BANGKOK/KATHMANDU, 13 June 2022: Regional education ministers and stakeholders have brought to a close APREMC-II, a major Asia-Pacific conference addressing how the COVID-19 pandemic, now well into its third year, has resulted in the biggest disruption of education in history and compounded pre-existing education challenges affecting some 800 million children across the region.
APREMC-II participants, including 24 high-level education ministers and Thailand’s HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who opened the Plenary session of 6 June, examined during the three-day conference (5 – 7 June) how substantial learning losses and worsening access to education have led to a series of significant setbacks for many learners in the region; in addition, setbacks now jeopardize the region’s prospects for collectively achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda.
Many educators and stakeholders in Asia-Pacific are already speaking of the emergence of a ‘lost generation’ of learners if swift, remedial action is not undertaken throughout the region, which is home to some 4.7 billion people – notably over 60% of the world’s population. All participating in APREMC-II concurred that it is crucial for countries to immediately ensure a safe return to school-based learning; at the same time, educators must transform education and learning content in innovative ways, embracing lessons learned in the pandemic and further developing digital and flexible learning modalities if education systems are to be relevant, inclusive, equitable, adaptive to diverse contexts, and resilient to future shocks in the post-pandemic era.
APREMC-II was jointly organized by the UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education and the UNICEF Regional Offices for East Asia and Pacific, and South Asia; and co-hosted by the Royal Thai Government with generous support provided by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan and the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) of Thailand.
UNICEF and UNESCO officials are jointly calling on Asia-Pacific governments and education partners to take immediate action across the region to ensure that every learner reaches his/her full potential.Nobody should be left behind and miss out on their right to education and learning. The region must act now, both individually and collectively, to reverse the looming Asia-Pacific learning crisis. As Debora Comini, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, commented at the opening press conference of 6 June, ‘We are proud that through this longstanding partnership, we have been able to jointly ring the alarm in this Conference for urgent action to ensure that every child receives the support they need to catch up on lost learning’.
The overarching theme of the Conference was ‘Education Recovery and Transformation towards more Responsive, Relevant and Resilient Education Systems: Accelerating Progress towards SDG 4-Education 2030’. The Conference was framed around three interlinked themes:
Ensuring safe return to schools and achieving learning recovery that will improve learning outcomes for all;
Achieving a deep transformation of education systems and building into them enhanced capacities of resilience (e.g. more flexible, inclusive, resilient, digitally equipped, blended, and more environmentally friendly and sustainable systems); and
Achieving increased and better investment in education and enablers for transformation.
The Conference served as a platform for education stakeholders to share successful and innovative education initiatives, discuss challenges, and explore opportunities to accelerate learning for all children and youth, especially for the most vulnerable – namely the poor, the disabled, and young girls who have dropped out of school and are at increased risk of never returning to their classrooms. While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented the region with untoward challenges, it has notably exacerbated a pre-existing learning crisis in the region that prior to the pandemic had already exhibited low levels of proficiency in reading and mathematics among learners, indeed despite improving enrolment numbers and children widely completing their early grades prior to 2019. At the upper secondary level, many countries across the region are experiencing high dropout rates and relatively low learning achievements.
Speaking of a ‘learning crisis’ that has progressed throughout the region in recent years, Margarete Sachs-Israel, Chief of the Inclusive Quality Education Section of the UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, stated, ‘As countries emerge from the pandemic, the urgency of ensuring learning recovery for all, coupled with the need to transform education systems provides regional governments with an unique opportunity to address long-standing challenges in education and ultimately deliver against the commitments made in the SDG4-Education 2030 Agenda’.
BANGKOK STATEMENT 2022
Conference outcomes culminated in a series of stated priority actions and recommendations comprising the BANGKOK STATEMENT 2022 (‘Statement’),a ‘roadmap’ for a region seeking to rebuild and transform its ailing education systems. While acknowledging the region’s extensive diversity and need for contextual approaches to learning, the Bangkok Statement reaffirms ‘the inter-dependence and common future of our societies and economies’. The Statement sets out two major ‘priority actions’ comprising: 1) Safe School Reopening, Learning Recovery and Continuity of Learning; and 2) Transforming Education and Education Systems.
The Bangkok Statement 2022 will be shared at the SDG4 Education 2030 High-Level Steering Committee meeting in July 2022; it will then subsequently inform the global Transforming Education Summit (TES) at the United Nations in September, thus generating tangible actions and partnerships for the transformation of education for all learners, both regionally and globally.
Speaking at the press conference after the opening ceremonies of the High-Level segment of APREMC-II on 6 June, UNESCO Bangkok director Shigeru Aoyagi highlighted the long-range potential of the Conference for providing ‘a platform for advancing stronger collaboration and regional exchange for the future pursuit of priority actions that will enable children, adolescents, youth and adults across Asia and the Pacific to develop their full potential as productive and healthy citizens of the world community’.
Thailand’s Minister of Education and Chair of the National Commission for UNESCO H.E. Ms Treenuch Thienthong, added ‘The organization of this Conference is timely as all countries in the Asia-Pacific region are of the view that we must work together to ensure education access to all during the COVID-19 education disruption. APREMC-II will enable us to strengthen partnerships with education stakeholders in the region to ensure that our education systems will be redesigned to adapt to the post-COVID era, and to achieve goal number 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals’.
Source: UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization