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Jane Meseck Senior Director, Humanitarian Partnerships, Microsoft Philanthropies

Mac Glovinsky Learning Passport Program Manager, UNICEF

MILLIONS OF REFUGEES STRUGGLE TO ACCESS EDUCATION

We believe in learning without borders. There are 30 million children who are either out of school, or have had their education disrupted due to conflict, emergencies or natural disasters.

That’s why in 2018, Microsoft, UNICEF and the University of Cambridge began developing the Learning Passport, a digital, personalised, learning platform to enable children and young people to keep learning – wherever they are.

 

We recognised that millions of refugees and displaced populations struggled to access quality education on the move and sometimes did not have an individualised record showing their learning levels, or the courses and trainings they had completed, thereby making it extremely difficult to access the right level of education and, in the long term, limiting their future.

 

None of us anticipated the global disruption that Covid-19 would cause to children’s learning, putting educational gains at risk and threatening the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Even before the pandemic, we were already facing a learning crisis, with more than half of all ten-year-olds in low-to-middle income countries unable to understand a simple written story.

 

This has only been exacerbated by Covid-19, with a peak of more than 1.57 billion students affected by nationwide school closures in more than 190 countries according UNESCO.

 

A new UNICEF report revealed at least a third of the world’s schoolchildren – 463 million children globally – were unable to access remote learning when Covid-19 shuttered their schools. The report highlights significant inequality across regions.

 

Schoolchildren in sub-Saharan Africa are the most affected, with half of all students unable to be reached with remote learning.

 

But, just as the global pandemic’s impact is without borders, so must the solutions. Crisis comes from the Greek, ‘krisis’, which can be translated to a “turning point in a disease". We found that the crisis acted as a vital turning point for our work, as the Learning Passport was perfectly positioned as a scalable learning solution that could bridge the digital learning gap, and potentially help millions of students to bring their classroom into their home.

 

Together, UNICEF and Microsoft rapidly expanded the Learning Passport to facilitate country-level curriculum for children and youth whose schools have been forced to close.

 

Now all countries with a curriculum capable of being taught online will be able to facilitate online learning for those with devices.

 

Timor-Leste, Jordan, Somalia and Ukraine – which closed their school gates due to Covid-19 – were the first to roll out their online curriculum through the Learning Passport.

 

School children are now able to access much needed online curriculum, videos and trainings to support their learning, with additional resources accessible to parents, caregivers and teachers. Furthermore, there is a record of the courses undertaken by each student that allows them to carry that achievement with them, wherever they go.

WHAT IS A LEARNING PASSPORT?

The Learning Passport is available in Timor-Leste, Ukraine, Somalia and Jordan and will be live in Honduras, Kosovo, Zimbabwe in the coming months, with another 20+ countries currently under consideration.

 

It provides local, contextualised content, like a national curriculum and supplementary content, such as digital skills, to improve learning outcomes.

 

It can be tailored to the needs of children and every user has a personalised record of their learning history which is unique to the them, and can be taken across physical and digital borders subject to context.

As Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, noted when we first expanded the platform: “From school closures, to isolation, to a persistent sense of fear and anxiety, the effects of this pandemic are impacting childhoods worldwide. The adaptations made to the Learning Passport are a powerful reminder of what we can achieve together for children as the crisis deepens globally.”

 

As with all work focused on the SDGs, our partnership requires collaboration across public, private, non-profit and academic sectors, to ensure that every student stays engaged and continues learning.

 

Urgent and complex societal issues are clearly bigger than any one organisation, which is why partnering across sectors is one of the most effective means to deepen and broaden our collective impact.

 

A diverse range of stakeholders – governments, publishers, education professionals, technology providers and telecom network operators, to name a few – have a significant role to play in working toward these shared goals, creating a sustainable future for the next generation.

 

It is these types of partnerships between UNICEF and long-term partners like Microsoft that have the potential to make the most change for children and youth – based on a shared value approach where producing social value and addressing challenges is also good for business.

 

Many challenges to digital learning remain, however.

 

Half of the global population have no access to broadband internet and many households are without digital devices to aid learning. Unless access costs decrease, the widening education gap will lead to further socioeconomic inequality.

 

Globally, 3 out of 4 students who cannot be reached by remote learning opportunities come from rural areas and/or poor households, according to UNICEF.

 

We do not know how long the shadow of Covid-19 will hang over our classrooms, but a digitally inclusive world starts with ensuring that all children and young people, no matter their situation, have access to quality education online and offline.

 

Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to make rapid decisions, creatively solve problems and ultimately, adapt. Although it has been at a heavy cost, this is an invaluable lesson.