Are Our Schools Ready for a Post-Covid World?

Posted in : Cassidy's Comments on 18 October 2021
Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL
Issues covered: Coronavirus; Education Inequality

A report has recently been published by UNESCO’s International Commission on the Futures of Education, entitled “Nine ideas for public action”. It adds a much needed global view to our local struggles with the pandemic as we run the risk of just trying to recover our previous normality in schools rather than recognising that we need to be part of a world wide rethink about the priorities we set and the way we prepare young people for a post covid world.
education_in_a_post-covid_world-nine_ideas_for_public_action.pdf (

 The preface to the report succinctly sums up where our focus should be;

“The global health pandemic has shined a harsh light on the vulnerabilities and challenges humanity faces. It has provided a clear picture of existing inequalities—and a clearer picture of what steps forward we need to take, chief among them addressing the education of more than 1.5 billion students whose learning has been hampered due to school closures”.

They state the uncomfortable truth that we cannot return to the world as it was before and that accepting our common humanity demands better global solidarity in addressing the levels of inequality that exist on our shared planet. The debate has already begun as Britain has argued internally about reducing its overseas aid budget to help balance the books following the huge cost to the economy caused by the pandemic. Developing nations obviously need help in the short term with vaccine rollouts but longer term we should be considering debt cancellation, restructuring and new financing of infrastructure and technological development.

The report points out that for example, only 11% of learners in sub-Saharan Africa have a household computer and only 18% have household internet, as compared to the 50% of learners globally who have computers in the home and the 57% who have access to internet. The pandemic has shown that closing borders and just looking after ourselves is only a short term strategy and that we are facing a future where a range of factors including climate change are going to increase uncontrolled migrations, conflicts and political instabilities which will affect every country. The richer parts of the world are going to have to learn to share their resources wealth and technological expertise with poorer regions.

At home pressure on our health service and indeed education has escalated because of the pandemic and the realisation is beginning to dawn that we will have to contribute more as individuals though taxation and higher living costs to cope with the consequences of an aging population and the widening gap between the economically disadvantaged and the wealthy in our own society. It is a big responsibility for schools to help shape the social consciences of the next generation to face these new challenges but as Greta Thunberg has demonstrated the voice of our young people can affect international affairs. Speaking recently the 18 year old climate activist said re climate change that;

“democracy is the only solution to the climate crisis, since the only thing that could get us out of this situation is … massive public pressure”... and

“In such an emergency as we are in right now, everyone needs to take their moral responsibility, at least I think so, and use whatever power they have, whatever platform they have, to try to influence and push in the right direction, to make a change,” she said. “I think that’s our duty as human beings.”

The pandemic has shone a light too on our own local inequalities. The economically disadvantaged groups in society here have undoubtedly suffered most during lockdowns through lack of access to internet technologies and adequate living space for home working and learning. The UNESCO report identifies nine areas for action now in education which we should consider.

  1.  Ensuring that education is a force for good against inequalities and a safe space for everyone.
  2. Expand the definition of the right to education so that it addresses the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information.       
  3.  Value the teaching profession and teacher collaboration. There has been remarkable innovation in the responses of educators to the COVID-19 crisis.
  4. Prioritize the participation of students and young people broadly in the co-construction of desirable change.
  5.  Protect the social spaces provided by schools.  The school as a physical space is indispensable but  traditional classroom organization must give way to a variety of ways of ‘doing school’
  6. Make free and open source technologies available to teachers and students. Open educational resources and open access digital tools must be supported. Education should not be dependent on digital platforms controlled by private companies.
  7. Ensure scientific literacy within the curriculum as we struggle against the denial of scientific knowledge and actively fight misinformation as the vaccine rollout debate has shown.
  8. The pandemic has potentially undermined several decades of advances in tackling social disadvantage and underachievement.  Politicians must secure the money to strengthen public health and social services and public education.
  9. Teach global solidarity to end current levels of inequality.  The Commission calls for renewed commitments to international cooperation and multilateralism, together with a revitalized global solidarity that has empathy and an appreciation of our common humanity at its core.

The World Economic Forum was established in 1971 as a not-for-profit foundation and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It is independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests. It too proposes a radical future agenda for education;

“While traditional academic skills are important, we’ve also seen the role that playful, creative, and engaging experiences have in helping children cope in unpredictable and rapidly changing situations. Creativity and a child’s ability to be resilient despite life’s unpredictable challenges will be among the most in-demand skills that today’s learners need in a rapidly changing world”.

They point out that Education systems around the world are urgently recalibrating, realizing that they are dangerously outdated. Are we in Northern Ireland worrying about the wrong things in education and trying to preserve approaches that really need to adapt and change?
This is how we make education fit for the post-COVID world | World Economic Forum (

This article is correct at 18/10/2021

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Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL

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