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How Can Parents and Administrators ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation?’

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International Education Day

Source: Twitter | @GISHofAcademica

In the wake of COVID-19, how can parents and school administrators address the challenges ahead in efforts to obtain universal education for all, while protecting the mental health of its students?

If you are a parent reading this article, you have taken on arguably, one of the most important responsibilities that could have ever been asked of a parent, without expectation: how to successfully child-rear in the middle of a global pandemic, where technology can be your best friend, or your worst nightmare.

If you are a child or student reading this article, you are watching history in the making, as you continue to grow and learn in what is now labeled the “COVID-19 Generation.” This year will mark the third year in which the United Nations (UN) will be observing International Day of Education, an annual international observance held on January 24.

UNESCO has marked Monday January 25, 2021 under the theme ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation, where we must all take advantage of the time we have to empower education by stepping up collaboration and international solidarity to place education and lifelong learning at the center of the recovery.

The International Education Day occurs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that led to a global learning disruption of unprecedented scale and severity.

How many parents have had to maintain your composure and shock when hundreds of thousands of schools, universities, and other learning institutions announced the temporary closure of its facilities—or worse, permanently due to lack of resources? This led to over 1.6 billion students' lives being affected, in over 190 countries. Over 91% of students worldwide have been impacted by the ongoing effects the pandemic continues to lay down.

Every year, I look forward to reading the latest release of The Rosenzweig Report, an annual report which highlights women in leadership who collectively focus on equality, justice, and diversity. The Report has been endorsed publicly by notable public figures, including Andrew Yang, U.S. Presidential Candidate 2020, Alyssa Milano, Actor and Activist for #MeToo, A.R. Rahman, Academy Award & Grammy Award-Winning Artist & Humanitarian, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, among 15-years worth of other highly recognizable public figures and humanitarians.

In a recent conversation I had with The Rosenzweig Company’s founder, Jay Rosenzweig, who also happens to be a father to two daughters and a son, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t “change” our world—it altered it.

But what did the education landscape look like before the pandemic? Was it as stable as it sounds? Certainly not. Which is why I am confident when I boldly say, that while the pressing dangers COVID-19 continues to present, perhaps it was a blessing when it comes to re-evaluating the skeleton that holds our education system together.

According to recent findings by the UN, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • 258 million children and youth did not attend school;
  • 617 million children and adolescents could not read or do basic math;
  • Less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa completed lower secondary school; and
  • Some four million children and youth refugees were out of school.

Not as cheerful as you would have hoped, right?

So, what lessons can we learn from the ongoing crisis that we can apply to ensure the sustainability and viability of education in the future?

#1 - Modern Technology Has Allowed Education to Carry On...But With Major Issues

With powerful technologies like artificial intelligence (A.I) and streaming, education has been able to carry on, but that doesn’t replace the many holes that the system has failed to address over the years, especially when it comes to conversations involving enrollment, diversity, and of course, mental health.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) challenge all nations to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030.

The International Day of Education Symposium, which takes place via livestream on Monday January 25, will be discussing how inclusive, quality education will be critical in supporting our most vulnerable populations post-COVID-19, in helping to achieve gender equality, in breaking the cycle of poverty, and in securing a peaceful and prosperous future for everyone.

#2 - Technology & Social Media Have Made Learning Interactive, But Equally as Fatal

Today’s legal landscape has made it increasingly difficult for schools to address online bullying, to the point where there is a lack of adequate mental health resources for schools. And now, lawmakers fear the emergence of another pandemic: suicide. It’s already the third leading cause of death for young people but can be preventable. Doctors and state lawmakers in Connecticut, recently met virtually to discuss risk factors like bullying and isolation.

Back in March 2020, more than 300 people gathered at the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s Educational Service Center in Minnesota, where district leaders and mental health professionals discussed why there have been five teen suicides in the Blaine-area in that year alone. And what this meeting revealed is two-fold:

One, we need more help in the schools, because the current resources are not sufficient to address the increasing needs of students today, and second, perhaps it’s up to outside community-based organizations, like NAMI Minnesota, among others, to step in.

So, what are administrators to do?

#3 - What Are Our Educational Administrators Saying Locally & Abroad?

Now, more than ever, mental health is and should be our country’s first priority. Whether we are talking about the coronavirus pandemic or the tumultuous 2020 election season, it’s safe to assume that the prior year and events leading into 2021 have definitely taken a toll on our mental health—regardless of age.

For parents, ensuring that our children are being taught the importance of good, digital hygiene and citizenship is essential to the future of our education system. Which is what makes this upcoming global event so powerful, as it is organized in partnership with the UNESCO New York Office, UNHQ, the Global Partnership for Education and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies (CRI), and participation of partners from the Global Education Coalition.

In partnership with schools and districts like Anoka Hennepin, I learned about the RedRex platform, created by AI App Store’s, Jennifer Bonine, which will help build safe digital/physical combined spaces for schools to better address social and mental health needs along with providing seamless and safe spaces underpinned by A.I. to support educators in delivering education. These solutions are able to assist the smallest schools to the largest ones and connect and share resources to help bridge the equity gap.

Among the many reputable and highly recognized speakers scheduled to present at this event, there are a few that I believe have the power to really drive the course for where our system is headed in 2021.

Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO

A graduate of France’s Ecole Nationale d’Administration and of the Paris Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Audrey Azoulay holds a diploma in Business Administration from the University of Lancaster (UK), and has prioritized improving children’s access to culture with the launch of artistic and cultural education school programmes “Création en cours” and created innovative cultural outreach programmes for people in remote and vulnerable areas “Microfolies.”

In 2014, as an advisor on culture to the President of the French Republic, she notably initiated the development of a protection plan for heritage in danger, which she was able to implement in 2016 as Minister of Culture and Communication.

She currently serves as Director General of UNESCO.

Dr. Mary Wolverton, Associate Superintendent for Anoka-Hennepin School District

Ahead of the event, I spoke with Dr. Mary Wolverton, the Associate Superintendent for elementary schools at Anoka-Hennepin Schools in Minnesota, ahead of the event. Dr. Wolverton oversees 24 elementary schools, state and federal programs, and elementary curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Prior to her role, she was a middle school principal, an elementary school principal, and an assistant principal at the secondary level. So, she’s certainly seen it all, and unfortunately, too often, the spiking suicide rate in her school district.

But what Dr. Wolverton hopes parents and administrators take away from this Symposium is simply awareness.

“We want people to have the awareness of not just what our district is doing during the shift of the pandemic and pre-pandemic, but districts across the state and nation, and that this is actually an opportunity for us on a national and global level to do a reset in relation to education, how that looks, and how we are preparing our students for the future. And equally critical in that process, is exploring how to equalize that for all our learners. Of the twenty-six schools I oversee, one school has approximately .05% English language learners. Another site has 60%+ English language learners. So how do we create systems and structures to support success for all those students, so by the time they leave elementary and go into secondary, they have wide-open opportunities for professional career paths, whether that be in college, career readiness, or technical readiness.”
Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, President of the California State Board of Education and Head of Education Transition Team for President-elect Joe Biden

As the U.S. just watched a tumultuous transition of power from the Trump Administration to the now Biden-Harris Administration, the education landscape certainly seems brighter, especially with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos finally resigning from her Cabinet position following the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Linda Darling-Hammond, who began her career as a public school teacher and having co-founded both a preschool and a public high school, is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University and founding president of the Learning Policy Institute, created to provide high-quality research for policies that enable equitable and empowering education for each and every child.

In 2006, Darling-Hammond was named one of the nation’s ten most influential people affecting educational policy. In 2008, she directed President Barack Obama’s Education Policy Transition Team. She is currently President of the California State Board of Education and served as part of the Head of Education Transition Team for now President Joe Biden. Her portfolio is as lengthy and valuable as her very presence and involvement in this Symposium.

Melanie R. Brown, Senior Program Officer for Global Privacy & Advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A global writer and speaker on philanthropy and justice, Melanie R. Brown serves as a Senior Program Officer for Global Policy & Advocacy-North America at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Washington, D.C.

At the Foundation, she works with key constituencies across the United States and Canada to build public support for the Foundation’s education, economic and health priorities. She began her career as a middle and high school English teacher, teaching in Washington, D.C., Hong Kong, and Beijing, China.

Ms. Brown is an Adjunct Professor at American University School of Education, a Senior Atlantic Fellow in Social and Economic Equity at the London School of Economics, Vice Chair of the Women’s Funding Network Board of Directors, and a 2020 BMe Vanguard Fellow. Melanie earned degrees from American, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon universities.

Jennifer Bonine, Founder and CEO of AI Appstore, Inc. and RedRex Platform

I also had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer Bonine, who is currently the first female A.I. platform tech CEO in the entire industry. Her company, AI Appstore specializes in custom subscription technology bundles, leveraging an artificial intelligence platform using a personalized “virtual research assistant” to help accomplish many of the UN’s SDGs.

“We sought to build and utilize technology that enables access and last mile capabilities and intergenerational access to connect parents, students, educators, administrators, teachers, and access to public resources,” she told me on Sunday, the day before the event. “We are meeting youth where they live in a digital safe space.” Two of the company’s founders were raised by educators.

“My father showed me that anything can be possible through knowledge and education and we want to re-envision that access to it for the future of all youth!”

Bonine has held several executive-level positions, leading teams for Oracle and Target, as well as a number of other roles, having recently presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and for CNNMoney Switzerland. A mother to two children, Ms. Bonine is currently developing a series of books to help educate children about the power of A.I. and machine-learning.

Crystal Ikanih-Musa, Esq.

As a licensed attorney myself, it makes me very happy to see Ms. Ikanih-Musa, Esq. front and center, demonstrating her experience as an international law attorney and International Development professional whose focus is human rights. She has immense experience working with the Federal Governments throughout the U.S. and Nigeria, having worked with various government officials in advisory roles, creating innovative strategies for growth, and helping address gender disparities within the education sector.

The symposium will be live streamed on Global Minnesota’s YouTube channel.

Prior to the symposium, catch UNESCO’s livestream of the official International Day of Education kick-off ceremony, beginning at 7:00 am CST.

If you or someone you know is struggling, there is help out there. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline is free, confidential and provides 24/7 support.

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