LONDON — The world’s first parliamentary network dedicated to education launched Monday with a warning that the coronavirus pandemic has caused an unprecedented global emergency in learning.
As schools in many countries prepare to reopen to students, the International Parliamentary Network for Education launched online in a bid to pressure governments to prioritize education and provide support for solving education-related challenges. Its policy priorities will be the financing of education and achieving equity and quality for students.
IPNEd is made up of 122 parliamentarians from 30 parliaments across both the global north and global south. It is co-chaired by Harriett Baldwin, a member of Parliament from the United Kingdom’s governing Conservative Party, and Gertrude Musuruve Inimah, a senator representing disabled people in Kenya.
“While the challenges for delivering quality education are unique in every country, the overall goal of achieving education is pretty universal.”— Aaron Oxley, executive director, RESULTS UK
The pandemic has created a serious new challenge in achieving the fourth Sustainable Development Goal — education for all — with some children unlikely to return to school after lockdowns have ended. Girls, disabled children, and those living in conflict zones and emergencies are expected to be the worst affected.
There are also concerns about increased exposure to violence and abuse when children are out of school, a point raised by Bangladeshi parliamentarian Aroma Dutta.
“We expect 30 million children may not go back to school. We are fearful that they will be involved in child labor or they’ll be subjected to child marriage or child trafficking,” said Gordon Brown, former U.K. prime minister and United Nations special envoy for global education, at the launch. That is on top of the hundreds of millions of children who were already out of school before the COVID-19 pandemic and even more who will not be able to read or write by the age of 10, he added.
Political will, particularly to raise funding and to reach every child, is a key challenge in promoting education, according to Alice Albright, chief executive officer of the Global Partnership for Education.
“We are delighted to have such a broad parliamentary network now to work with to help mobilize political will,” she said. “One of the particularly interesting aspects of IPNEd is being able to connect the need for political will at the national level … [and] the global level.”
“We need to ensure we are pressing governments to put in resources,” Musuruve agreed.
An estimated 258 million children are out of school and the "2020 Global Education Monitoring Report" shows progress on education indicators is slowing. When it comes to providing inclusive education, COVID-19 is increasing the access divide.
When it comes to security, Baldwin encouraged politicians to lobby their governments to sign the Safe Schools Declaration, a political commitment to protect students, teachers, and educational establishments from the worst effects of armed conflict.
Aaron Oxley, executive director of RESULTS UK, which is the hosting organization for IPNEd, said there had been a “real hunger” for this type of network.
He told Devex: “In almost every endeavor, parliamentarians can be more effective when they’re supported by their peers. And so while the challenges for delivering quality education are unique in every country, the overall goal of achieving education is pretty universal.
“Therefore, the ability of parliamentarians from around the world … to all unite in that common purpose allows them to really encourage each other, support each other, bring best practice, and build that political momentum nationally, regionally, and globally. And I think that has the potential to be incredibly powerful.”