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Understanding Global Education Trends Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

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Recently, gearing up for major education’s milestones in 2022, the Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning met to discuss its strategic positioning to take forward the global education advocacy.
Ambassadors deliberated how to scale-up commitments on education and advance key stakeholders’ engagement in the year 2022. Chaired by H.E.  Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane, Permanent Representative of Japan to the UN, the Ambassadorial meeting also featured the participation of UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, Ms Stefania GIannini, and  Director of the Global Education Innovation Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Dr Fernando Reimers.
Opening up the meeting, H.E. Ambassador Ishikane voiced concerns on the global trends in education and the unprecedented shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to the education systems worldwide. Highlighting the driving force of education for development, he commended the group for being an active champion as it had raised visibility and ascertained the centrality of education for all sustainable development goals at the UN Headquarters. Referring to momentum around education, he stressed the need for the group to reimage its role and become a stronger complementary player for mainstreaming SDG4 into the latest, most pressing global issues, such as peace, climate change and digitalisation thus paving the way for increased political will to ensure every child and young person went to school and learns.
Bringing in UNESCO’s expertise, Assistant-Director General for Education, Ms Stefania Giannini, alerted on the most profound and universal disruption of education in history that happened over the past 2 years. Responding to the urgency, UNESCO supported the global mobilisation through the Global Education Coalition as ‘every government deployed diverse solutions to enable learning continuity and reopen schools safely’, she said. To accelerate progress on SDG4 and strengthen commitment to education as a public good, UNESCO also led the reform of the global education cooperation mechanism, which now counts ministers and head of agencies in its High-level Steering Committee. In adapting the global response to current challenges, it was important to scale up digital knowledge and skills to address deep inequalities in education, as well as to  improve quality content and tap on new pedagogical practices.Last year, member states united to adopt the Paris Declaration, a global appeal initiated by UNESCO and France to increase investment in education in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis – for the future of humanity and the planet.
Building on the call for global solidarity, Professor Fernando M. Reimers presented key findings of the global report “Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education”. By recognising governments as important actors that must engage with a much wider group of stakeholders, such as teachers, students, and civil society, the report identifies key issues that all countries should centre their educational systems around. In an effort to rethink education, the report calls for a human rights based approach that should lead to a transformation of the fundamental culture of education. This can include a pedagogy re-organised around the principles of cooperation, collaboration and solidarity and an interdisciplinary curricula targeted at developing a ‘new ecological intercultural stewardship’. Recommendations also suggest that the teaching should be further professionalised as a collaborative endeavour, where teachers are recognised for their work as knowledge producers and key figures in educational and social transformation.
Additionally, the organisation of schools should be reimagined as to connect education institutions to the larger ecosystem. Professor Reimers stressed that the report should be regarded as an invitation to a ‘broad global movement to a process of deep democratic and inclusive social dialogue on the future of education.
As education will be taking centre stage at the UN, Ambassadors reflected and strategised on the group’s positioning and engagement in the year 2022. The group affirmed their priority to strengthen national and global commitments around education as some called for particular attention on response to COVID -19, protection of education and lifelong learning approach. Members also welcomed UNESCO’s report on the Futures of Education as it offered a vision that would allow to better respond to emerging challenges such as “economic inequality and climate change”.

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‘Why Child’s Rights Act Still Doesn’t Apply Throughout Nigeria’

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Nigeria adopted the Child’s Rights Act in 2003, giving legal consent to both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the child. The country’s constitution states that for an international law to take effect, Nigeria’s legislature must create a national version.
But as Nigeria operates a federal system of government, the law does not automatically become applicable in all of its 36 states. In terms of the constitution, children’s issues are the preserve of the constituent states. Each state legislature must make the national law applicable within its territory. And only 25 of the 36 states in Nigeria have localised the Child’s Rights Act.
Currently, 11 states, all in northern Nigeria, have yet to domesticate the Child’s Rights Act. There are no records of discussions or debates about the Act in these state legislatures. It has been argued that other laws, including the constitution, are able to protect children. But children in those states are still subject to practices like early marriage, female genital mutilation and begging.
Why The Law Has Not Been Adopted Fully:
Apart from the federal structure of Nigeria’s government, there are other reasons the Child’s Rights Act has not been adopted by all states. Chief of them is religion, coupled with ethnic and cultural diversity. The dominant religions in Nigeria are Christianity and Islam, with a significant population being adherents of traditional African religions.
It may be simplistic to describe Nigeria as comprising “a Muslim North” and “a Christian South”. There are significant numbers of Christians in the north and Muslims in the south. But Islam does dominate in the north, in comparison to the south.
And the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria, along with some legislators from the north, characterised the Child’s Rights Act as anti-culture, anti-tradition and anti-religion. Some of the contentious issues include the definition of the child (a person below 18 years) as it pertains to child marriage, particularly for girls.
Child marriage is a prevalent practice in parts of the north. Children about the age of 10 or 12 years get betrothed or married off. While the Child’s Rights Act prohibits child betrothal and child marriage, there are other operational laws that make exceptions.
The basis for this is that in Islam, puberty is a determining factor in a (girl) child’s readiness for marriage. Fixing 18 years as the minimum age does not fit the doctrine.
Other religious concerns against the acceptance of the Child’s Rights Act include children’s right to freedom of religion, differences in the inheritance rights of male and female children, and the Shariah’s prohibition of adoption, in favour of kafalah, which distinguishes between biological and non-biological children.
Implications:
By ratifying the Child’s Rights Convention and African Children’s Charter, the Nigerian government has the overall responsibility for ensuring these are implemented in a uniform and coherent manner. The government also took on the responsibility of discouraging religious, cultural, customary or traditional practices that are inconsistent with the Charter.
Yet, at the most basic level, the government is failing to live up to this obligation. Children, a most vulnerable group on account of physical and mental immaturity, bear the brunt of this inaction. They are being denied the full protection of the law. And the consequences for many children, besides child marriage and its health and other consequences, include negative impacts on their education and overall development.
With regard to education for example, the socio-cultural Almajiri system remains prevalent in the north. The practice allows children, usually from poor homes, to be sent to “Islamic boarding schools” for religious education. Many, however, end up on the streets as child beggars, seeking alms and menial jobs for daily survival.
Successive governments have failed to incorporate it as part of the formal school system, leaving children exposed to harmful practices and abuses prohibited by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Children’s Charter and the Child’s Rights Act. In Nigeria, recruitment of these child beggars by terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram is a real threat or option.
Children Need Uniform Protection
The Child’s Rights Act and the African Children’s Charter define a child as a person below 18 years. But various laws in Nigeria define children differently and for various purposes. The government needs to take the lead in harmonising the various definitions in conformity with these international and regional laws.
A constitutional amendment would ensure unification across the nation. It should leave no loopholes for contradictory laws, particularly at the state and local levels or based on religion or customs. But a constitutional amendment is a Herculean task, hampered by some of the obstacles facing the Child’s Rights Act. It should consider the multi-cultural and multi-religious nature of Nigerian society but focus on the best interest of all children.
While the constitution does not expressly declare Nigeria to be a secular state, a harmonious approach to law making that does not vilify religion is in the best interests of the child. Religious and traditional leaders are “gatekeepers” who cannot be jettisoned. Negotiations with them should not devalue their religion, but get them to become drivers of change for the benefit of children.
The importance of public education campaigns about the issues cannot be over emphasised. The voices of children must also be amplified. Increasingly, examples from the world over show that the power to cause real change begins with the populace. In other words, political will can be secured via a bottom-up rather than top-down approach.
States that have domesticated the Child’s Rights Act also have a role to play in challenging the remaining 11 states to do the same. They can do this by showing concrete evidence of the change in the lives of children in those states.
There is no strong case to be made for domestication if it has not translated into fulfilled rights for children. For example, female genital mutilation, a prohibited harmful traditional practice, is still common in parts of southern Nigeria.
Ultimately, where children are concerned, all actions must be in their best interests. The first step in that regard is applying the Child’s Rights Act across the country.

By: Usang Maria Assim
Assim is of the University of Western Cape.

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Three Years Of COVID -19: What Hope For Children?

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As 2022 progresses, the third year of the global pandemic, the harm done to children by COVID-19 crises is increasingly evident. There is a record rise in child poverty. Also, setbacks to progress on routine vaccinations and disruption to education which has been greatest among poorest children and job losses have been greatly borne by women and youth.
COVID-19 has been a uniquely dis-equalising crisis. It is a universal crisis and for some children, the impact may be lifelong.
Children and young people are not the face of this pandemic, but they risk being its biggest victims.
The economic crisis generated by COVID-19 threatens to hit children and families the hardest.
According to analysis by Florish Data Visualisation, even before the pandemic struck, 591 million children, that is almost one in three children in the mostly low and middle income countries were considered poor by national definitions.
The vast majority of them lived in Sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia.
As families lost their sources of income and home environments turned upside down due to the devastating effects of COVID 19, children and young people found themselves more vulnerable to poverty and deprivation of their basic needs.
Available data on the impact of unemployment and the loss of parents, income due to COVID-19 pandemic are not disaggregated by age and do not reflect the realities faced by children around the world.
According to reports, impact of COVID-19 on the welfare of households with children from data collected in 35 countries including Nigeria states that households with three or more children were most likely to have lost income with more than three quarters experiencing a reduction in earnings. The report also states that income losses have left adults in one in four households with children going without food for a day or more.
Adults in nearly half of households with children reported skipping a meal due to lack of money.
“The modest progress made in reducing child poverty in recent years risks being reversed in all parts of the world. Families have expressed loss at a staggering scale. Last year,2021, inflation reached its highest level in years, more than two thirds of households with children brought in less money. Families could not afford food or essential health care services. They could not afford housing. It was a dire picture and the poorest households were pushed even deeper in poverty”, said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Director of Programme Group.
Meanwhile, Nigeria was particularly vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID-19 due to the absence of a functioning social security system capable of providing support to households that lost jobs and income during the crisis.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet noted in 2021 that although the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of the right to social security, over 70 percent people worldwide had no or only partial social security coverage.
Nigeria‘s Constitution does not provide a legal right to social security. Nigerian laws create no entitlements to unemployment or child benefits.
However, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank have urged a rapid expansion of social protection systems for children and their families support may include the delivery of cash transfers and the universalisation of child benefits which are critical investments that can help lift families out of economic distress and help them prepare for future shocks. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 200 countries or territories have introduced thousands of social protection measures and the World Bank has supported countries with approximately $125 billion.

By: Ibinabo Ogolo

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Children And Adolescents More Vulnerable To Malaria Disease -Report

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All over the world, malaria is said to be responsible for approximately one to three million deaths per year. Malaria is one of the most deadly diseases in Africa and Nigeria contributes 24 percent of its prevalence.
At global level,the most vulnerable group to malaria deaths are children under five years old and in 2019 alone, they accounted for 55 percent of total deaths. Also, 80% – 90% of the deaths each year are in the rural sub-Saharan Africa.
Malaria is the world’s fourth leading cause of death in children and adolescents. Malaria is preventable and curable, however, the lack of prevention and treatment due to poverty, war and other economic instabilities in endemic areas, results in millions of deaths each year.
According to 2020 World Malaria Report, Nigeria had the highest number of global malaria cases(27% of global malaria cases) in 2019 and accounted for the highest number of deaths(23% of global malaria deaths).
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.
There are five parasite species that cause malaria in humans and two of these species are P-falciparum and P-vivax, they pose the greatest threat. P-falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent.
In 2007, the World Health Organisation (WHO) generated the idea of World Malaria Day from Africa Malaria Day which is an event that African governments observed against the disease beginning from 2001.
At the 60th session of the World Health Assembly which was sponsored by the WHO, it was proposed that African Malaria Day be changed to World Malaria Day. This was aimed at bringing greater awareness to the global fight and to recognise the existence of malaria across the globe.
However, the World Malaria Day which is observed annually every 25th April was to bring global attention to the effort being made to bring an end to malaria.
This year 2022 theme: “Harness innovation to reduce the malaria disease burden and save lives”  aimed to highlight the importance of investment in new tools as well as more effective use of available methods to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria particularly in worse hit countries.
Here in Rivers State, the government marked the World Malaria Day by  reiterating its political will and commitment to reduce malaria disease burden among its people.
This was stated by the state Deputy Governor, Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo in a goodwill message to  commemorate World Malaria Day 2022.
She noted that since the inception of the administration of Chief Nyesom Wike in Rivers  State, the prevalence rate of malaria has reduced significantly, adding that, the state prevalence rate of malaria was 11.3 against the national prevalence of 24 percent.
Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Health, Dr Ndidi Chikaenele Utchay has called on the people of Rivers State to ensure that they get tested for malaria disease and also to endeavour  to sleep under Insecticide Treated Bed-Nets (ITBNS) in order to prevent mosquito bites. She described the treated nets as a sure safeguard against mosquitoes, noting that they are safe for use.
A report by BMC Journal on Public Health stated that children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 19 in malaria endemic African countries are the most vulnerable group to be affected by malaria.
However, the hope of ending malaria disease recieved a boost in 2021 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) approved the use of first ever malaria vaccine. WHO estimates that the vaccine could save the lives of an additional 40,000 to 80,000 African children each year.
The vaccine RTS,S or mosquirix, is not just the first for malaria but also the first developed for any parasitic disease. The vaccine was found to surpass the 75 percent efficiency goal set by WHO for a malaria vaccine to receive a nod.
Although WHO said the vaccines could save tens of thousands of young lives each year, there are concerns it may not get to the children and young people who are most vulnerable to the disease. Health experts say children and young people mostly miss out on vaccination due to inaccessibility of vaccines and poor awareness by parents about their importance.
According to WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, “the vaccine supplies are limited. As such it is important that the doses that are available are utilised for maximum impact, while ensuring continued availability of other preventive measures to those most at risk.”
Dr Moeti said RTS,S vaccine pilots have sealed implementation in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi which reached up to 900,000 children. This require a focus on research and leveraging on available evidence to ensure that targeted interventions are efficient use of resources to produce measurable results.
Recent findings to avoid malaria infection include application of mosquito repellent with DEET (di ethyl toluamide) to exposed skin, drape mosquito netting over beds, put screens on windows and door, treat clothing, mosquito nets, tents, sleeping bags and other fabrics with an insect repellent called permethrin.
Meanwhile, a report from the World Health Organisation Strategic Advisory Group on Malaria Eradication has called for renewed research and development(R & D) to boost eradication efforts.
The latest World Malaria Report showed that  US $ 851 million is needed in the period  2021-2030 for R & D into malaria vaccines,antimalarial medicines,new technologies for vector control and innovations to tackle mosquito resistance to insecticides.

By: Ibinabo Ogolo

 

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