With the Central government denying them MSME status, state governments slashing tuition and other fees and parent communities unwilling to pay contracted fees, India’s 450,000 high-performance private schools are under siege – Dilip Thakore
The incubation of the Coronavirus aka Covid-19 virus in the exotic wet meat markets of neighbouring China in November 2019, and its rapid trans-continental transmission for over 15 months has extracted a terrible toll worldwide in terms of lost lives and livelihoods. Even though a vaccine to combat the deadly virus has been developed in record time, Covid-19 has claimed 2.7 million lives around the world and has devastated the economies of over 100 countries forced to declare prolonged industry, business and service sector lockdowns to prevent the spread of this highly infectious airborne virus.
Inevitably, given the geographical proximity of the People’s Republic of China to India, Covid-19 has also visited havoc upon the Indian economy and population. Even as reports of a second wave of spikes are coming in from several industry hub states — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Punjab — the Coronavirus has infected 11.8 million citizens and taken a toll of 161,000 lives during the past year when arguably the world’s most draconian national lockdown of business, industry and education institutions was declared on March 25, last year. This lockdown has extracted a heavy price from the economy. The country’s GDP which was budgeted to increase by 5 percent to Rs.235.89 lakh crore in the year ended March 31, 2021, is likely to shrink by an unprecedented 17.38 percent to Rs.194.81 lakh crore (revised estimate), and already high unemployment has risen to an estimated 37 million.
The severe damage suffered by India Inc and the economy during the pandemic has been extensively researched and the best minds of the country are engaged in devising policies and strategies to repair it. However, the pandemic and year-long closure of all education institutions countrywide has also inflicted heavy and as yet unquantified damage in terms of loss of learning, drop-outs from school and widespread child malnutrition. In particular, 85 million youngest (0-5 age group) children are unable to access nutrition and early childhood education in the country’s 1.6 million government-run anganwadi centres (AWCs) and 132 million children in 1.2 million government primaries are being deprived of their daily free-of-charge mid-day meal.
Curiously while entire divisions of economists, business analysts and media pundits have devised detailed strategies to haul industry, business and the economy back on the rails, there is helpless inertia in academia about ideating ways and means to repair the huge loss of learning suffered by the world’s largest child and youth population. This education-focused publication which has repeatedly warned about the silent crisis brewing in Indian education (see EW January-March cover stories on www.educationworld.in) is a lonely voice in the wilderness, ignored not only by unheeding governments at the Centre and states, but also by the academy, parents and educators communities.
The dimensions of this brewing crisis in Indian education are mountainous. Even before the outbreak of the pandemic and consequential national lockdown of all education institutions countrywide, learning outcomes in Indian education across the spectrum were rock-bottom.
For more than a decade the authoritative Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) of the Pratham Education Foundation has been warning that over half of class V children in rural — especially government — primaries can’t read class II textbooks, or do simple division and multiplication sums. In higher education not one of India’s 39,931 undergrad colleges or 1,008 universities (some of them of 150 years vintage) is ranked among the global Top 200 of QS and Times Higher Education, the well-respected London-based varsity rating agencies.
India’s estimated 200 million children in the age group 0-8 have been especially hard-hit by the prolonged closure of pre-primary and primary schools for over a year. According to a valuable but disturbing field research study titled Loss of Learning During the Pandemic published by the Bengaluru-based Azim Premji University (APU, estb.2010), “overall loss of learning — loss (regression or forgetting) of what children had learnt in the previous class as well as what they did not get an opportunity to learn in the present class — is going to lead to a cumulative loss over the years, impacting not only the academic performance of children in their school years but also their adult lives”. To conduct the study, APU field researchers tested 16,067 classes II-VI children of 1,137 public (government) schools in 44 districts of five states, to assess four capabilities in language learning and elementary maths.
The ‘key findings’ of this valuable study are — or should be — alarming. “92 percent of children on average have lost at least one specific language ability (describing a picture or experiences orally; reading familiar words; reading with comprehension; writing simple sentences based on a picture) learned in the previous year. In maths 82 percent of children in classes II-VI have lost at least one specific mathematical ability — identifying single and two-digit numbers; performing arithmetic operations; using basic arithmetic operations for solving problems; describing 2D/3D shapes; reading and drawing inferences from data learned in the previous year.”
This representative sample of children was field tested by reliable “deeply engaged teachers” in 44 districts of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
In this connection, it’s pertinent to note that the learning outcomes of youngest children in Uttar Pradesh (pop. 215 million) and Bihar (pop. 104 million) where government schools are notorious for chronic teacher truancy and official apathy, were not tested. Had they been tested, the learning loss of children nationally would have been far greater. In retrospect, it is becoming increasingly clear that the BJP/NDA government’s hasty March 17 decision to order the closure of all schools countrywide — and prolonging the shut-down of all campuses and classrooms — hasn’t been sufficiently discussed and debated.
According to all indicators, this huge unfolding tragedy in the making doesn’t seem to bother Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal. Despite the prolonged closure of schools and the huge learning and nutrition loss suffered by 132 million children in 1.2 million digitally ill-equipped government schools countrywide, the Union budget 2021-22 presented to Parliament and the nation on February 1 slashed the Central government’s allocation for education from the Rs.99,312 crore budgeted for 2020-21 to Rs.93,224 crore next year. Nevertheless, Pokhriyal — a former RSS pracharak and less-than-successful author of hyper-nationalist fiction — remained a silent spectator and reportedly failed to raise any protest within pre-budget Union cabinet meetings.
Worse, even as myopic state governments to curry favour with the subsidies-addicted middle class decreed arbitrary and unrealistic fees ceilings upon the country’s 450,000 independent (‘unaided’) private schools which host 48 percent of all in-school children, and brazenly advised parents not to pay duly contracted school fees while ordering school managements to continue paying teachers and staff salaries, the Hon’ble minister — who doesn’t speak a word of English, the official language of business, administration, the judiciary — has been a mum observer to bullying attempts to sabotage the private education system.
In this connection, it’s important to note that the majority of private schools have switched to the digital online mode of education delivery to ensure learning continuity of their students. On the other hand government schools with Internet and digital deficits have failed to provide meaningful online learning to children from underprivileged households.
Moreover, despite the fact that the world over governments have pulled out all stops to continue teaching-learning in public schools and have provided grants, soft loans and direct benefit transfers to poor households to maintain the nutrition and education of children, neither the prime minister’s illusory Rs.20 lakh crore pandemic package, nor the Union budget accorded MSME (micro, small, medium enterprises) status to private especially the country’s unique 400,000 budget private schools (BPS).
Affordably priced BPS are the preferred option of children of low-income households who manage to flee government schools defined by crumbling buildings, chronic teacher absenteeism, multi-grade classrooms, dysfunctional toilets and rock-bottom learning outcomes. Consequently BPS promoters — mainly educationists driven by the spirit of enlightened self-interest — have conspicuously been denied interest payment moratoria, soft loans and tax concessions to which MSMEs are entitled.
Against this grim backdrop of multi-pronged attacks on private schools by the Centre (which has denied them MSME status) and state governments (which have imposed ruinous fees ceilings and encouraged parents to renege on their fees payment contracts), as also parents associations on the warpath demanding fee cuts and concessions, Dr. Pokhriyal — who adamantly refuses repeated requests to explain his policies and viewpoint to EducationWorld despite this 21-year-old publication being by far the country’s #1 education news magazine — restricts himself to occasionally contributing self-congratulatory essays to mainstream newspapers.
In his latest missive titled ‘A Lesson from India’ published in the Economic Times (March 18), the Union education minister writes that “the Indian education sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience” and has managed to almost continue education as usual. According to the minister, under an alphabet soup of government initiatives — NISTHA, PRAGYATA etc — 3 million teachers have been “trained digitally” and “education continuity has not been hampered”. Moreover in his essay under reference the minister takes credit for having launched the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, “accepted as the world’s largest education reform of the Covid era” which is all set to “transform India into a knowledge superpower”.
Such all-is-well complacency flies in the face of all ground-level surveys which report that the overwhelming majority of government school teachers haven’t received any training to switch to online teaching because of poor Internet connectivity and ubiquitous computer hardware shortages. Moreover, an estimated 30-40 million children are likely to drop out of the education system to join the under-paid labour force and girl children are being forced into early marriage and/or prostitution. This bodes ill for the world’s largest — and most high-potential — child and youth population estimated at over 500 million.
In the Union Budget 2021-22, the unspecified provision made for teacher training is included in the Rs.31,300 crore National Education Mission outlay which covers the teacher salaries, nutrition and tuition of 132 million children in government schools. This sum budgeted for 2021-22 is 18.4 percent lower than the Rs.38,361 crore budgeted for the National Education Mission in 2020-21. Thus, the amount left for the digital training of government school teachers is likely to be negligible. Therefore, the minister’s claim that 3 million teachers — one-third of the national teacher force — have been “trained digitally” is patently ridiculous as is his claim that the education continuity of children in government schools “has not been hampered”.
The causal response of the BJP/NDA government to the cataclysmic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the country’s 260 million school-going children deprived of meaningful education for over one year, has shocked and dismayed knowledgeable monitors of Indian education.
“The BJP/RSS leadership has a totally different idea of education. They believe the country’s children and youth need to be taught Sanskrit, the glories of ancient India, Hindi, Ayurveda and kabbadi, rather than contemporary liberal arts and sciences that promote critical thinking, the spirit of enquiry and questioning of established wisdom. By not providing for digitalisation of government schools in the Union budget, failure to award MSME status to private school which dispense quality education to half the country’s in-school children, and setting parents against private school managements during the pandemic era, the Central and state governments have severely damaged the education system. It’s unfortunate that all the HRD/education ministers since 2014 have been nominees of the RSS which is not interested in modernising Indian education, ” says Damodar Prasad Goyal, the Jaipur-based president of the Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan (SUPSR).
Over the past decade, SUPSR has emerged as a champion of private school education in India. In 2012, it famously persuaded the Supreme Court to exempt minority and boarding schools from applicability of s.12 (1) (c) of the Right to Education (RTE), Act 2009, which obliges all private schools to reserve a free-of-charge 25 percent quota for poor neighbourhood children in classes I-VIII. Moreover last month, the society moved the Supreme Court to issue a stay order against a Rajasthan government notification directing private schools in the state to collect only 70 percent of children’s fees for the years 2020-21 and 2021-22.
The seemingly calculated neglect of the BJP leadership to confer favoured MSME status on the country’s estimated 400,000 budget private schools (BPS), which would have made their struggling managements eligible for interest payment moratoria and soft credit to tide them over the pandemic crisis, has angered the small tribe of child development and welfare champions.
“Half the country’s in-school children are in private education and 85 percent of them are studying in BPS. It’s abominable that government doesn’t care at all that affordable, low-priced BPS are shutting down by the hundreds because of cash-flow problems. To better future prospects of their children, millions of parents have made great sacrifices to enrol them in BPS which provide them better education than what is available in free-of-charge government schools. But since BPS are direct competitors of non-performing government schools, they have been deliberately excluded from the MSME category. It’s shameful that the Centre and states are taking advantage of the pandemic to force the bankruptcy of BPS all over the country. This is anti-national and highly condemnable,” says Dr. Parth Shah, former professor of economics at Michigan University, USA and founder-president of the Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society (estb.1997), a highly-reputed think tank and mentor of NISA (National Independent Schools Alliance) which has a membership of 60,000 BPS countrywide.
Unfortunately for private — especially budget — school promoters, most of whom have invested their life savings in establishing schools without any help from risk-averse public sector banks (PSBs) managed by lethargic, over-promoted clerks, and the ideologically hostile neta-babu brotherhood which frames public policy, are not the only stumbling blocks. Post-independence India’s freeloading middle class which has become accustomed to non-merit subsidies for piped water, electricity, higher education etc, grabbed at the cost of the majority at the bottom of the country’s iniquitous socio-economic pyramid, has also emerged as a major pain point for private school promoters and managements.
Despite middle class managers and organised sector employees being substantially spared layoffs and salary cuts during the pandemic lockdown — the hardest hit have been MSME employees and migrant labour — encouraged by populist politicians intent on harvesting their votes, parents across the country are reneging on paying contracted school fees. With several state governments issuing notifications at their behest directing private school managements to collect only 70 percent of tuition — and no other — fees, numerous parent associations are refusing to pay contracted fees, even if their children are availing online classes.
“Ever since the 1970s when then prime minister Indira Gandhi packed the Supreme Court with ‘committed’ leftist and communist judges who passed illogical judgements prohibiting “commercialisation of education” — but not of food, health, housing or the judicial system itself — middle class parents have developed a schizophrenic attitude towards private schools. First they use every trick in the book to get their children admission in private schools — they won’t touch government schools with a bargepole — of their choice. But after their child/children are admitted, they quickly develop an antagonistic attitude towards private school managements accusing them of short-changing their children and always protest annual fee increases which are inevitable in these inflationary times. Instead of offering constructive criticism and partnering with teachers and the management to improve the education of their children, most middle class parents become carping critics hell-bent on finding fault. For this perpetually disgruntled tribe the pandemic has offered an opportunity to renege on their contractual obligation to pay children’s fees, even though they are aware that we have had to invest heavily in Internet connectivity, digital hardware, teacher training while continuing to pay staff salaries,” says an embittered promoter-principal of a mid-priced co-ed day school in Bangalore/Bengaluru.
However, the argument that despite being shut down by government orders to prevent transmission of the highly contagious Coronavirus, private schools have invested heavily in digital infrastructure and teacher training for continuous education while also paying employees’ salaries and institution maintenance expenses, cuts no ice with Delhi-based Ashok Agarwal, a legal practitioner and president of the All India Parents Association (AIPA, estb.2005) which he claims has “millions of parents in 28 states” as members.
“It’s well-established law that if service is not provided, a fee cannot be charged. Therefore, it follows that when normal schooling is not provided, normal fees are not payable. Nevertheless, AIPA has maintained that parents must pay the full tuition fee — but not other fees — because school managements are obliged to pay teachers and employees to retain them until normal classes resume. This is especially true of schools providing online education to their students,” says Agarwal.
The argument that private schools have invested in digital infrastructure and teacher training so that education is not hampered, is rejected by Agarwal. “On several occasions the Supreme Court has held that education provision is by definition and necessarily a charitable activity. Therefore capital expenditure incurred by private schools cannot be recovered from parents. This status of private schools was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in the Modern School Case (2004) which held that private schools can raise their fees by 10-15 percent annually to meet increased revenue expenditure,” says Agarwal
Agarwal’s viewpoint is representative of middle class parents across the country, who while refusing to enrol their children in free-of-charge government schools, simultaneously favour government regulation of private school fees. With a substantial number of them having suffered income loss, even if not lay-offs, during the pandemic lockdown, they are in no mood to pay the contracted full school fees of children even if schools are providing online classes.
Digital classes at best are conducted for three-four hours and children are prohibited from accessing co-curricular and sports education by lockdown rules which have shut down all campuses of education institutions. Therefore schools that insist on payment of full or substantially full fees are taking advantage of the prevailing situation to rake in abnormal profit, runs the argument popular with parents.
This line of reasoning fails to take into consideration that all governments have directed schools to continue paying teachers and staff salaries. Moreover, most private schools — including BPS — have switched to online education to maintain learning continuity of their students. This switchover to digital education has cost school managements — who dismiss Agarwal’s separation of capital and revenue expenditure as “specious nit-picking” — heavily, especially since government-controlled banks are reluctant to advance them credit for capital equipment purchases, or provide credit against receivables. Nor has the Central government directed them to do so.
Moreover as conceded by Agarwal, private schools have had to retain teachers and non-teaching staff to maintain school grounds, classrooms, buses and to continue paying EMIs (equated monthly instalments) and interest on loans availed for installing institutional infrastructure and equipment. Indeed a major grievance of NISA (National Independent Schools Alliance) which has a membership of 60,000 BPS, is that despite their aggregate enrolment of 60 million children, they have not been provided any of the reliefs given to MSMEs under the prime minister’s Rs.20 lakh crore pandemic relief package, or in any subsequent relief packages including the Union Budget 2021-22.
In addition to blatant discrimination of the Centre against the country’s 450,000 private schools that host 47.5 percent of all in-school children, almost all state governments have rushed to issue ill-considered directives and notifications prohibiting private school managements from demanding duly contracted tuition fees from their parent communities, even if their children are availing online education. In Karnataka, a government notification of January 29 restricted private schools from collecting more than 70 percent of tuition fees while proscribing all other fees for the current extended academic year ending May 31, 2021. Fortunately, this notification has been stayed by the Karnataka high court. Likewise, a similar notification of the Rajasthan government has been stayed by the Supreme Court on February 9 following a writ petition filed by the Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan.
lthough these stay orders indicate that India’s 21st century upper judiciary — unlike the committed judges of the socialist era — are beginning to acknowledge the legitimate role and contribution of private education providers to the national development effort, the reckless notifications of state governments to reduce and/or postpone the collection of contracted fees has thrown apples of discord among private school managements and their parent communities countrywide. With promoters and managements filing writ petitions against government orders interfering with school-parent contracts, numerous parents associations have mushroomed countrywide supporting fees reduction and waivers and alleging that private schools are exploitative, cruel and unmindful of the job and income losses suffered by their parent communities during the pandemic year.
“India’s private school system which includes several hundred excellent, globally benchmarked schools has suffered severe damage during the past pandemic year. The negligent treatment accorded by the Central government which failed to classify private schools as MSMEs entitled to pandemic damage relief, and the knee-jerk reaction of state governments that have imposed arbitrary fees ceilings have generated deep distrust between school managements and their parent communities. The plain truth is that in no other service industry has any government forcibly reduced fees, except in education. The ill-considered fee reduction and waiver notifications of state governments which we were obliged to challenge in court, have generated great tension between school managements and parents. Teachers also feel that parents of the children they mentor don’t care about their (teachers) welfare and well-being. With so much ill-will between the administration, teachers and parents, the education of children is bound to suffer,” says Arunabh Singh, promoter-principal of the Nehru World School (estb.1978) ranked Ghaziabad’s #2 co-ed day school in the EducationWorld India School Rankings 2020-21.
The confusion, ill-will and chaos generated within the private school system by the reckless sins of commission and omission of government has wider ramifications. The plain truth is that only private schools have the necessary capabilities to provide modern, digital technologies-driven K-12 education required to build strong foundations for children to succeed in higher education and adulthood. And flagrant discrimination and step-motherly treatment of private schools which has become glaring during the pandemic, is certain to disillusion actual and potential edupreneurs from expanding and promoting new, greenfield schools. This will overcrowd existing private schools, result in long waiting periods for admission into top-ranked schools and necessitate expensive influence peddling for admissions because of capacity shortages.
“Government policies of the past pandemic year have proved highly destructive for private schools. Not only have the Central and state governments totally neglected government schools, they have also thrown a spanner into the private school system. The RTE Act, 2009 mandates the establishment of SMCs (school management committees) comprising parents, management representatives and prominent local educationists and citizens in every school, to regulate its functioning. Calibration of fees payable during the pandemic months should have been assigned to SMCs to resolve this issue mutually and amicably. Instead, state education ministers rushed in to spread confusion and discord. It’s also very disheartening that a large number of high-income parents unaffected by the pandemic lockdown have taken advantage of the situation to demand fee concessions and waivers. I’m positive that none of them have refused to pay their club bills or demanded subscription fee reduction because swimming pools and gyms were shut down. Parents need to understand that school managements are their partners engaged in educating and nurturing children. The confrontationist attitude adopted by middle class parents demanding fees waivers and concessions is indicative of deep disrespect for their children’s teachers who will have to suffer salary cuts and/or layoffs. Government and parents need to shed their us versus them mindset towards private schools in the greater national interest,” says Dhirendra Mishra, promoter-CEO of Life Educare Pvt. Ltd (estb.2011), a Raipur/Bengaluru-based education consultancy which has enabled the promotion of 50 private schools across the country.
The silver lining of the once-in-a-century Coronavirus pandemic which is fast mutating to make a second strike, is that it has highlighted the vital importance of private, including budget private schools, within the national education system. Suddenly there is growing awareness that the country’s 450,000 unaided (financially independent) schools built and developed at great cost in terms of resources by edupreneurs mainly driven by a constructive spirit of enlightened self-interest, are setting the pace for the overdue overhaul and modernisation of 21st century India’s early childhood and K-12 education systems. Therefore, private schools and their promoters whose legitimate and important role has been acknowledged by several Supreme Court judgements, including the watershed T.M.A. Pai Case (2002), deserve the support of all right thinking members of society.
Unfortunately for the nation, a design to level down private schools has become painfully apparent during the past year of the pandemic. This path is fraught with danger, clearly not in the national interest and requires urgent course correction. The multi-pronged attack on private education institutions by government, the parents community and misguided public opinion needs to be halted immediately for the nation to develop its abundant and high-potential human capital.
Alarming foundational learning loss
A study titled Loss of Learning During the Pandemic conducted in January (2021) by the Azim Premji University, Bengaluru (APU, estb.2010) reveals the extent and nature of the ‘forgetting/ regression’ learning loss (i.e, what was learnt earlier but has now been lost) among children in public (government) schools shut down during the Covid-19 pandemic. The study covered 16,067 children in 1,137 public schools in 44 districts of five states of the Indian Union of 28 states and seven Union territories.
Well-qualified APU field researchers (mainly teachers) tested four specific capabilities of class II-VI children in language and mathematics. “These four specific abilities for each grade were chosen because they are essential for subsequent learning — in all subjects. Therefore, loss of any one ability will have very serious consequences on all further learning,” says the study report. The key findings of the study are given below.
Language learning loss
- An average 92% of children in all classes have lost at least one specific language capability (whatever the medium of instruction) acquired in the previous year. Illustratively, these specific abilities include describing a picture or experiences orally; reading familiar words; reading with comprehension; writing simple sentences based on a picture.
- 92% of children in class II, 89% in class III, 90% in class IV, 95% in class V, and 93% in class VI have lost at least one specific ability from the previous year.
Maths learning loss
- An average 82% of children have lost at least one specific mathematical ability of the previous year in all classes. Illustratively, these specific abilities include identifying single and two-digit numbers; performing arithmetic operations; using basic arithmetic operations for problem solving; describing 2D/3D shapes; reading and drawing inferences from data.
- 67% of children in class II, 76% in class III, 85% in class IV, 89% in class V and 89% in class VI have lost at least one specific ability of the previous year.
“The extent and nature of learning loss is serious enough to warrant action at all levels. Policy and processes to identify and address this loss are necessary as children return to schools. Supplemental support, whether in the form of bridge courses, extended hours, community-based engagements and appropriate curricular material, will be needed to help children (re) gain the(se) foundational abilities when they return to school. It follows that teacher capacity to ensure student learning in these unusual circumstances must be in focus, particularly with respect to pedagogy and assessment needed to deal with students at diverse learning levels. And most importantly, teachers must be given enough time to compensate for both kinds of learning loss — and we must not rush into promoting children to the next class,” warn the authors of this valuable field tests-based study.
9 recommendations for post-pandemic education
“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… It is evident that we cannot return to the world as it was before. One of the strongest messages in this report is that our common humanity necessitates global solidarity. We cannot accept the levels of inequality that have been permitted to emerge on our shared planet. Covid-19 has the potential to radically reshape our world, but we must not passively sit back and observe what plays out. Now is the time for public deliberation and democratic accountability. Now is the time for intelligent collective action,” says Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and chairperson of the International Commission on the Futures of Education, comprising eminent educators from academia, science, government, business and education worldwide. The commission has made nine recommendations for global action today that will advance education in the post-pandemic tomorrow.
- Commit to strengthen education as a common good. Education is a bulwark against inequalities. In education as in health, we are safe when everybody is safe; we flourish when everybody flourishes.
- Expand the definition of the right to education so that it addresses the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information. The Commission calls for a global public discussion — that includes learners of all ages — on ways the right to education needs to be expanded.
- Value the teaching profession and teacher collaboration. There has been remarkable innovation in the responses of educators to the Covid-19 crisis, with those systems most engaged with families and communities showing the most resilience. We must encourage conditions that give frontline educators autonomy and flexibility to act collaboratively.
- Promote student, youth and children’s participation and rights. Intergenerational justice and democratic principles should compel us to prioritise the participation of students and young people broadly in the co-construction of desirable change.
- Protect social spaces provided by schools as we transform education. The school as a physical space is indispensable. Traditional classroom organisation must give way to a variety of ways of ‘doing school’, but the school as a separate space-time of collective living, specific and different from other spaces of learning, must be preserved.
- Make free and open source technologies available to teachers and students. Open educational resources and open access digital tools must be supported. Education cannot thrive with readymade content built outside of the pedagogical space and outside of human relationships between teachers and students. Nor can education be dependent on digital platforms controlled by private companies.
- Ensure scientific literacy within the curriculum. This is the right time for deep reflection on curriculum, particularly as we struggle against the denial of scientific knowledge and actively fight misinformation.
- Protect domestic and international financing of public education. The pandemic has the power to undermine several decades of advances. National governments, international organisations and all education and development partners must recognise the need to strengthen public health and social services but simultaneously mobilise around the protection of public education and its financing.
- Advance global solidarity to end current levels of inequality. Covid-19 has shown us the extent to which our societies exploit power imbalances and our global system exploits inequalities. The Commission calls for renewed commitments to international cooperation and multilateralism, together with a revitalised global solidarity that has empathy and an appreciation of our common humanity at its core. Covid-19 presents us with a real challenge and real responsibility. These ideas invite debate, engagement and action by governments, international organisations, civil society, educational professionals as well as learners and stakeholders at all levels.