In a world in need of sustainable development, education remains key. In fact, Quality Education is the fourth of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—recognized as a catalyst toward “socioeconomic mobility and … escaping poverty.” The pandemic, however, has threatened that progress, with 91 percent of students worldwide impacted at some point by temporary school closures and learning disruptions. As the U.N. observed, “The global pandemic has far-reaching consequences that may jeopardize hard won gains made in improving global education.”
The pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on some of the world’s most vulnerable people, with dire consequences that could last for another decade or longer. A new study from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) found that the pandemic could push an additional 207 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, bringing the total to more than 1 billion.
Fortunately, it is possible to alter these projections through the diligent pursuit of the SDGs to change the trajectory for those at risk of falling into extreme poverty. As we examine the objectives of the goals—eliminating poverty, ending hunger, improving health, pursuing gender equality, enabling decent work and economic growth, and more—we can see that learning is the cornerstone.
Around the world, organizations (both for-profit and nonprofit) must partner with governments and other entities to ensure that all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary schooling. Moreover, the pursuit of SDG 4 - Quality Education speaks directly to the need to employ the latest in learning research and advanced learning technologies. Through scalable solutions, education can become equitable, accessible, and more effective.
Unlocking Opportunity — Leaving No One Behind
When people are equipped with the right knowledge and skills, they can find economic opportunities for themselves and pursue solutions with greater equality and benefits for all within communities, countries, and across the planet. We at Area9 continue to seek ways to improve the delivery of education from K-12 initiatives to corporate learning and development (L&D) and our work in the public sector. Although we are a for-profit company, we see it as part of our mission to make the latest in learning science and technologies available to underserved populations—leaving no one behind.
For example, Area9 remains focused on supporting the education of disadvantaged youth who are at the greatest risk of not completing their education. Such efforts not only support quality education (SDG 4), but also contribute to poverty reduction (SDG 1), health and wellness (SDG 3), and gender equality (SDG 5). Here are some highlights of our current projects:
Mod På Matematik
In our work with Mod På Matematik (which translates to “courage in mathematics” or “math grit”) we are partnering with BL, the national federation of Danish social housing organizations. Students in grades 6-9 who live in social housing areas have free access to the Area9 Rhapsode™ next-generation platform and a new interactive mathematics curriculum produced by our learning engineers and subject matter experts. As of year-end 2020, the program was ongoing; limited data from 63 participating students show that:
- 89% of recruited students subsequently participate actively in the project
- 27% of participants completed at least half of the modules, and 14% completed all modules (corresponding to the 6th grade curriculum)
- On average, participants completed more than one-third (36%) of the modules
- In only 5% of cases, a student did not complete a module that has been started
As more people work and learn at home due to the pandemic, there is a greater need for healthy digital awareness. Area9 is working closely with Digital Awareness UK to provide K-12 courses and programs on digital awareness, online bullying, social media behaviors, and online security to support a healthier digital presence. Digital Awareness UK also promotes an “awareness agenda” as a corporate program for employees and their families, with solutions that can be integrated into existing learning platforms.
Vodafone Foundation and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, through the Instant Network Schools programme, have partnered with Digital Awareness UK to create courses that will educate up to 500,000 children and youth on the benefits of using the internet safely and responsibly.
By making education more efficient and effective through adaptive learning and its personalized approach, we believe we can help unlock opportunities around the globe, including:
- Africa: According to the World Bank, Africa’s working age population is expected to grow by nearly 70 percent, or by 450 million people, by 2035. Stimulating economic growth, creating jobs (particularly for young workers), and widespread training will be critical for unlocking this potential and creating stability within countries and across the continent. For example, we are partnering with Honoris United Universities, the largest private university network in Africa, with two pilot programs underway: a nursing school in Tunisia and a business school in South Afric
- India: There are currently more than 200 million K-12 students in India, four times the student population in the United State India’s rapidly growing economy has led to an increased need for high-skilled workers, creating a surge in demand for both higher education and corporate training. To develop the existing workforce and the next generation, personalized computer-based learning will be needed at scale to address the specific needs of all learners.
- Southeast Asia: Throughout much of Asia, and in particular Southeast Asia, there is a tremendous emphasis on education. However, in rural parts of the region there is a lack of trained teachers, resulting in inequity in education—especially pre-pandemic when class sizes were large, which made a high-quality education difficult to deliver. With remote learning, however, physical barriers can be removed, and more individualized instruction is possible. We will continue to seek opportunities to contribute to equity in education in the region.
Education and Character-Building
On every continent, in both developing and developed countries, in urban areas and rural locations, education must do more than merely deliver knowledge. A significant component is character-building, which should go hand-in-hand with learning to increase knowledge and skills. A foremost model is Four-Dimensional Education, as developed by the Center for Curriculum Redesign, which defines the four dimensions as:
- Knowledge - what we know and understand
- Skills - how we use what we know
- Character - how we behave and engage in the world
- Meta-Learning - how we reflect and adapt
Bringing all four aspects together, we can see that learning does not have to be robotic and mechanical; instead, the whole person can be developed. This is especially important with character to develop such key traits as mindfulness, curiosity, courage, and resilience, as well as ethics and leadership.
Through character-building, including empathy and kindness, learners may also become more interested in the world around them. They recognize the importance of not only their own development, but also opportunities for all learners. In this way, the pursuit of SDG 4 - Quality Education can become part of a virtuous circle on a global scale.
BIO: Khurram Jamil, M.D., is President of Strategic Initiatives at Area9, where he focuses on regional expansions, joint ventures, and partnerships, as well as oversees projects for all levels of education and training. With more than 20 years of entrepreneurial experience, Dr. Jamil has successfully led dozens of teams of medical professionals and educational scientists, spearheaded large development and partnership efforts, and managed multi-million-dollar educational software development projects. He is also a council member of the Center for Global Education (CGE) at Asia Society, comprised of education and business leaders from Asia, the United States, and around the world.