The GEC Manifesto for Education in Practice: Shared challenges, shared solutions

A unity of purpose is necessary to ensure access to high quality education for all – particularly for learners in peril who lack physical safety and/or emotional wellbeing.

Written by Mark Sparvell, Director of Education Marketing, Microsoft

As part of our ‘GEC Manifesto for Education in Practice’ article series, Mark Sparvell explores the manifesto point: A unity of purpose is necessary to ensure access to high quality education for all – particularly for learners in peril who lack physical safety and/or emotional wellbeing.

Millions of children are out of school at a time when education reform is high on global agendas.

The aphorism "a rising tide lifts all boats" is associated with the idea that improvements, for example improvements to the quality of teaching and learning, will benefit all students.

It could be argued this only holds true if you happen to be in a boat…without one, well, there’s just more water over your head.

The uncomfortable truth is that for one-sixth of the children and youth – around 258 million students – access to quality education and attainment is not their lived experience. These are not students choosing not to attend school physical or virtual; that is a luxury for the entitled.

These include the nearly 50 million children who have been uprooted, forced to flee brutal conflict and extreme poverty. This includes children driven from their homes by violence or deprivation and forced to make difficult, life-threatening, and even life-ending journeys.

Consider this as we worry about devices and internet speeds for remote schooling: this child refugee crisis is the worst since World War II. We have over 115 million youth globally functionally illiterate and 3.1 million children die from undernutrition every year.

The countries with the highest out-of-school rates also tend to be among the poorest countries in the world. Poverty levels are also closely linked to gender disparities in education. A comparison of male and female out-of-school rates shows that in low-income countries females are generally more likely to be out of school than males, while the opposite can be observed in high-income countries.

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Addressing these complexities requires unity of purpose. Our challenges are shared challenges and, fortunately, our solutions can and should be shared. Two organisations working with frontline workers who are supporting students at greatest risk are UNICEF and Microsoft.

Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. The five-year AI for Humanitarian Action commitment was launched to help change the way front-line relief organizations anticipate, predict and better target response efforts related to disaster recovery, the needs of children, promotion of human rights, and protection of refugees and displaced people.

Disaster response

Microsoft supports resiliency, response, and recovery programs designed for those affected by humanitarian emergencies. An example is the partnership with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) to improve the reach of humanitarian action through open mapping of vulnerable areas.

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Refugees and displaced people

Microsoft provides scalable solutions to help forcibly displaced people, including refugees. Using speech-to-text AI and an Azure database, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) works with volunteers and legal aid organizations to assist families fleeing persecution in their home countries. AI helps ASAP track changing court dates and prioritize cases most urgently in need of legal services.

Human rights

Microsoft partners with organizations to accelerate breakthrough solutions that help monitor, detect, and prevent human rights violations. A collaboration with the Clooney Foundation for Justice created technology that can empower human rights trial monitors to capture multiple types of data in one place—and extract the information needed for experts to assess the fairness of a trial.

Needs of women and children

Multiple projects help ensure the wellbeing and safety of women and children around the world. One involves nonprofit partner, Operation Smile, which uses a facial modeling algorithm and Microsoft Pix to improve surgical outcomes and help more children in need of facial surgeries.

Addressing SDG4 and Students whose formal learning has been interrupted

The Learning Passport started off as a partnership between UNICEF, Microsoft and the University of Cambridge and its departments Cambridge University Press and Cambridge Assessment, designed to provide education for displaced and refugee children through a digital remote learning platform.  It has now undergone rapid expansion to facilitate country-level curriculum for children and youth whose schools have been forced to close due to COVID-19.

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The Learning Passport is part of the Generation Unlimited Global Breakthrough on Remote Learning and Work that aims to use technology to address challenges faced by learners, facilitators and education providers, particularly in conflict-affected and humanitarian contexts. Generation Unlimited is a global multi-sector partnership to meet the urgent need for expanded education, training and employment opportunities for young people.

“Just as COVID-19’s impact has no borders, its solutions must not have borders, as it requires the collaboration across public and private sectors to ensure every student stays engaged and continues learning,” said Brad Smith, President of Microsoft. 

We collectively must continue to raise awareness at all levels, to advocate for action, take action, and support through partnerships projects, and programs that explore solutions. We must give everyone at least something that floats, to take advantage when the waters rise.

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