Statement by UNICEF Representative Patrizia DiGiovanni on the occasion of the International Day of Education

25 January 2021
Girl in a red blouse writing on a green chalkboard

Skopje, 25 January 2021 – Today we celebrate the International Day of Education, with the global theme “Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented global disruption to education. Widespread disparity in access to remote learning opportunities, loss of household income, discrimination and poor social protection services mean the most vulnerable children are falling far behind their peers and many are at risk of dropping out altogether.

We need to bear in mind that even before COVID-19, a learning crisis persisted, with more than half of all fifteen-year-olds in this country failing to meet basic proficiency levels in reading and math according to the latest PISA results.

Our recent review of the country’s education system, conducted together with OECD, identified the main reasons for the negative trends in learning outcomes  – the following are some of the most significant ones:

  • Initial teacher education does not equip new teachers with minimum teaching competencies;
  • Teachers don’t get enough opportunities for continuing professional development and career advancement;
  • By the age of 14, students in primary education receive nearly 900 hours less instruction;
  • Classroom assessments are not based on established, national learning standards and do not convey reliable and meaningful information on student achievement;
  • Only 28% of children with disabilities attend primary education
  • Insufficient funding to support high-quality teaching and providing better learning opportunities for all students

This is why without ambitious action on education, the COVID-19 pandemic will further deepen the ongoing learning crisis, with catastrophic implications for generations of learners, as well as economic productivity and social cohesion in the country.

On this International Day of Education, UNICEF calls on all stakeholders to remain committed to evidence-based education system reforms that put learners at the center of change.

Global evidence shows that the main driver of good education outcomes is quality and competence of teaching. Therefore, central to good education system are motivated and competent teachers who feel they are making an impact. Education systems, led by teachers, need to help students attain knowledge, while also ensuring students know how to use the knowledge, develop social-emotional competencies, an ability to think critically and creatively, self-discipline and curiosity, and a sense of belonging and purpose.

The country is currently in the midst of reforming education. There is a need for increasing investments in professional development of teachers, within and outside school, so they can access learning opportunities and become expert teachers as they progress in their career; increase the number of school hours that students get in primary education; ensure conditions for full inclusion of students with disabilities in the mainstream education system in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; strengthen the selection criteria of candidates for future teachers in teacher training faculties, favoring those who have good academic knowledge and skills for quality teaching; and focus on effective and efficient resource allocation,  ensuring fair funding and increased school funding overall.

Now is the time to set up collaboration and national solidarity to place education at the center of recovery and transformation towards quality education and learning for ALL children and young people throughout and beyond the outbreak and recovery phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is time to invest in better gearing education system and making education a vehicle to foster social justice, peace, respect for diversity, human rights and democratic values.


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