Paris 26 June: High-profile influencers from around the world spoke out in support of the calls for more inclusive education systems in UNESCO’s 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report released on 23 June. The report, All means All, showed that exclusion in education had deepened during the COVID-19 pandemic, showing, among other facts, that about 40% of low and lower-middle income countries had not supported disadvantaged learners during school shutdowns.
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“The COVID-19 education crisis was fuelled by pre-existing inequalities, but countries have not paid enough attention to the marginalized in their responses. Education should be built for all - not a few,” Colombian superstar, Shakira said.
“UNESCO’s new GEM Report is an urgent call for more inclusive education to make a more inclusive world. Let's answer the call,” said former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
“Those of you who know me well, know I care deeply about the education of our youth. But this education is not always easy to access, and this is why I became a UNESCO ambassador. Even before schools shut due to the virus, many were already left without access to proper education. So I am asking you to read and share the GEM Report from UNESCO, which calls for schools to be more inclusive after this global shutdown,” said football legend, Pele.
The Report provides an in-depth analysis of key factors excluding learners in education systems, i.e. gender, age, location, poverty, disability, ethnicity, indigeneity, language, religion, migration or displacement status, sexual orientation or gender identity expression, incarceration, beliefs and attitudes. Celebrities, all with strong personal reasons for giving their support, joined the Report’s calls for countries to focus on those left behind as schools reopen after the COVID-19 shut-downs.
Even before the pandemic, the Report shows that persistent discrimination holds many students back from achieving their full potential. Celebrities from India, Jassie Gill and Usha Jadhav, joined the call for change. Jadhav, who starred in Bollywood film Dhag, as a mother fighting for her son trying to break free of his caste status provided a video message of support, calling for countries to “embrace and promote inclusion across education globally.”
Where people come from, the language they speak and their culture can hold back their education chances. The Report found that 10-year old students in middle and high-income countries who were taught in a language other than their mother tongue typically scored a third lower than native speakers. Actresses from Latin America, including Patricia Velasquez and Yalitza Aparicio provided video messages of support on the issue. “I am asking for countries to take a hard look at their education policies and make sure that they reflect the diversity of our multicultural societies,” said Aparicio. “They should begin their assessment on the basis that all learners should be welcomed as equals into the classroom.”
Ensuring all children can go to school is not enough. Exclusion also happens inside school walls: one-third of 11- to 15-year-olds have been bullied in school. As well as children with disabilities, learners who identify as LGBTI are often made to feel like outsiders in school, which drove support from additional high-profile personalities including Mexican American actress, singer, and songwriter, Sara Ramirez, and French fashion designer, Jean-Paul Gaultier. “Society would be far richer if it was set up to embrace diversity,” he said. “Education for all must refer to all children and not just the lucky few.”
The 2020 GEM Report shows that children with disabilities are two and half times more likely to never go to school than their peers. Many of those lending their voice were born with a disability, including several television personalities from the UK, such as Adam Pearson, Lucy Edwards, Bryony May Williams, Lee Ridley and Samantha Renke. Paralympic medallist, Ade Adepitan, also spoke out: “My school taught me to let nothing hold me back in achieving my goals. The same should go for every child”.
Some were driven by the fact that one of their own children is living with a disability, including Chilean actress and model, Leonor Varela, whose son tragically passed away in 2018, and American actor, Christopher Gorham. Actress and comedian, Sally Phillips asked, “We are none of us the same, so why do so many in education believe students’ potential is dictated by their background or identity?”
The Report has ten recommendations for countries to move towards more inclusive systems, underlining the importance of countries’ celebrating diversity in education, rather than seeing it as a problem. Caecilie Liv Carlson, dance choreographer and performer also passionate about education lent her support to the calls for change. Pallavi Sharda, Australian-Indian film actress, said, “The flexibility of schools & teachers during #Covid19 MUST NOT STOP. It is imperative that schools are more welcoming no matter of background, identity or ability.”