The pandemic is stretching the limits of school systems’ abilities to deliver education with the assistance of technology. The struggles of local and national education systems are well documented, and leaders are scrambling to address an overwhelming set of inter-connected challenges to the well-being of students, teachers, staff and administrators and their families.
The learning moments are immediate –how can we assist teachers in moving to an online format? The mandates are perennial – how can we ensure girls participation in school and equal access to digital technology for all pupils?
In the midst of this disruption, educators and their students can find opportunities for analysis, reflection and compassion. How do the conditions of globalization influence both the spread and potential containment of covid-19? What kind of vulnerabilities make certain groups more likely to contract the disease, and how are these related to systemic conditions such as poverty? Why are certain groups of people being blamed and how can we curtail this stigmatization?
In this spirit, some students at Teachers College (TC) of Columbia University are collaborating with the UNESCO office in Beijing to develop a “Coronavirus Curriculum.” The aim of this curriculum packet is to use the advent of the pandemic to explore issues central for critical global citizenship. For what is now self-evident to all is that we are living in a world that is interconnected and interdependent. What can we learn by treating covid-19 as a case study of this?
The curriculum that the TC students are working on is organized into six main themes: globalization, solidarity, critical media analysis, equality, non-discrimination and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These themes were brainstormed with UNESCO staff, who are planning to pilot the dozen lessons in Beijing schools this summer and then spread them further within UNESCO’s ASPNet Schools.
The curriculum is being rapidly developed but we have already identified learning outcomes for each theme. These themes are already well represented in the global citizenship education (GCE) literature but are not necessarily treated in depth by national curriculum. What covid-19 does is bring them into stark focus, offering a renewed opportunity for schooling systems to achieve SDG 4.7.
Globalization: Interdependence and interconnectedness, including shared crises and solutions
Solidarity: Importance of understanding and cooperation, the role of stakeholders at different levels
Critical media analysis:Distinguishing fact from opinion, media literacy
Equality: How the pandemic and other crises disproportionately affect those who are poor and vulnerable
Non-discrimination: How the pandemic and other crises can fuel discrimination, xenophobia and 'othering'
SDGs. How education systems’ responses to the pandemic can position them to meet their obligations to deliver quality education to all.
Our thinking is that one year from now – or whenever a vaccine has been developed and the world’s citizens are feeling relatively secure again – there will still be a lot to learn, and study, from the crisis. Educational leaders will have had an intensive course on the movement to online teaching; the disenfranchisement of students and systems without access to digital tools; the health hazard of children learning in large classes; and many more challenges still to be experienced, unfortunately. Addressing these challenges will equip countries to better meet their SDG promises.
The studying part can trickle into the curriculum. We watched this world crisis roll out. We recognized the disciplinary dimensions of science, politics, economics, agriculture and health. We also witnessed and experienced the inter-personal dimensions of shared vulnerability and interdependency; the ethical questions of how the behaviour of individuals affects community wellbeing; and the importance of defending groups who were stigmatized around the spread of the virus. These are truly lessons for life, including in in the era of pandemics.