Impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the right to education; concerns, challenges and opportunities

New report of the Special Rapporteur

In March 2020, the Special Rapporteur decided to modify her planned thematic reports to contribute to the on-going global discussions regarding the “education crisis” due to the COVID-19 pandemic (originally planned for the 44th session of the Human Rights Council, the thematic report of the Special Rapporteur on “The cultural dimensions of the right to education” will be released later).

In this report, the Special Rapporteur analyses the issues she considers to be the most pressing from a human rights perspective. Acting within a human rights framework is indeed crucial to ensure that measures adopted in response to the pandemic do not jeopardize the right to education and do not increase the suffering of the most marginalized.

The Special Rapporteur stresses that while numerous innovative measures have been adopted in all corners of the globe by many governmental as well as non-governmental stakeholders to ensure some continuity of education, they could never have been expected to compensate for the patent global lack of preparedness for a crisis of this magnitude. Past failure to build strong and resilient education systems and to fight entrenched inequalities has opened the door for a dramatic impact on the most vulnerable and marginalized, to which no temporary measure adopted in haste could have fully responded.

The Special Rapporteur makes a number of recommendations in this regard. In particular, a thorough assessment should be conducted to unpack, in each local context, the dynamics at play that led to increased discrimination in the enjoyment of the right to education during the crisis. It should include an analysis of rising inequalities due to the measures adopted to face the pandemic; an investigation into the sustainability of economic and financial models behind education systems, including the consequence of poor funding of public educational institutions; a scrutiny of the role of private actors in education; an evaluation of the adequacy of social protection provided for education workers, including in the private sector; and scrutiny of the lack of cooperation between States’ administrations, educational institutions, teachers, learners, parents and communities.

Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur stresses that the deployment of online distance learning (together with radio and television), should only be seen as a temporary solution aimed at addressing a crisis. The digitalization of education should never replace onsite schooling with teachers, and the massive arrival of private actors through digital technology should be considered as a major danger for education systems and the right to education for all in the long term. A thorough debate needs to take place on the place that should be given to such learning in the future, having in mind not only possible opportunities but also the deleterious effect screens have on children and youth, including their right to health and education.”

On line event, A "common good" approach to COVID-19 in the field of education, 7 July

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