Remarks by the UN Resident Coordinator, Fiona McCluney
It gives me a great pleasure to join Minister Damir Sehovic and participants of this Coordination meeting and especially to support our sister agency UNICEF in its continuous and fruitful collaboration with the Ministry of Education to strengthen the education system for the benefit of every child and young person. It is only through partnerships and collaboration, that we can overcome these dramatic consequences for all of us, but especially children and youth, of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A staggering number of 1.5 billion children and youth worldwide were left out of school across the world as lockdown measures came into force. Not going to school represents a risk to children, not only to their educational progress, but for many also in their protection and wellbeing.
Schools do much more than teach children how to read, write and count. They also provide nutrition, health and hygiene services, mental health and psychosocial support and dramatically reduce the risk of violence to children, the likelihood of early pregnancy and more. It is the most vulnerable children who are hardest hit by school closures. From previous crises we know that the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. Especially affected are Children and adolescents with disabilities who may face new barriers in access to basic services; young refugees and displaced children, children and adolescents from vulnerable communities, in particular girls. All are at greater risk of dropping out from schools or never accessing education again.
Turning to Montenegro’s response, I would sincerely congratulate the country and the education system in their rapid and effective response to disruption in education especially by introducing various remote teaching modalities. #UciDoma is considered a great success and has shown Montenegro’s education system to be resilient and adaptable to new challenges. Yet despite prompt and effective action not all children were able to benefit from remote learning and some may struggle to catch up with the curriculum or even drop out. According to the World Bank estimates, learning loss will be unavoidable and considerable, disproportionately affecting the disadvantaged, with a larger share of students falling back into functional illiteracy and potentially dropping out of school altogether.
The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently called on governments and donors to prioritize education for all children, including the most marginalized, and established a Global Education Coalition to support governments in strengthening distance learning and facilitating the reopening of schools. The coalition includes many multilateral partners, including those with us today the International Labour Organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees, UNICEF, WHO, World Bank.
The Global Education Coalition stresses the need for swift and coordinated support to countries in order to mitigate the adverse impacts of school closures, in particular for the most disadvantaged. It seeks to facilitate inclusive learning opportunities for children and youth during this period of sudden and unprecedented educational disruption. It has defined four key goals:
To help countries in mobilizing resources and implementing innovative and context-appropriate solutions to provide education remotely, leveraging hi-tech, low-tech and no-tech approaches
To seek equitable solutions and universal access
To facilitate the return of students to school when they reopen to avoid an upsurge in dropout rates; and
To ensure coordinated responses and avoid overlapping efforts – which is exactly why we are here today. It is only through joint, well-thought out and synergetic interventions we can help create a safe and quality school environment for all children and youth of Montenegro.
Improving and scaling up COVID-19 response policies that have worked, including reducing the digital divide and building teachers’ digital skills, will build system resilience to future shocks. Additionally, focusing on dropout prevention, enhancing early education and care services with a focus on disadvantaged children, strengthening teacher training, enhancing education financing and performance monitoring will lead to improvements of education quality and equity in the medium and long-term. For these reasons the United Nations in Montenegro has put a strong emphasis on education especially to “Secure sustained learning for all children, and adolescents, preferably in schools” as part of the UN Socio-economic Response Framework that will guide the UN’s support to the Government of Montenegro.
Finally, while the challenges of the crisis are enormous, it also presents an opportunity. Building on the crisis response Montenegro is a position to make education more effective, inclusive and resilient. A joint vision and close coordination among partners is essential if we are to realise the promise made in Sustainable Development Goal 4 - “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” On behalf of the UN System I hope this meeting is a first step to make this vision a reality for all children and youth in Montenegro.