2nd Asia-Pacific Regional Education Minister's Conference (APREMC II)

🗓️   5 to 7 June 2022 | By invitation only
📍   Shangri-la Hotel
       Bangkok, Thailand (Hybrid Type)

OVERVIEW

The COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented disruption to education globally and regionally and severely impacted education delivery, learning outcomes, student engagement and their health and well-being. This resulted in a significant setback in progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the region, in particular SDG 4. Countries in the Asia and Pacific region were the first impacted by COVID-19, which disrupted access to education for 760 million children at the initial peak of the pandemic in 2020[i]. While the situation varies between countries, schools were closed for an extended period in many cases. The impact of school closures on learning loss and recovery will be dramatic. Early estimates suggest that the proportion of children around the world who cannot read or write a simple text by the age of ten, will increase from 53% in 2019 to 63% in 2021[1]. The World Bank projected that the interruptions in school participation and learning may result in losses valued at $15 trillion in terms of affected children’s future earnings, and in long-lasting consequences in terms of wellbeing and life prospects of this generation, in particular for the most disadvantaged learners[2].  

The 5-Year Progress Review of SDG 4 – Education 2030 in Asia-Pacific released in September 2021 by UNESCO and UNICEF, shows that despite overall progress, most countries surveyed were not on track to achieving SDG 4 and that the Asia-Pacific region was facing a learning crisis well before the COVID-19 pandemic, one that has since been alarmingly exacerbated by the broader impact of COVID on societies and economies. The shocking headlines are that: 27 million children and adolescents in the region remain illiterate, 95% of who are in South Asia; and that in many of the region’s countries, 50% of children are unable to read and understand a simple sentence by age 10, despite completing their early grades.

To mitigate the effects of the pandemic, countries implemented diverse remote and on-line education modalities to ensure the continuity of learning. However, not all children and youth were equally reached by these measures, and the most vulnerable groups were the most affected due to a deep digital divide. In addition, there were significant challenges such as the inadequate quality of distance learning programmes, reduced learning content and insufficient teacher preparedness and support to effectively deliver online learning and support their students. Consequently, it is expected that the learning loss will be extensive, putting millions of children and adolescents at risk of not returning to school and thus compromising their future. Furthermore, there is evidence that extended school closures are impacting learner’s health and wellbeing, especially the most vulnerable children.

Overall, while the situation varies between and within countries of the region, the pandemic not only exacerbated pre-existing deep inequities in access to education and learning achievements, it has also exposed important weaknesses in terms of the quality and relevance of education and the overall fragility of current education systems.

The pandemic also revealed the urgent need to strengthen and prepare education systems for future crises. The risk of decreased funding in education, rather than the increases required to attain SDG4 targets, has also demonstrated the urgent need to rethink, innovate, and transform education systems so that they become more equitable, inclusive, relevant, responsive and resilient. While governments and donors must reprioritise education funding, innovative financing may also be required to address existing gaps.

The pre-existing weaknesses of current education systems, exposed by the pandemic on the one hand and creative responses to the crisis on the other, have also revealed the need to reimagine education in future. Concerted, innovative efforts are required to strengthen the resilience and effectiveness of education systems across all levels of education. This should be done through sector-wide responses that ensure sustainable education recovery as well as the transformation required beyond COVID-19 to accelerate progress towards SDG4. Addressing the learning crisis and ensuring the right of learning for all must be at the heart of education recovery and transformation in the Asia-Pacific region. The need for curriculum review and flexible learning for adolescents, so that they have the skills required to thrive and contribute to socio-economic recovery is also urgent. Flexible pathways can also be a key means to enabling the realisation of lifelong learning in practice.

Countries in the region will face similar challenges in adapting their education systems, policies and practices to these new challenges. Learning more from each other as members of the Asia-Pacific community will help improve and expedite their responses.

[1] https://documents.worldbank.org/en/publication/documents-reports/documentdetail/232501603286799234/learning-poverty-measures-and-simulations

[2] See World Education Blog, 5 October 2021, There will be no recovery without empowered, motivated and effective teachers | World Education Blog (wpcomstaging.com)

[i] UNESCO and UNICEF. (2021) Situation Analysis on the Effects of and Responses to COVID-19 on the Education Sector in Asia: Regional Synthesis Report. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/rosa/media/16436/file/Regional%20Situation%20Analysis%20Report.pdf