The United Nations Secretary-General has called the covid-19 pandemic “the largest disruption of education ever.”
But it’s not just a crisis for education. The impact on students who “remain out of reach” of the education system will be catastrophic, and have implications for areas ranging from economics to child nutrition to gender equity.
“We already faced a learning crisis before the pandemic,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this month. “Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities.”
The clear message here is not just that education is in a crisis, but that our systems are connected, so that when education is in crisis, another of other systems begins to collapse, too.
Education, let us be clear, has never been equitable, but education has still driven equity in a number of areas. Education has never been about innovation, but it has driven innovation. Education has never been about economics, but it has obviously driven economic growth.
And schools – at both the primary/secondary and collegiate level – have become social and distribution centers for everything from nutrition programs to social services to research and development.
The point, as Secretary-General Guterres noted, is that it is simply not possible any longer to have a “crisis of education” that isn’t a crisis elsewhere in our society. Our systems are too closely bound, and education is simply too important, to imagine that they can be siloed off.
Education can be reformed, it can be re-invented, but in the society we have built, and the kind of world we want to live in, it has to be adequately supported if we don’t want to see a cascading effect of other growing social ills.
Education, it turns out, is not one separate crisis among many, but at the heart of many of them. We look to education to do so much in our society. It can’t do that if we let it crumble.