On 8 September the world celebrates literacy on International Literacy Day. In 2020, not surprisingly, the focus is on Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond with a focus on the role of educators and changing pedagogies. The UNESCO document released on the occasion does not mention or indicate parents as educators while their starting point is the sudden disappearance of schooling at the beginning of the global COVID-19 panic. Also, the document still focuses on formal education while the world of education has understood and accepted the role of non-formal and information education in inclusion and equity, while largely equates literacy with reading while this has been an outdated approach and experts have long taken basic litearcies into account. Having developed the #NewEducationDeal #ParentsFirst initiative based on parents’ experiences, Parents International is obliged to demand more focus on parents and the necessary partnership between schools and families. One of the main learning points of the 2020 panic and subsequent crisis is that parents will play an increasing role in the learning of their children, but we have also learnt that literacy in the 21st century is far beyond being able to read a text. Parents, schools and governments must work in partnership and when considering new pedagogies, there is a major need for focusing on empowering parents to become even better educators of their children.
When we entered 2020, we were already aware of the global learning crisis for about 2 years. A very high percentage of children attending school, do not acquire basic skills, not even the most basic reading and arithmetic ones according to a World Bank report. With content-heavy curricula and a growing pressure of standardised tests on the one hand, and real world demands not being met by curricula on the other hand, it is clear that there is no agreement on what is to be meant by basic skills, competences and knowledge. Parents International has started building a wide global coalition to iterate the notion of ‘basic’ when it comes to the learning of children.
In the Spring of 2020 a high percentage of parents were left totally alone by school, while an even higher percentage found themselves in the unwanted role of teachers (while also trying to meet labour market challenges in a totally different world) with little or no pedagogical support from professionals. During the school closures all over the world, it became apparent that while a lot of teachers were unable to understand the difference between children attending school and children doing their schoolwork at home, parents were rarely considered as equal partners when designing workload, only a few teachers and schools had any procedure in place to support parents who were less able to teach their children according to schools’ demand.
These experiences brought forward the #NewEducatioDeal #ParentsFirst initiative. Governments, schools, NGOs, teachers, parents’ organisations and school leaders have joined the initiative with the aim that is very similar to the UNESCO initiative for International Literacy Day: better education for all children – but based on the understanding of the role of parents as primary educators. We believe that the omission of parents as educators from the UNESCO document is just a mistake. Parents in 2020 so far have proven again – although it has been justified by ample research – that they are the most important educators of their children, and global literacy can only be achieved if parents as educators and their needs are in the focus of international as well as national and local education policies, being provided the necessary resources, human and financial alike.
At the same time, it is also urgent to change the lenses and see the whole educational environment around the individual child. Schools seem to be failing them, especially on their own, so initiatives by the UN and its organs, focusing on Sustainable Development Goals should not focus on the school only anymore, but those non-formal and informal education provisions that are often more beneficial for the child. A possible silver lining of the COVID-19 experiences is that school will not go back to their old normal, but with an open schooling approach, taking into account evidence based initiatives such as the #NewEducationDeal #ParentsFirst initiative, change forever and thus overcome the Global Learning Crisis.