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UN: COVID ‘wiped out’ 20 years of education gains

Covid wiped out education banner

Pathways programs aid in recovery, breaks down barriers to higher education

Two decades ago, the World Bank cited the low quality of education, inefficiency, and inequity as factors contributing to a “crisis” in higher education. While the education sector took great strides to improve—and it has, thanks to modernization—the United Nations has recently reported that the pandemic dealt a crushing blow to the world’s progress in education.

Key Points at a Glance

  • [COVID-19] wipes out the progress achieved in education over the past 20 years: UN.
  • UN Sustainable Development Goal 4.3: All women and men should be ensured equal access to “affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university” by 2030.
  • Pathways may help break down barriers to higher education.
  • Financial savings is one key advantage for students in pathways programs.

“[COVID-19] wipes out the progress achieved in education over the past 20 years,” stated a report in the section of its website hosting information, news and updates about its Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) titled, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

While the numbers look bad, the report sees a recovery to past levels by 2024, but only when “exceptional measures” have been taken.

Effects on higher education

The report presents an issue affecting students from Grades 1 to 8. From a macro perspective, these young learners are supposed to be those who have yet to make the decision to pursue higher education from wherever they are in the world. Of course, with a devastating phenomenon such as the coronavirus pandemic, there is a ripple effect to be expected.

The aforementioned SDGs were adopted by the UN in 2015 as a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.”

SDG 4 has a section devoted to higher education. The target set by SDG 4.3 is that by 2030, all women and men should be ensured equal access “to affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.”

Indeed, higher education has evolved through the years, as it has become more accessible to everyone and not just to the elite members of society.

If there are positive things about modern higher education, it is that technology has helped it grow, and the arrival of the internet has made knowledge more attainable. 

In one way, these things solve the problem of inefficiency. As witnessed during the pandemic, education delivery through virtual or remote learning is possible, although there is still a lot yet to be learned and accomplished

On the other hand, the quality of education is enhanced, and this is evident with the recent boom of the international education sector. International student recruitment has been enjoying highs before the pandemic. Now, international study is still made possible as institutions are offering pathways programs via strategic partnerships with other schools.

Path to equity

With the growing number of international students in the global market of higher education, and the general advancement of each and every higher education institution as a modern global education provider, pathways are also seen as a good opportunity to lessen the equity gap among international higher education students. 

SDG 4.5, tackles the importance of equity. The UN calls for institutions to “eliminate gender disparities and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.”

From this statement, several equity issues can be identified, and some solutions highlighted:

Cultural, gender biases. Students greatly attach themselves to their identities, and this affects how they engage with people on campus. Students usually identify themselves according to race, ethnicity, foster experience, gender, and disabilities. With pathways, institutions have the chance to implement reform focused on closing equity gaps.

Financial constraints. When it comes to higher education, finances are a major issue. 

“Both high tuition costs and the difficulties of paying bills while studying are critical factors. Concerns about affordability in higher education keeps many potential high school graduates from even applying,” stated a report by Education Data.

Some pathways programs allow for students to start their studies in their home country before completing it in their host institution in destination countries. This way, students can save on tuition, travel and living costs and expenses. More students have the opportunity to pursue higher education through study abroad programs.

Student confidence. For some students who are considering studying abroad, English proficiency may be an issue. However, some pathways programs offer courses, which help in preparing students for a better study abroad experience. This is one way how pathways help students improve in confidence, helping them achieve more in school and beyond. Through a pathways program which requires educators to focus more on a student’s academic journey, perhaps, the dropout rates in colleges and universities can be helped.

Exceptional measures

In this modern age, it is only a matter of time until institutions around the world soon turn their full attention into building, maintaining, and promoting pathways programs. Pathways provide institutions and students alike with multiple benefits and opportunities.

The global education market is now in the age of transformation, given the variety of new student pathways program options available. Especially in a post-pandemic educational environment, key advantages for pathways programs include huge financial savings and a boost in student confidence.

Lastly, students navigating higher education through pathways options have a good picture of what is expected of them, and have an idea how much effort they need to exert in their studies for them to succeed.

Data sources:

Rollin, K. (1996, March) The World Bank and UNESCO on higher education. International Higher education. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/44820414_The_World_Bank_and_UNESCO_on_higher_education 

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. United Nations. Retrieved from https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2021/goal-04/

The SGDS in action. UNDP. Retrieved from https://www.undp.org/sustainable-development-goals

Indicators and a Monitoring Framework. Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Retrieved from https://indicators.report/targets/4-3/

Higher education today: Why flexible learning pathways are the way forward (2020, February 27) IIEP-UNESCO. Retrieved from http://www.iiep.unesco.org/en/higher-education-today-why-flexible-learning-pathways-are-way-forward-13340

Armstrong-Mensah, E. (2020, September 25) COVID-19 and Distance Learning: Effects on Georgia State University School of Public Health Students. Frontiers in Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2020.576227/full

Equity in Education. UNESCO. Retrieved from http://uis.unesco.org/en/topic/equity-education

Equity Issues in College and Career Pathway Teaching and Learning Practices (2018, April 26) University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED586441.pdf

Challenges facing Asian international students: #StopAsianHate, campus diversity. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://msmhighered.com/insights-post/challenges-facing-asian-international-students-stopasianhate-campus-diversity/

UNESCO Report Outlines Gender Inequality in Higher Education. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from ​​https://msmhighered.com/insights-post/unesco-report-outlines-gender-inequality-in-higher-education/

Integrating Racial Equity into Guided Pathways. Student Success Center Coaching Program. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED608157.pdf

College tuition trends, health concerns, and consequences post-pandemic. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://msmhighered.com/insights-post/college-tuition-trends-health-concerns-and-consequences-post-pandemic/

College dropout rates. Education Data. Retrieved from https://educationdata.org/college-dropout-rates

English proficiency is important for study abroad. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://msmhighered.com/insights-post/english-proficiency-important-for-study-abroad/

Mintz, S. (2021, March 1) The Single Biggest Equity Issue in Higher Education. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-gamma/single-biggest-equity-issue-higher-education

Global education and pathway options in the new normal. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://msmhighered.com/insights-post/global-education-and-pathways-post-covid-msm-higher-ed/


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