Two eminent female politicians dedicated to improving quality education – both of them strong advocates for the power of education on the path to gender parity – discussed on the occasion of the International Day of Education (24 January 2021) the numerous challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on education systems worldwide.
Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca and Rosalía Arteaga, former Presidents of Malta and Ecuador, respectively, and current members of the Women Political Leaders (WPL) Board, spoke of how literacy levels are falling due to the pandemic, how gender education gaps are widening, how teachers’ approaches have been forced to change to accomodate online classes, how the scourge of child marriage disproportionately affects more girls than boys – and how all of this impedes the continuation of children’s education.
Highlighting increased instances of violence during the pandemic, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca cited studies on how lockdowns have elevated threats against youths, and girls in particular, and how this can prevent them from completing their education. “Approximately 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to or at school every year. This has huge impacts on their physical and mental well-being. Moreover, 246 million children experience violence in their schools every year,” she noted.
In response to questions from Lucia de Luca, Managing Director of WPL, both women leaders warned of the widening digital divide that affects millions of households every day, a situation worsened by the pandemic.
Rosalía Arteaga mentioned a UNESCO estimate that, following the pandemic, the world will have lost 10 years of progress in education. And this figure will be far worse for many developing countries, even doubling in severity in many and translating to the loss of an entire generation of education. “Connectivity is really poor in some countries. There is a device discrepancy. Many families do not have the devices and tools to connect in their homes, and many that do have to share it among the entire family,” Ms. Arteaga said.
Both leaders also discussed possible solutions to the stagnation of education in this new year, with the aim of leaving no child behind. Cooperation and collaboration by the public and private sectors was indicated as the most efficient way to combat today’s challenges.
Marie Louise Coleiro Preca called for all stakeholders to come together and join forces. “We need business and civil society to take a collaborative approach, to ensure access to quality education for all. We need to identify ourselves with teachers. We need to support teachers and provide them with training,” she stated.
Rosalía Arteaga added that local and national authorities need to give everyone the opportunity to be connected. She suggested that the private sector help in providing the necessary devices, while governments attend to teacher training. She further proposed that governments forge alliances and agreements with universities to create mentoring programs for students at the secondary and tertiary levels, to help alleviate the huge responsibilities borne by teachers.
About the panelists
Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca is President of Eurochild; President of Malta (2014-2019); Member of the Council of Women World Leaders; and a Member of the WPL Board.
Rosalía Arteaga Serrano Executive President of the FIDAL Foundation; President (1997) and Vice President (1996-1998) of Ecuador; and a Member of the WPL Board.
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