Executive Board calls for urgent action to address the learning crisis

Annual session of 2022

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21 June 2022
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On 14 June 2022, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell (third from left) speaks during the 2022 annual session of the UNICEF Executive Board at United Nations Headquarters in New York. H.E. Mr. Rodrigo A. Carazo, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations and President of the UNICEF Executive Board for 2022, is seated on her right.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 21 June 2022  ─ The UNICEF Executive Board concluded its 2022 annual session last Thursday. This was its first in-person formal session after two years of meeting virtually and the discussions over the course of the two-and-a-half-day meeting were fruitful.

Front and centre on the agenda was today’s global learning crisis, which also drove the debate during a thematic session on country programme documents. To address the crisis, UNICEF is calling on Governments to take action in five areas: reach and retain every child in school; assess learning levels; prioritize teaching the fundamentals; increase catch-up learning; and ensure children are safe, protected and healthy so they’re ready to learn.

In his opening remarks, H.E. Mr. Rodrigo A. Carazo, President of the UNICEF Executive Board and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Costa Rica, emphasized how progress towards quality education for all children and young people has been further derailed over the past year. He said, “as we prepare for the Transforming Education Summit that will take place in September, we must continue to put children at the centre of all of our efforts and renew our commitments to their learning as a fundamental human right to be assured by all.”

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With a similar focus on education and inclusion, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine M. Russell reported “we now estimate that as many as 70 per cent of all children in low-income countries cannot read a simple sentence by the age of 10.” Regarding the goal of ensuring quality education, she asked “How can we meet SDG 4 without focusing on these children?”

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Tackling today’s global learning crisis

More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, education has been seriously disrupted. Millions of children lacked basic reading and mathematics skills even before the pandemic. Now the scale of the problem is much larger and many children – particularly the most marginalized  – have fallen behind in their learning.

In low- and middle-income countries, unprecedented interruptions to schooling increased projections of child learning poverty. But school closures did not affect only learning. Nearly 370 million children in 150 countries missed out on school meals, while 9 million more children will be at risk of child labour by the end of 2022. Nearly half of refugee children remain out of school.

In the face of this worsening learning crisis, UNICEF continues to play a leadership role in the global discussion on education and to advocate loudly for the right of every child to reach their full potential. Throughout 2021, UNICEF took a strong stand to demand that Governments reopen schools for in-person learning and supported countries to ensure children could learn even during school closures. Specifically, the organization helped nearly 49 million out-of-school children to access education, including 6.4 million children on the move and 31.7 million children in humanitarian settings. UNICEF also strengthened COVID-19 prevention in schools by delivering hygiene and sanitation kits for infection prevention and control to 2,474 schools and learning spaces.

During the session, speakers highlighted the urgent need to accelerate action to ensure that every child learns, particularly the most marginalized. Several delegations cited the critical importance of the upcoming Transforming Education Summit. They variously touched upon the need by the global community to focus on the high rate of illiteracy or limited literacy among children; on girls and marginalized children; on girls’ access to secondary education; on closing the digital gap; and on education for sustainable development as a key enabler to promoting all the Sustainable Development Goals.

On humanitarian action, UNICEF contributed to the reflections that led to the adoption of Security Council resolution 2601 (2021), the first resolution designed to protect education from attack. This resolution was adopted with provisions on children with disabilities, girls’ access to education, humanitarian access and the need to provide assistance that enables displaced children and refugee children to continue their education.

Looking ahead, UNICEF is advocating to urgently address learning losses and reach the most marginalized children – including girls, children with disabilities and children in fragile contexts. Importantly, this requires sufficient funding for education.

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UNICEF Staff Team Awards

Towards the end of the session on Thursday morning, Executive Director Ms. Russell announced the UNICEF Staff Team Awards. This award ceremony, the continuation of a longstanding practice, was Ms. Russell’s first opportunity to officially pay tribute to the UNICEF staff during a Board session.

Ten winning teams from UNICEF country and regional offices and headquarters divisions, or combinations thereof, were honoured for their tireless work, dedication and commitment on important themes, which were highlighted in a video.

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Key decisions

In her concluding remarks, Executive Director Russell remarked “over the last few days, nine decisions were approved, and three country programmes were adopted. That is really no small feat.”

“These are challenging times…. It’s exactly in times like these that our partnership matters more than ever,” she added. “I feel enormously fortunate to be working with the members of this Board and to have the benefit of your suggestions, your support and your solidarity…. I look forward to working with all of you in the days ahead as we implement the Strategic Plan to help realize our vision of a better world for every child.”

As he brought the session to an end, Ambassador Carazo said that the Board had heard how UNICEF was able to reach millions of children, including by supporting countries to provide learning continuity. He emphasized, however, that “the burgeoning impacts of climate change, humanitarian crises and fragility worldwide have called upon all of us to bridge our divides and to work together to ensure that the rights of children and young people are respected and translated into opportunities for the present and for the future.”

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The Executive Board will meet for its 2022 second regular session from 6 to 9 September.