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GEM Report: “Lost generation” risk without post-pandemic rapid action on SDG 4

Today, 4 September, the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) released a policy paper entitled, “Act now: Reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the cost of achieving SDG 4”. The paper argues that acting rapidly as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic will reduce costs that would otherwise be necessary to meet Goal 4 on education of the Sustainable Development Goals. The report has been issued prior to a meeting convened for 8 September by the UN of Finance Ministers from the 193 UN member states to consider finance policy options for recovery.

The policy paper notes that, even before the shock of the pandemic, the world was lagging behind in achievement of SDG4, meaning that, effectively, the time left to achieve the goal had already been compressed from 15 to 10 years. Education International, in a report in 2019, “Off Track: Educators Assess Progress Towards SDG4” also voiced concern about the lag in achieving the goals and raised specific elements of the goal which were not being addressed by governments and areas where there had been further decline. 
 
The GEM paper argues that, both in terms of costs and addressing urgent COVID-19 damage to education, action in some areas should be given priority. It argues that distance learning has boosted inequalities and has placed marginalised students at an even greater disadvantage. It also maintains that there are serious risks of students dropping out rather than returning to school. EI has received reports of the increase in child labour, including in countries which had made progress under initiatives of education unions working with the EI child labour programme. In other words, outreach and remedial efforts are important in the short term or there may be permanent long-term damage to many young people. 
 
The report concludes that, “the key message of this paper is that governments can choose to invest in re-enrolment and, especially, remediation strategies to address head-on a potential vicious circle of repetition, disengagement and eventual dropout. The coming months are a critical period to act in order not to turn this student cohort into a lost generation.”
 
Education International General Secretary David Edwards, reacting to the GEM report, said, “it shows the urgency for cost, education, and equity reasons, to act quickly, particularly in low and middle-income countries. Sustained funding is also indispensable to recovery. There needs to be massive, unprecedented global solidarity not only for the future of those countries struggling the most, but also for developed countries. Health and economic crises are already turning too many on our planet into tragic victims of health and economic crises and threating our democracies” 
 
“It is far too late for action-less words on SDG4 as well as on the other SDGs. Our global responses will determine whether the right to education is more than an aspiration in many countries. The exercise of that right is a source of hope and will help to counter despair and instability and ensure a future for our children and for our communities.”