UNESCO prioritises post-COVID-19 education

published 20 October 2020 updated 21 October 2020

Education in the current and post-COVID-19 world will be the focus of an extraordinary session of UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Meeting (2020 GEM) on 22 October. Co-hosted by the Government of the United Kingdom, political leaders, policy makers, and global education actors will have an opportunity to agree on global priority actions for educational recovery and progress in the Decade of Action for Sustainable Development.

This high-level segment of the 2020 GEM will be preceded by an online technical segment on 20 October, with the participation of Education International’s Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst. The event will provide a strategic opportunity for Member States and the international community to maintain and scale up their commitment to education as the most critical investment for a sustainable recovery and future. This will be highlighted particularly during the Leaders’ Dialogue of the high-level segment on 22 October.

Distance learning a weak substitute

The unprecedented global social and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the world’s fragility and interdependence, affecting every country, community and family. According to UNESCO, at the height of the pandemic, schools, universities, and other learning institutions were closed in more than 190 countries, disrupting the education of 1.6 billion students with hundreds of millions of children and youth unable to continue their learning. Much of the practical training for skills development was interrupted.

There is growing evidence that even the best distance learning solutions are weak substitutes for classroom interactions and millions of disadvantaged students may not return to school. In other words, there is a great danger that progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 to achieve quality education and lifelong learning will slow, stagnate, or even reverse.

Education at risk of being overshadowed

With the world focusing on immediate public health, economic and social welfare responses, education is at a considerable risk of being overshadowed despite its role as a powerful and effective driver of economic recovery in the short term and sustainable development and transformation in the longer term. There are concerns that education financing, including international aid, is likely to decline sharply due to shrinking Gross Domestic Product, financing priorities for economic recovery and reduced official development assistance. This is set to exacerbate the pre-COVID-19 learning crisis and push millions more children and young people out of education systems, lowering their chances of future employment with decent livelihoods.

International education community collaboration

In response, the international education community has come together, mobilised their assets and expertise, and engaged in a series of joint campaigns and initiatives.

UNESCO launched the Global Education Coalition at the onset of the crisis in March. This aims to support countries in ensuring continued learning for all during COVID-related school closures and to accompany the safe re-opening of schools.

Bringing together the expertise of the UN system and education partners, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, also issued an extensive policy brief in August: Education during Covid-19 and beyond. The Policy Brief provides a series of recommendations to Member States on policy responses during school closures and re-opening, and on protecting education financing in the recovery.

The Global Education Forum, aimed at gathering donors and partners to make the case for securing education financing, met on 10 September. During the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, on 25 September, a high-level event was held to share with Member States recommended measures and best practices during the education disruptions.

2020 GEM objective and expected outcomes

The 2020 extraordinary session of the Global Education Meeting (2020 GEM) will build on this momentum to draw lessons from regional and global partnerships for COVID-19 response and outcomes of the above processes. It will serve as the platform for global leaders and high-level policy makers to agree on:

  • A set of global priority actions to be put in place by the end of 2021 for the recovery and strengthening of education systems at the country level. These will focus around the following five themes considered central to the COVID-19 and recovery, i.e. protect domestic and international financing of education; reopen schools safely; inclusion, equity, and gender equality; reimagine teaching and learning; and harness equitable connectivity and technologies for learning.
  • Modalities to work towards strengthening the coordination, alignment, and effectiveness of SDG 4-Education 2030 implementation, with a view to presenting an improved global education cooperation mechanism, for adoption at the next GEM in 2021.


The concrete expected outcomes of the 2020 GEM are:

  • Agreement on global priority actions to accelerate progress toward SDG 4 in the COVID-19 context and beyond.
  • High-level political leaders’ commitments to deliver on these critical actions by end-2021.
  • A roadmap to improve the global SDG 4 - Education 2030 coordination mechanism.

These will be reflected in the 2020 GEM Declaration. Government leaders and the international education community will be invited to make their commitments – political, financial and/or technical – in relation to agreed priority actions. The progress and achievement of these actions and commitments will be reviewed at the next ordinary session of the GEM planned in 2021.

The draft declaration is available here.

For additional information on the meeting, please visit the official website of the event.

The UNESCO policy brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond is available here.