Collaborating for acceleration: UNESCO Global Education Coalition's journey towards SDG 4
By Borhene Chakroun, Director of Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems Division at UNESCO-Headquarters
The year 2023 marks the midway to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and with it the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, despite much progress being made towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), which seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all, education remains in a situation of crisis.
Six out of 10 children cannot read and understand a simple story at age 10 while 244 million children and youth are still out of school.
Numerous disparities in access to learning persist. Children from the poorest households are up to four times more likely to be out of school than those of the richest households and disparities between rural and urban areas remain high. Girls are also disproportionately affected by lack of access to education with 118.5 million girls currently out of school. This not only threatens decades of progress toward gender equality, but also puts girls around the world at risk of adolescent pregnancy, early and forced marriage, and violence.
Fulfilling the right to education requires bold action. Doing so will accelerate progress toward all the SDGs and help address some of the most pressing global challenges including the climate crisis. This is exactly what UNESCO aims to facilitate as the United Nations specialized agency tasked with leading and coordinating the achievement of the Education 2030 Agenda. In steering progress for the achievement of SDG4 and the transformation of education, UNESCO is fostering bold collaborations, new methods of knowledge sharing, and the use of innovative mechanisms that can support countries in their transformation.
To meet the educational needs of students during the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO initiated the Global Education Coalition. This unique and proactive multistakeholder coalition was born to address the educational needs generated by the global health crisis and driven by the goal of leaving no learner behind during this crisis. As a broad network of organizations, including private sector, multilateral, non-profit, civil society, networks and associations, and media partners, the Coalition has proven itself to be a transformational force in the global education landscape. Moving into its fourth year, it now has over 200 institutional partners deploying cross-country missions, conducting large-scale projects, and building the advocacy capacity of 112 countries to advance SDG 4.
This year, the Coalition has pioneered the Digital Transformation Collaborative (DTC) that leverages the expertise and resources of all sectors of society to promote the transformation of education at local, national, regional, and global levels. In response to the call of the Global Education Coalition, Huawei has joined hands with UNESCO to promote digital education through ICTs. Together, they aim to narrow the education divide and achieve education equity.
COVID-19 has also put a spotlight on the employment and skills divide, with recovery patterns that vary significantly across regions, countries, and sectors. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the repercussions have been grave in particular for the youth. In many countries is a cause for concern, with a significant prevalence of informality and vulnerable employment among employed youth worldwide. Additionally, when young individuals are not engaged in employment, they encounter challenges in accessing the labour market. Not only that, but entering and staying in the workforce in such a competitive market is extremely difficult, resulting in high rates of youth unemployment and NEET (not in employment, education, or training). This difficulty in transitioning from school to work has prompted the international community to address the issue within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDG8, and target 8.6 specifically, commits to increasing youth employment opportunities and substantially reducing the proportion of youth who are not in education, employment, or training (ILO, n.d.; United Nations, 2015).
Under the umbrella of the UNESCO Global Education Coalition, the Global Skills Academy (GSA) is tasked with mobilizing the resources and programmes offered by the Coalition Members to help learners increase their employability. By leveraging the UNESCO-UNEVOC network of institutions, the GSA supports learners with an extensive range of free high-quality training programs. Its resources are designed to create toward more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient economies in a rapidly evolving and demanding labour market. In line with the UNESCO 2022-2029 Strategy for TVET, the mission has scaled up in order to support 10 million learners by 2029 and is currently working with 25 partners.
As a member of the Coalition, Huawei has been a committed partner of the Global Skills Academy mission since 2020. The “Huawei ICT Academy programme” aims to help learners and educators worldwide develop their ICT and employability skills as well as bolster their success in the ICT industry by giving access to online certified training at no cost. Through these trainings, available in nine languages, and the annual ICT Competition, Huawei has been helping to build an innovative education talent ecosystem. With the support of UNESCO, local ministries, and other higher education institutions, the initiative has already reached more than 500,000 learners since it was established, with 1,000 teachers enrolled in 2022 alone and 16 Huawei ICT Academy centres established that same year. The GSA was delighted to participate in the online closing ceremony of the Huawei ICT Competition, which highlighted the triumphs of this initiative.
Increasingly, digital technology has become a necessity in ensuring access to education as a basic human right, especially in the context of more frequent crises and conflicts. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, it was those countries without sufficient ICT infrastructure and well-resourced digital learning systems suffered the greatest education disruptions and learning losses, and it became clear that a more sustainable change is necessary for a definitive transformation of education.
Digital technologies have the potential to speed up progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) by offering new modes of access to learning opportunities and advancing inclusion, enhancing the relevance and quality of learning content, building ICT-enhanced lifelong learning pathways, strengthening education and learning management systems, and monitoring learning processes.
As the Coalition has pivoted from emergency response to the wider transformation of education - a journey that has been hampered in many countries by the disruptions of the pandemic on learning systems – Huawei has shifted its support to align with this agenda.
Thanks to a US$ 3 million commitment, the “Technology-enabled Open Schools for All” project is assisting the Ministries of Education and other partners of Ethiopia, Egypt and Ghana to design, pilot test, and scale up Technology-enabled Open School Systems. This three-year project, to be completed in July 2023, aims to enhance national platforms and connectivity in schools and learning centres to train teachers and students on digital skills through improved digital content and pedagogical resources.
Key to the success of this project is its adaptability to different contexts. In Ethiopia, for example, the project is supporting the new national major initiative on Digital Textbooks, which aims to create a vast digital library for secondary school students from which 12,000 students and 250 educators will benefit, in addition to enhancing access to educational national platforms and to digital content for all secondary students and educators in the country. Meanwhile, in Ghana, the project is empowering learning outcomes and the acquisition of 21st Century skills through integrating technology with new pedagogies to educate 1,000 teachers and 3,000 students.
With partnerships being a key pillar of the Global Education Coalition, I am delighted that Huawei has also been able to support numerous other initiatives under this umbrella, including the multi-partner ImaginEcole project which has been rolled out by UNESCO, Spacecom and the government of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. As part of this collaboration, last year Huawei purchased and supplied devices to participating schools, providing access to educational materials to 6,000 students and staff.
High quality online content marks a key aspect of digital transformation and for this change to be sustainable, local stakeholders must be empowered in education ecosystems to create and share their own learning content.
While local Ministries and professionals must take the lead on this, it is important that we continue to support them in providing learners with access to reliable, public, and effective learning platforms that are populated with quality digital education content.
Since November 2022 and in collaboration with UNESCO, Huawei’s support has extended to the Latin America region through a signed roadmap with the Regional Bureau of Education for Latin America and the Caribbean. The “Teacher training in digital competencies” regional roadmap will be piloted in Chile to identify through self-assessment the specific areas that teachers need to strengthen. The identified skills gaps will then be addressed through the creation of courses to equip teachers with the tools they need to er utilize digital technologies both in the classroom and for distance learning, and evaluations will be carried out to certify the learning outcomes.
In the first quarter of 2023, Huawei has also joined UNESCO’s Global Alliance for Literacy (GAL) as an associate member. GAL is made up of 30 countries strongly committed to improving youth and adult literacy. Worldwide an estimated 763 million still lack basic literacy and numeracy skills – two-thirds of whom are women. Southern Asia is home to almost one-half of this global youth and adult population with no basic literacy and numeracy, while 27 per cent live in sub-Saharan Africa.
But beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing, and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world. As an associate member, Huawei is committed to promoting literacy in the target countries with a focus on digital skills and the use of technology and it will do this by supporting initiatives such as the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Leaning and Moodle project, which aims to build the capacities of youth and adult literacy educators through training modules and by designing digital skills monitoring and assessment tools.
As the partnership between UNESCO and Huawei continues to flourish, we will see more new content, trainings and initiatives empowering teachers and pupils in different regions. In facilitating the creation of quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities, Huawei demonstrates the important role that the private sector can play in accelerating progress towards the critically important Sustainable Development Goal 4.