In a couple of months, we will reach the halfway point in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although COVID-19 has set us back, of course, every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, education—SDG4 Quality Education—has witnessed some positive opportunities due to the pandemic.
Flashback to the pandemic's peak, let's first look at the undeniable impact COVID-19 had on education. Before the pandemic, 53% of children from low- and middle-income countries lived in "Learning Poverty"—being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10—and this figure was expected due to the coronavirus's impact to reach as high as 70%. As a result of pandemic-induced school closures, students in this generation risk losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings, according to the World Bank. Worsening gender equality and declining mental health are also the top issues, among many others. Combined, this can have a significant impact on future productivity and the well-being of the individuals themselves as well as their families.
Fast forward three years: although the aforementioned issues remain severe and must not be overlooked, we cannot fail to acknowledge the gains and positive opportunities that have been discovered along the way. Firstly, COVID-19 accelerated the provision of digital infrastructure. This rapid and unexpected shift to online learning led to new modes of interaction between teachers and students and different assessment approaches. For example, Prof. Oren Pizmony-Levy shared at the UN ECOSOC Partnership Forum 2023 how the situation forced him to change his exam formats. As it was impossible to proctor the exams, the assessment became an open-book one to evaluate students' application of principles rather than memorizing facts. Not only did this allow a deeper evaluation of students' understanding of the content, but it also fostered GREATer trust between the two parties. In addition, the pandemic prompted more open discussions and teaching on global issues, including climate change, which would have otherwise usually not been prioritized in the curriculum. Although the speeding up of technology adoption is a positive outcome of the pandemic, what more important is stakeholders' improved flexibility, innovation, creativity, and collaboration.
The cases on education discussed above serve as a reminder that when faced with risks and disruptions, there is almost always a way to turn them into an opportunity. Regardless, just because we are nearly halfway in terms of the date, we are certainly not halfway there regarding the progress that must be made. All stakeholders in the ecosystem must continue to do their part to ensure real progress is taking place for all 17 SDGs and keep the world on track to achieving the 2030 agenda.
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