Indian teacher joins educationists in worldwide girls’ education drive

London, Aug 23 (PTI) Indian teacher Ranjitsinh Disale, winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2020, has joined worldwide leaders from across the public, private and philanthropic sectors to call for an acceleration of girls’ digital access, digital skills and participation in online learning in a pandemic-hit scenario.

The open letter calls for action by the international community to ensure girls have equal access to the technology and digital skills training they need to learn, and to protect and prioritise domestic and international financing for girls’ education amid COVID-19.

One of the greatest challenges I have faced as a teacher is turning round girls’ low attendance at my school, says Disale, a teacher from Maharashtra.

Globally, this challenge will only be made harder by COVID-19 and, unless we act, I fear a generation of girls will find themselves left behind. World leaders must prioritise girls’ education not just in their words, but in their actions and, crucially, in their budgets, he said.

The initiative follows a recent Building the Bandwidth Summit, convened by the UK-based Varkey Foundation, UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, and CJ Cultural Foundation.

The open letter, whose signatories include Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF; Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO; and Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait; comes in response to growing concerns that the adverse impact of the pandemic could result in around 11 million girls not returning to school.

Despite the best efforts to introduce remote learning during this pandemic, 43 per cent (706 million) of the world’s learners lack internet access and in sub-Saharan Africa 82 per cent of learners lack internet access. Sadly, millions of girls may never return to the classroom, said Giannini, Assistant Director-General at UNESCO.

At the same time, in poorer contexts, many girls and young women lack access to the technology and digital skills that are now so essential to learning, and they continue to miss out on STEM education.

The shift to online learning also presents risks for girls with over half of young women and girls globally reporting they have experienced online abuse. Governments must learn the lessons from this pandemic and act decisively to ensure all children receive a quality and safe education in this age of COVID-19 and beyond, she said.

The letter’s signatories fear the inequalities and risks to girls’ education are likely to be compounded by shrinking budgets due to the pandemic’s economic devastation.

Heekyung Jo Min, Executive Vice-President of CJ CheilJedang, said: Unless we nurture girls’ talents, encourage their curiosity and inspire their creativity, we will miss out on the potential of half of humanity. We cannot allow COVID-19 to deprive young women of the better future that, if the world acts now, is within their grasp.

Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Global Teacher Prize, added: COVID-19 threatens to turn the clock back decades on girls’ education. We know that technology can play an enormous role in bridging the education divide, but only if it reaches every child in every part of the world irrespective of their gender.