I thank my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin for securing this incredibly important debate.
This global pandemic has exposed many inadequacies and inequalities in education, not only in our country but around the world. From access to computers and broadband to a supportive environment, disparities have been replicated in every country. Teachers have had to adapt and be creative, often having to learn new skills—especially digital ones—very quickly. I salute every single teacher and member of support staff in every school.
Education is the major way out of poverty, and I fear that covid will have a long-term impact on the next generation if substantial measures are not introduced quickly. Some young people will be of an age when it appears more productive for the family to have their children out working rather than being educated, especially if they have lost income during the pandemic.
Governments and international organisations must put financial and other help in place to encourage pupils back to school, because if they do not return, it will cast a long shadow over the economic wellbeing not just of the individual but of the whole country. A recent OECD report states that if they miss one third of the school year, primary and secondary schoolchildren can expect their income to be some 3% lower over their entire lifetime. Providing information to parents and children about the benefits that education will bring them in the long term is crucial.
However, this crisis has also brought an opportunity for education systems to look at different ways of teaching, innovating, and changing assessment and examination systems. Sustainable development goal 4 was set to provide
“inclusive and equitable quality education and...lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
We need systemic reform of our education system here in England as much as we do in other countries, and we need to learn from each other about good practice and pedagogy, adjusted to our individual countries. We need to realign the curriculum, assessment and examinations, and move away from a system that helps elite students and towards actual skill distribution to the entire student population. The UK Government’s White Paper on skills is an example that can be shared.
Countries must embrace a new vision of education for the future. If remote learning has taught us one thing, it is that e-learning can be harnessed if there is decent connectivity, and the right software can be highly cost-effective and help with knowledge and lifelong learning. It must be a priority for all Governments to improve access to technology and the connectivity of their populations, to address the glaring disparities that have come from those who have not had access to online learning.
We should see this crisis as a catalyst for sustainable and innovative reform, at the same time as building the foundation for greater resilience and sustainability in education. I hope that all Governments will seize this opportunity.