right and a unifying and transformative tool.

The pandemic has completely reshaped teaching and education in a broad sense. We have moved from interactive, physical classrooms to screen-based lessons; however, school is not only a place of learning but also a place of exchange and social interaction. While the very purpose of education has been losing much meaning for many teachers and students, it is our duty to rethink education globally and overcome injustices. The debate on digitalisation or the importance of ICT training does not make sense if some children do not have access to these technologies. Therefore, inclusion and education must go hand in hand to start this digital transformation and fully move into the new digital era.