We are facing an education emergency

Recently, activists such as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and U.N. messenger of peace, Malala Yousafzai, joined forces at the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City to implore world leaders to prioritize education and restore those educational budgets that were cut in the midst of the pandemic. 

As some may recall, Malala stood in front of the U.N. General Assembly just seven years ago as the voice of a young girl who had been shot for standing up for her right to an education. She used this opportunity to remind everyone that on that day, everyone committed to working toward the common goal of having every child in a school by 2030. However, sadly, there is still a global education crisis halfway through this target date. 

Data shows that an estimated 70 percent of 10-year-olds in poor or middle-income countries can’t read simple stories, which, according to the World Bank and two U.N. agencies, is an increase of 13 percentage points since prior to COVID-19 shutting down schools. 

Activists explained to the Assembly that helping these youngest citizens to read and learn other skills requires addressing issues that existed long before the pandemic. This process will require countries to change policies to allow girls and students with disabilities, increase spending, and work toward modernizing instruction to encourage critical thinking over memorization.

The fact is that as the pandemic forced schools worldwide to close, many children stopped learning. Some of these children didn’t learn for months, while others were for much longer because it’s estimated that nearly 800 million children around the world do not have access to the internet at home. 

Yet the other factor that needs to be addressed is that in some places, it’s hard to find the money to properly fund an education for each student. It’s been found that wealthy regions spend upwards of $8,000 per student each year, while most CELAC countries spend only $1,000 per student in middle-income areas but as little as $300 in lower-income places. 

SDG indicator 4.1.1 revealed that by 2019, proficiency levels were low in grade three for every country that was evaluated. The data found that 54.6 percent of students didn’t meet the minimum requirements for reading, and the number was at 50.9 percent in mathematics. 

When comparing these figures to students in sixth grade, the proficient level for reading reduces to 31.3 percent and down to 17.2 percent in mathematics. The drastic decrease between grades three and six is a serious problem for students progressing through elementary school. In CELAC countries, less than one-third of children complete primary school achieving minimum competencies. 

These education trends are developing against a worldwide backdrop of limited economic growth, instability, environmental crisis, and increasing inequalities. Even before the pandemic, growth was near zero percent, and in 2020, Latin America and the Caribbean suffered their worst recession since 1900, with a drop of 6.8 percent in GDP.

Since 2015, the region’s labor market indicators have shown negative trends, such as a rise in unemployment and a decline in the quality of available jobs. The pandemic further exacerbated these issues, hitting young people, women, low-income families, and informal workers the hardest. The truth is that if everyone doesn’t do their part, this is an issue that’s just going to get worse. 

A lack of quality education for each student in Latin America and the Caribbean limits the amount of highly-skilled, educated workers who are eligible for better jobs. This is why everyone must do their part in helping Project Everyone achieve Goal #4, which is to increase access to education and ensure that every child has access to it by 2030. Doing this will not be easy, but with enough people doing their part, it is possible. 

Ultimately, Malala recognized these issues and took a stand to convince world leaders in these regions of the importance of investing 20 percent of their budgets in education. After all, most people know what needs to be done, and it all starts with pledges that are not stingy or short-term. So, join Malala, and the other education advocates in helping students in underserved CELAC countries receive the education that they deserve and the education that their regions require to progress.

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