* Education experts highlight risks to vulnerable girls in Covid-19 world
* Pandemic has 'widened inequalities', WISE event told

Experts have urged world leaders to place vulnerable girls at the centre of new education systems as countries begin to rebuild and re-imagine learning in a post-Covid-19 world, at an international conference organised by Qatar Foundation (QF).

The three-day online conference, 'Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined Part II' – hosted by the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), QF’s global education initiative, witnessed the participation of 5,000 people and 50 speakers. It concluded on Thursday.

The event discussed the impact of Covid-19 on the future of educational systems around the world and how to advance education systems with the participation of different parties and stakeholders concerned, the official Qatar News Agency reported.

The conference highlighted the importance of engaging societies by placing them at the centre of educational systems.

Speaking at the event, Meagan Fallone, director and CEO of Barefoot College International, explained that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on girls, saying: “It was clearly going to happen, as that is happening to women across the world – economically, socially, and in many other ways.

“I think that this model that we’ve developed (at Barefoot College International) is even more relevant as it directly takes education to girls in last-mile communities in a way they can access it – so that it doesn’t interfere or conflict with their other responsibilities – and in a safe environment where families feel like it’s OK for them to attend.

“We have to stop talking down, and start listening up to designing and reacting quickly with education and knowledge transfer, in ways that respond to what people tell us they need – even more than what we may think they need. I think this is a moment for deep humility, and deep innovation – really taking away the barriers, and really thinking about how we want to develop great citizens in the long run and what needs to be put into communities to do that.”

The importance of engaging communities by placing them at the centre of education systems was another key topic highlighted during the WISE conference.

“We’re having one Covid right now, but that could reoccur, and I think it probably will become a reoccurring situation of disruption. So what we really need to be building is systems for education that are able to adapt to a variety of different disruptions,” said Fallone.

“In order for that adaptability to be inherent in the programmes, communities need to be a central part of it. We need their strength to support, to be resilient, and to create the infrastructure, even if that’s very grassroots infrastructure. Communities are incredibly able to innovate solutions to the things they want to have and that they feel are important.

“If we don’t put them in a position of power with respect to the education of their children, we are losing probably the most essential piece of infrastructure that needs to be there to support a dynamic approach to a systems-changing mindset around education.”

Safeena Husain, founder of Educate Girls, said: “As we try to rebuild in a way that allows for greater equity, access, inclusion and innovation, it is important to keep the most vulnerable girls at the centre of any new design.

“Only then can we bring real transformation in the way education systems address the needs of the generations to come.”

Husain delivered a keynote speech at the conference, in which she highlighted a recent United Nations report that suggested 35mn people who had risen out of poverty will fall back into it this year alone, and that before the end of 2030, 130mn people may be living in extreme poverty.

“In the last 12 years, what I have realised is that poverty and patriarchy are the key barriers to girls’ education,” she said. “Now, with Covid-19, both of these challenges have become much, much worse. The economic shock due to job losses and reverse migration has plunged families back into poverty.

“There is also an emerging regression to all old gender roles in the household, as families are cooped up, anxieties are high and children are not in school. We’re seeing domestic duties fall straight back onto the shoulders of young girls. We’re seeing a 17-time increase in domestic abuse cases. With patriarchy back at play, and girls’ vulnerability shooting back up, school will become a distant memory for so many, and re-enrolment will become near impossible.

“Before Covid-19 hit, we were acutely aware of the global learning crisis, and, despite huge strides, we had about 130mn girls out of school. With so many countries still in lockdown, we can only estimate the impact the Covid-19 crisis will have. One thing we know for sure is that the crisis has widened inequalities and hit hardest those already struggling, ignored, excluded or lagging behind.”

For more information about the conference, or to watch previous sessions, one can visit: https://www.wise-qatar.org/education-disrupted-education-reimagined-part-2/

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