Seemingly, with growing regularity, it is becoming harder and harder to shirk the creeping suspicion that the present reality brought about by the novel coronavirus is in fact a new normal. In the span of a few short months, the pandemic has registered over 19 million cases, claimed more than 727,000 lives (according to Johns Hopkins University, 9 August 2020) – oftentimes the most vulnerable in society – and challenged our resolve to cope in a bold new world. As the point of discussion begins to turn towards economies reopening and the race for a viable vaccine, we are also being told that COVID-19 may just prove durable, and we in turn may have to learn to live with it in our midst.
While that notion is disquieting, it should be a signal to the international community writ large and stakeholders in government and education alike to dramatically rethink how we define sustainability and resilience. COVID-19 is testing us; it has compromised our best practices and lessons learned, calling into question, what we believed to be sensible, sustainable pathways forward in development. We have no choice, but to rise to that challenge. Some studies indicate that the coronavirus may ultimately be responsible for pushing upwards of a half billion more people into poverty – in one fell swoop erasing hard-won development gains earned over decades.
At Educate A Child (EAC), a global programme of the Education Above All Foundation, sustainability has been, and will continue to be, an integral component of our partnership interventions to bring the most marginalised out of school children (OOSC) into quality primary education. Philosophically, EAC is responsive to the educational needs of the children and does not subscribe to any “cookie-cutter” approach to sustainability. We work collaboratively with partners to articulate and determine what, given the context, makes the most sense and will sustain the interventions beyond the conclusion of our support. As a Foundation, EAA focusses on empowering children, youth and women, adversely affected by barriers including poverty, discrimination, conflict and disaster, so they may become active, engaged community members. That is sustainability at the grassroots level. Yet at a moment when COVID-19 has spared not a single aspect of our lives, we all would do well to think critically and creatively about what sustainability means in terms of development over the long haul. Simply put, we need to be resilient and build better to be stronger for longer. The novel coronavirus is vile.
Though absolutely essential, it is unwise to rest on the provision of cash transfers, school feeding, distance education and social safety nets, and wait for the day when things get back to normal. Recent statistical analysis by UNICEF confirms what many of us feared would turn out to be true: “Children already left behind will likely bear the brunt of the pandemic’s impact, whether through missing out on life-saving vaccinations, increased risk of violence, or interrupted education.” This potentiality should give us pause and force a reckoning on how we link long-term investments in quality education to the elaboration of sustainability, justice, peace and equitable societies. Business as per usual just isn’t an option anymore.
Fortunately, this is not an insurmountable challenge. We have partners on the ground right now leading the way, building better to be stronger for longer, and determined that the pandemic will not hinder their progress towards the future that is their right. One example lies in the Benguela, Bié and Luanda provinces of Angola, where EAC and RISE International are fast approaching the completion of 25 newly constructed primary-level schools in partnership with communities that subsist on the margins. After nationwide school closures, “quarantine building” went forward, as construction workers remained safely on project sites, so that the new schools will be ready when the time comes. Another example is Iraq, wherein together with UNESCO, access and learning have continued by reconfiguring project activities to support primary education and alternative learning vis-à-vis more than 370 distance education programmes on television. We have to have that same tenacity, that resilience out of necessity to impress upon education a long-term vision that can withstand challenges known and those unforeseen.
This blog on resilience and sustainability in an era of COVID-19 originally appeared on The SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee's website and can be accessed at the following link: https://www.sdg4education2030.org/building-better-be-stronger-longer