The International Day of Education 2021, with its theme ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation’ promotes the efforts and initiatives of countries around the world to mitigate the deleterious impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on education and safeguard the future of learning.

Education systems across the globe have experienced severe and unprecedented disruption in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The United Nations estimates that 1.6 billion students from over 190 countries have been affected by the closure of learning institutions and programmes, with one third of the world’s students unable to access remote alternatives.

Trinidad and Tobago has not been spared the far-reaching effects of the virus, with most educational institutions shuttered since March 2020, and teaching shifted almost exclusively to online platforms. Remote learning has enabled many students to continue their academic journey, while others on the other side of the glaring digital divide are at risk of falling behind. At the beginning of the pandemic, the Ministry of Education estimated that around 65,000 students lacked the connectivity and devices needed to continue their schooling. Generous donations from public and private sector individuals and institutions have reduced that figure, but far too many children remain isolated and disconnected from their fundamental human right to education.

There have been other serious knock-on effects of the disruption to the education system. Many children have lost access to regular and nutritious meals usually obtained via the school feeding programme and others have experienced increased abuse as a result of spending more time than usual at home. The pandemic even affected the administration, grading and review process of critical exams, leaving many students disappointed and frustrated. Teachers have also faced an uphill battle in adjusting their teaching methods for digital platforms, managing and monitoring students online and reaching those without regular access to devices and connectivity.

I reiterate the statement that I made at the 2019 President’s Medal Awards Ceremony—we must re-think the education system. Covid-19 has served as a wake-up call for all of us to ensure that the system becomes resilient, flexible, innovative and ready to weather present and future crises. With schools scheduled to open next month, it is imperative that the challenges thrown up by Covid are addressed.

Our educational institutions should be properly outfitted and equipped for both physical and virtual learning and teachers trained continuously in the administration of both frameworks. The curricula should be reimagined with less emphasis on examinations as a placement tool and our children provided with the technological tools and instruction they need to access and succeed at learning.

On this International Day of Education, let us commit to strengthening and modernising our education system so that our young people—our most precious asset—can thrive in this ever-evolving world.