Today, January 24th, 2020, marks the second annual observance of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization)-declared International Day of Education. On this day we reflect on how we can all contribute towards empowering the world through education.
According to UNESCO, "the 2020 celebration will position education and the learning it enables as humanity’s greatest renewable resource and reaffirm the role of education as a fundamental right and a public good. It will celebrate the many ways learning can empower people, preserve the planet, build shared prosperity and foster peace."
The Origin and Goals of the International Day of Education
The International Day of Education was declared in 2018 by the United Nations General Assembly to celebrate the role of peace and development in education as well as to promote inclusion by political commitment to education.
UNESCO views education as key to reaching its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and according to Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO's Director General, “we will not succeed in breaking the cycle of poverty, mitigating climate change, adapting to the technological revolution, let alone achieve gender equality, without ambitious political commitment to universal education.”
UNESCO believes that "education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility", and "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."
Statistics Regarding the International Day of Education
According to statistics published by UNESCO for the 2019 International Day of Education:
- 262 million children and youth still do not attend school
- Less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school
- In sub-Saharan African, some four million children and youth refugees are out of school
- Children in rural areas are over twice as likely to be out of school than children living in urban areas in low income countries
- Only 2% of the poorest girls in low income countries complete upper secondary school
Marking the Day in Your Classroom
Depending on the age of your students, sharing and discussing these facts and figures may or may not be an appropriate way to mark the International Day of Education in your classroom.
Below are a few question prompts to help engage your students in a classwide discussion on the themes of this day. In lieu of, or in addition to classwide discussion on these questions, students can always reflect via drawing, writing, and/or group discussion.
- In the United States, all children (with very few exceptions) are required by law to attend school. Why do you think this law exists?
- What are examples of things you would not know or be able to do if you did not go to school?
Staging a debate where one group argues for compulsory education and the other against it may also work well as an International Day of Education activity for middle school and high school students.
No matter how you mark the day, be sure to take a moment to reflect on the critical role you play as an educator in the facilitation of the fundamental right of education to your students. Without educators, the ambitious goals of UNESCO could never be realized.