Image courtesy UN.

The world’s commemoration of the third International Education Day occurs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that led to a global learning disruption of unprecedented scale and severity.

The closure of schools, universities and other learning institutions, as well as the interruption of many literacy and lifelong learning programmes, has affected the lives of over a billion students—more than 91 per cent of students in over 190 countries.  In fact, by April 2020, close to 1.6 billion children and youth were out of school, and nearly 369 million children who relied on school meals needed to look to other sources for daily nutrition.

As a new year begins, the United Nations says now is the time to step up collaboration and international solidarity to place education and lifelong learning at the centre of the recovery and the transformation towards more inclusive, safe and sustainable societies.

The theme of International Education Day 2021 is “Recover and revitalize education for the COVID-19 generation”.  UN Secretary-General António Guterres has issued a challenge to countries around the world, in his remarks to commemorate today:

“We must do far more to advance Sustainable Development Goal 4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” he says.

The UN notes that never before have so many children been out of school at the same time, disrupting learning and upending lives, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised.

“The global pandemic has far-reaching consequences that may jeopardize hard won gains made in improving global education,” the UN points out as it observes International Education Day in 2021.

Image courtesy UN.

●   Before the coronavirus crisis, projections showed that more than 200 million children would be out of school, and only 60 per cent of young people would be completing upper secondary education in 2030.

●   Before the coronavirus crisis, the proportion of children and youth out of primary and secondary school had declined from 26 per cent in 2000 to 19 per cent in 2010 and 17 per cent in 2018.

●   More than half of children that have not enrolled in school live in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than 85 per cent of children in sub-Saharan Africa are not learning the minimum

●   617 million youth worldwide lack basic mathematics and literacy skills.

●   Some 750 million adults – two thirds of them women – remained illiterate in 2016. Half of the global illiterate population lives in South Asia, and a quarter live in sub-Saharan Africa.

●   In 10 low- and middle-income countries, children with disabilities were 19per cent less likely to achieve minimum proficiency in reading than those without disabilities.

●   4 million refugee children were out of school in 2017

●   Enrolment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91 per cent but 57 million primary age children remain out of school.

●   An estimated 50 per cent of out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-affected areas.

UN Secretary-General’s message 2021

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations. (Image courtesy the UN)

We must do far more to advance Sustainable Development Goal 4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.


When education is interrupted, it affects everyone – especially students, teachers and families.

Today, on the third International Day of Education, I pay tribute to their resilience in the face of a pandemic that, at its peak, forced almost every school, institute and university to close its doors.

Although this disruption has led to learning innovations, it has also dashed hopes of a brighter future among vulnerable populations.

All of us pay the price.

After all, education is the foundation for expanding opportunities, transforming economies, fighting intolerance, protecting our planet and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

As the world continues to battle the pandemic, education – as a fundamental right and a global public good – must be protected to avert a generational catastrophe.

Even before the pandemic, some 258 million children and adolescents were out of school, the majority of them girls.

More than half of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries were not learning to read a simple text.

In 2021, we must seize all opportunities to turn this situation around.

We must ensure the full replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education fund, and strengthen global education cooperation.

We must also step up our efforts to reimagine education – training teachers, bridging the digital divide and rethinking curricula to equip learners with the skills and knowledge to flourish in our rapidly changing world.

Let us commit to promote education for all — today and every day.”

Image courtesy UN.

Education is a human right

The right to education is enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration calls for free and compulsory elementary education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, goes further to stipulate that countries shall make higher education accessible to all.

Education is key to sustainable development

When it adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, the international community recognized that education is essential for the success of all 17 of its goals. Sustainable Development Goal 4, in particular, aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030.

Challenges to achieving universal education

Education offers children a ladder out of poverty and a path to a promising future. But about 265 million children and adolescents around the world do not have the opportunity to enter or complete school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school. Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable. >

Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.

Image courtesy UN.

Other important education-related observances in 2020

●   World Braille Day (4 January)

●   International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February)

●   International Mother Language Day (21 February)

●   World Youth Skills Day (15 July)

●   International Literacy Day (8 September)

●   International Day of Sign Languages (23 September)

●   World Teachers Day (5 October)