Thought leaders, policymakers and academics at the WISE Summit 2021 have discussed how to rethink and redefine education, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, and shape it for tomorrow. Two plenary sessions highlighted the work pressure students have been undergoing and how the pandemic became a major catastrophe on education.
A global reference in new approaches to education, the WISE Summit aims to lend a voice to a ‘muted’ generation that has borne the brunt of the biggest disruption to education in recent history, yet remains conspicuously absent from discussions on how to build back better.
The session on ‘Post-pandemic Pillars of Education: Designing and Funding New Approaches to Learning’ saw Emiliana Vegas, co-director, Brookings; Shannon May, co-founder and president, NewGlobe, US; and Lydia Wilbard, national director, CAMFED, Tanzania; discuss the situation during the pandemic and the way forward.
Highlighting the long-term impact of Covid-19 on schoolchildren and education, Vegas said the closure of schools is going to cause a significant loss of skills for students across the world. “However, those losses are not distributed equally as countries that were better prepared could manage the situation sooner than others. They were much better placed to mitigate the learning loss effectively. The impact of it on less developed countries may lead to generations of poverty, loss of productivity among others,” she said.
May, who was primarily working with the African countries, noted that the pandemic was catastrophic for the entire education sector. She said: “Incredibly limited budgets for governments, houses without even a single computer and no broadband in many areas, it was a major setback for the students.”
“We make use of the experience of the girls to bring to the table the programmes that work for the children from marginalised communities. Any crisis impacts women and children more than others and Covid-19 was no exception. School closure meant for the girls that they were far more vulnerable. We created mentorship programmes that connect with community members and parents to provide social support for the girls,” explained Wilbard.
Vegas also suggested that governments, philanthropists and funding agencies should turn their priority to education. “Cutting education budgets can create huge problems in the future. We need to generate awareness about it and there should be efforts to support education especially among the most affected countries,” she added.
Another plenary session of the day, titled ‘Big Shock, Big Reforms’, cast a look at the idea that shocks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, can be a powerful catalyst for innovation. Thought leaders, including Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence; Zhou Yijun, journalist and documentary filmmaker; David Moinina Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and chief innovation officer of Sierra Leone; and Sidharth Santhosh, research consultant, Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, explored the impact of technology on long-expected reforms in education, reshaped student-teacher relationships and the wider societal implications of education reform.
Addressing the plenary session, Marc Brackett broached the topic of emotional intelligence in learning with several thought-provoking questions, from “When someone asks you how you are feeling, can you be open and authentic?” to “What are the barriers to permission to feel?”.
“At this point in time, we have a mental health crisis amongst our children. In many ways, it is our moral obligation that every child gets the emotional education they deserve. What that really means is that we have to be the best possible role models for them,” he concluded.
Participants at the first plenary. PICTURES: Shaji Kayamkulam.