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Child labour figure rises to 160 million, as COVID puts many more at risk 

The report, Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward, published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), urges governments and international development banks, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, “to prioritize investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back into school”. 

Tackle root causes 

She also called for better social protection programmes “that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place”. 

Released ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on 12th June, the report warns that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw the number put to work fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016. 

It points to a significant rise of children working between the ages of 5 and 11, which accounts for just over half of the total global figure.  

And those between five and 17 in hazardous work, which is likely to harm their health, safety or moral well-being, has risen by 6.5 million since 2016, to 79 million.  

“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk”, said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.  

COVID impact 

In sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years, according to the report.  

And COVID-19 is endangering progress made in Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean regions. 

The report warns that globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic, which could rise to 46 million without access to critical social protection coverage.  

“Inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship. Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential”, Mr. Ryder explained.  

Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by COVID-19 mean that children already obliged or forced to work, may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while job and income losses among vulnerable families may push many more into the worst forms of child labour.  

Report findings  

    • The agriculture sector accounts for 70 per cent of children in child labour, followed by 20 per cent in services and 10 per cent in industry. 
    • Nearly 28 per cent of 5 to 11-year-olds and 35 per cent of those aged 12 to 14 in child labour, are out of school.  
    • Child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age but when 21 hours per week of household chores are taken into account, the gender gap in child labour narrows.  
    • Child labour in rural areas stands at 14 per cent, nearly three times higher than the 5 per cent in urban areas. 

“We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier”, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. 

“Now, well into a second year of global lockdowns, school closures, economic disruptions and shrinking national budgets, families are forced to make heart-breaking choices”, she added. 

Reverse the trend 

To reverse the upward trend, ILO and UNICEF are calling for adequate social protection, including universal child benefits; increased spending on quality education and getting all children back into school, including those forced out before COVID-19; and investment in child protection systems, rural public services and livelihoods. 

As part of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, the global partnership Alliance 8.7, of which UNICEF and ILO are partners, is encouraging Member States, regional and international organizations and others to redouble their efforts in the global fight against child labour by making concrete action pledges.  

Beginning tomorrow, the ILO and UNICEF chiefs will join other prominent speakers and youth advocates at a high-level event at the International Labour Conference during a week of action, discussing the new global estimates and roadmap ahead.   

“We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour”, said the ILO Director-General.

 

UN urges worldwide support for cultural sector to aid COVID recovery 

“As we deliberate on the role of the creative sectors in supporting and being supported by a recovery from COVID-19, let us ensure that we address the bottlenecks limiting their potential – such as inadequate policy protections and rights for the creative sector workers and business”, Volkan Bozkir told a High-level event commemorating World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. 

Economic boost 

Among other things, Mr. Bozkir said that culture offers an opportunity to address concerns over the impacts of COVID-19. 

“Far too often society is blind to the socio-economic contributions of those in the creative and cultural spheres”, he said “This is a mistake. The breadth of this sector alone – covering everything from advertising to architecture, from fashion to film and television – is immense and diverse”.  

According to the Assembly President, these sectors account for three per cent of the global economy, generate $2.25 trillion annually and support 30 million jobs worldwide – more than the car industries of Europe, Japan, and the United States combined.  

The creative sectors not only enrich our lives but are also the largest employment sectors for young people, he said. 

“Simply put, culture represents the human journey through the stream of life, and records human experience and expression from all ages and regions of the world”.  

Prioritize culture 

Despite the size, value and influence of the creative sectors, he said, “we still do not reflect this in our policy and fiscal decisions” and they remain “at the back of the queue”, vastly underestimating their overall contributions.   

Going forward, the Assembly President upheld that these sectors said they should be given the tools to thrive, and in doing so, ensure “comprehensive and up-to-date data” on their contributions toward the SDG’s economic, social and environmental pillars.  

“Only in this way can policymakers be fully informed of the benefits and act accordingly”, he stressed. 

A designated year 

The UN designated 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development to expand the global creative economy’s contributions, break silos and grow partnerships for culture.   

The Assembly President said that during the darkest days of the pandemic many found solace and comfort in music, the arts, and reading.       

“By limiting these sectors, they limit our societies’ capacities to build back better. Let us unleash these sectors’ creative energies to the betterment of all”, he said, inviting everyone to support the “transformational year”. 

Cultural ‘New Deal’ 

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chief, Audrey Azoulay, recalled that for more than a year, the COVID-19 crisis has precipitated “a cultural diversity crisis”.  

“The closure of museums and world heritage sites and the cancellation of festivals, concerts and ceremonies have plunged the world of culture into a distressing state of uncertainty, threatening in particular independent creators, who are the lifeblood of cultural diversity”, she said. 

She underscored the need for a “New Deal”, in which culture is used as “a common good” to open horizons and provide societies with connection and meaning. 

“That is why we must help it to recover, in all its strength and diversity”, Ms. Azoulay said. 

Meanwhile, the SDG’s Special Advocate Richard Curtis, told the meeting that, “you can’t fight for your rights if you don’t know what they are – and the arts have been crucial in spreading the Goals far and wide – igniting them in people’s imagination and therefore making them actually apply them in their lives.”

Lifting spirits

Music helped 89-year old Holocaust survivor Simon Gronowski cope during lockdown. He shared his story on International Jazz Day. 

Joy in South Sudan, as schools reopen after 14-month COVID lockdown

Describing the “joy” felt by children and aid workers as classrooms reopened on Monday after more than 14 months of COVID-19 restrictions, Mads Oyen, UNICEF’s chief of field operations, explained that going back to school was about more than just learning.

“Especially in a country like South Sudan, where we’re also faced with humanitarian emergencies in many parts of the country”, he explained. “Schools are places for children to be safe and to be protected and also to access basic services, school feeding and so on.”

Despite the welcome development, the UNICEF official noted that many children had not been able to return to class, their future development held up by a chronic humanitarian emergency, fuelled by ongoing violence and climate shocks.

Malaria one threat among many

The warning comes ahead of the upcoming rainy season, which brings with it a higher risk of cholera, malaria and respiratory infections.

There has already been a near-doubling of outpatient admissions in the last weeks, likely from malaria infections or reinfections, Mr Oyens said.

“(It’s) about controlling malaria, it’s about controlling any measles outbreaks, it’s about providing clean water to kids”, he explained, before highlighting the “multiple risks” that children face.

These include “violence, exploitation and abuse (and) recruitment by armed groups, still going on, psychosocial distress and family separation”.

Fewer that one in 10 children has access to child protection services, the veteran UNICEF worker said, noting that between January and March this year, the agency scaled up treatment to more than 50,000 children who were suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

The recovery rate was more than 95 per cent “in some of the most difficult-to-operate areas of the world”, he added.

Health threat to 800,000

In a related development, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned on Tuesday that life-saving healthcare for more than 800,000 South Sudanese, may have to be cut if funding is not found urgently.

“Internally displaced persons, returnees and conflict-affected populations already living in dire conditions may soon face even greater danger to their lives and health due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the onset of the rainy season and floods”, the UN agency said.

Come June, primary healthcare services may no longer be available for women and children, the elderly and those living with disabilities.

These services range from maternal and child health, including the screening of under-fives to detect malnutrition, sexual and reproductive health services and testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

‘A right and necessity’

“Health is not a luxury, it’s a right and a necessity. We must mobilize to ensure no one is left behind,” said Jacqueline Weekers, Director of Migration Health for IOM. 

“In the past year, we have learned the hard way that when some people don’t have access to health services, everyone can be at risk.”

Before COVID-19, South Sudan’s health system was already heavily dependent on humanitarian actors who now face worrying funding shortfalls, IOM said, in an appeal for $744,175 per month to continue providing life-saving care. 

Essential health services are provided in former UN Protection of Civilian sites, host communities as well as remote and hard-to-reach locations serviced by the IOM’s mobile rapid response teams

Feeling kind of blue? Holocaust survivor lifts lockdown spirits through jazz

Simon Gronowski spoke to the United Nations ahead of International Jazz Day, which is celebrated annually on 30 April as a force for “peace, unity, dialogue and enhanced cooperation among people”.

© Photo courtesy of Simon Gronowski
Simon Gronowski as a young boy in 1940 with his mother and father walking along Avenue Louise in Brussels, Belgium.

On 17 March 1943, then 11-year-old Simon Gronowski, was taken by the German Nazi regime’s secret police, the Gestapo in Brussels, with his mother Chana and sister, Ita. The young Jewish boy was being deported to the notorious Nazi death camp Auschwitz when, “by a miracle, I jumped from the train and escaped”, he recounts. His mother and sister died in Auschwitz and his father, Leon, left devastated by their deaths, also passed away within months of the end of the war. The young Gronowski was left alone in the world.

Today, nearly 80 years after his escape, Mr. Gronowski, now 89, is a Doctor of Law, with two children and four grandchildren – and a proud jazz pianist.

Music connects

“After the war, jazz helped me to find stability and integrate in society. Music unites people and brings them some joy”, he told the UN in an interview.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and first lockdown in Belgium, Mr. Gronowski played jazz “to give people courage.” He opened the window from his home in Brussels and started playing the jazz classic ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street’ from his electric piano for neighbours and passers-by.

Simon Gronowski last saw his older sister, Ita, in 1943; she later died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. © Photo courtesy of Simon Gronowski

“I look up, and I see lots of people in front of my house, and people clapping”, recounts Gronowski, who plays music by ear and takes inspiration from jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

“I feel good when I play. I feel I am bringing happiness to those around me”.

Peace through justice

It’s not just passers-by who have been treated to his music lately. To mark the 75th anniversary of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, the Netherlands on 18 April 2021, Mr. Gronowski was invited to participate in a virtual musical event which paid tribute to the work of the Court.

The ceremony was an online premiere of the piece “Hymne des Nations”, written in 1913 by Jewish-Dutch composer Charles Grelinger (1873-1942), who died while being transported to Auschwitz. Apart from a one-off performance on The Hague’s city hall bells, the piece had never been played before.

As a lawyer and survivor of the Holocaust, participating in the ceremony was a “great honour” for him, who commends the important work of the ICJ.

“The International Court of Justice is important not only to me but for all of humanity. It fights against barbarism, fascism, racism, and anti-Semitism, of which I was a victim. Thanks to the Court, we can hope that conflicts between states are resolved not through war, but through law.”

Message of hope

For nearly 60 years, Mr. Gronowski hardly ever spoke of his incredible escape. Today, he has written books and his story even inspired composer Howard Moody, to make the opera PUSH based on his life.

He now continues to tell his tale far and wide, particularly in schools, to bring a message of hope and reconciliation to the next generation.

 

“To defend today’s freedom and democracy, we have to be aware of yesterday’s evils. Life is beautiful, but it is a permanent battle. I tell young people, ‘never forget, long live peace and friendship between men’.”

Pandemic cannot become a ‘media extinction event’: UN Secretary-General

With newspapers alone losing an estimated $30 billion last year, “some fear that the pandemic could become a ‘media extinction event’”, he warned. 

“We cannot afford to let this happen”, the UN chief said in pre-recorded message.  “Maintaining independent, fact-based reporting is an essential global public good, critical to building a safer, healthier and greener future.” 

The ‘infodemic’ threat 

The Secretary-General called for countries to support the newly established International Fund for Public Interest Media, particularly to secure the future of independent media organizations in low- and middle-income countries. 

Listen below to our UN News interview with Sheetal Vyas on the issue: 

Wednesday’s discussion was held ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.  It was co-organized by the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC) in cooperation with the philanthropic organization Luminate, in support of Verified, a UN initiative to share fact-based COVID-19 information. 

The pandemic has revealed how access to reliable information is more than just a basic human right, but also a matter of life and death, and the UN has been working to counter related misinformation and disinformation, as well as hate speech, which have risen along with the caseload. 

Ghana’s Minister of Information, Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah, told participants that the “infodemic” has only added to the economic woes which the media is facing.  

“As people manufacture false materials and throw it out there, and as media revenues are cut and therefore the levels of professionalism that you require have a tendency to suffer, the compounding effect is that the credibility of media outlets is threatened, specifically when they begin airing some of these misinformed or fabricated materials over and over again”, he said. 

Salary cuts, layoffs, mental health toll 

That the pandemic is strangling media globally was confirmed in a survey of 14,000 journalists and news managers in 125 countries, conducted by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and Columbia University, both based in the United States. 

Media depend on advertising revenues, and more than 40 per cent reported declines of between 50 and 75 per cent.  The result has been salary cuts and staff layoffs “at a time when people desperately needed information”, said Joyce Barnathan, the ICFJ President. 

Their “snapshot” also revealed the pandemic’s mental toll on the people who bring us the news.   

Some 70 per cent of journalists found the psychological and emotional impacts were the most difficult part of their work.  Around one-third said their organizations had not provided them with protective equipment. Women journalists also reported “startling” attacks. 

© UNICEF/Bruno Amsellem/Divergence
Lyon, France, March 19, lockdown day 3. Anne-Lise, journalist, teleworking for TV channel Euronews with 3-year-old daughter Violette keeping close.

Democracy at risk 

As economies slowly return to a new normal, Ms. Barnathan expects ad revenues will also come back.  However, she wondered if their levels will be sufficient to fund vibrant public interest media globally because something greater is at stake. 

 “At risk is not just journalism but, in my view, the future of democracies”, she said. 

Award-winning Filipina journalist Maria Ressa supported this belief, stating that the “mission” of journalism has never been more important.  Most people now get their news from social media such as Facebook, but she said these same platforms “are biased against facts”.   

“If we don’t have facts, then we don’t have a shared reality”, said Ms. Ressa, this year’s recipient of a UN press freedom prize. “A lie told a million times becomes a fact. Without facts, we can’t have truth. Without truth, we can’t have trust.” 

Disruption and innovation 

With the current business model of journalism essentially “dead”, and advertising being siphoned off by Facebook and other tech giants, Ms Ressa stressed that public interest media organizations must “deal with the tech” to survive.   

Fellow journalist Maria Teresa Ronderos from Colombia believed the current period of “disruption” could lead to experimentation and innovation in their profession.  She underlined the need for funding. 

“But to experiment, you fail, and that is costly”, she said. “If journalism gets the support it needs at this really big, large scale, it can use the technology to do investigative reporting, to connect with people, to connect with audiences, in a much more qualitative way than it ever did.”

World Book and Copyright Day celebrates ‘fundamental importance’ of literature

For this year’s edition of World Book and Copyright Day, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay encouraged everyone “to pick up a book, start turning its pages, and draw from it a breath of fresh air, which will help sustain you now and in the future.” 

The power we need now 

She noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are turning to reading to help them escape lockdown and cope with anxiety.   

“It is the power of books that we all need right now, as we are reminded of the fundamental importance of literature – as well as the arts – in our lives.” 

Books are unique because they have the ability both to entertain and to teach, Ms. Azoulay said. 

“They are a means of exploring realms beyond our personal experience through exposure to different authors, ideas and cultures”, she said.  “They are a means of accessing the deepest places in our minds. Page by page, books light a path for us to roam, unbound by time or borders. In other words, books give us freedom.” 

Protect literary professions 

World Book and Copyright Day is observed annually on 23 April, marking the deaths of the writers William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. 

Ms. Azoulay said while the Day honours authors “whose works have been captivating our imagination for centuries”, it also pays homage to all the professions associated with books, namely editing, translation, publishing and book selling.  

“These fields make it possible to disseminate our literary heritage, to allow for the expression of new ideas, and to enable the spread of stories,” she explained.  

“These professions must be protected and their value acknowledged. This is all the more relevant in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which poses a deep and  lasting threat to culture.” 

Reading: A refuge for everyone 

The UNESCO chief highlighted the unique ability books have, to both entertain and to teach. 

“They  are  a  means  of  exploring  realms  beyond  our  personal  experience  through  exposure  to  different  authors,  ideas  and  cultures,” she said.  “They  are  a  means  of  accessing  the  deepest  places in our minds. Page by page, books light a path for us to roam, unbound by time or borders. In other words, books give us freedom.” 

Ms. Azoulay stressed that the power of books must be fully harnessed.  “We must ensure their access so that everyone can take refuge in reading, and by doing so, be able to dream, learn and reflect”, she said. 

UNESCO has designated Tbilisi, Georgia as the 2021 World Book Capital.  The city was chosen because of its focus on using modern technologies to promote reading among young people, including through a programme that transforms books into digital games, thus ensuring access to all.

‘Careers have no gender’, connect girls to tech, for a brighter future UN urges 

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) data, there is a 17 per cent gender gap in Internet use globally, which is even wider in least developed countries.  

In some regions, this gender gap is growing, reinforcing gender inequalities by denying women and girls opportunities to access education, find better-paid jobs, and start new businesses. 

“Making these technologies available to all is an essential part of building back stronger communities and economies, and addressing many of the world’s most pressing challenges”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his statement commemorating the day. 

Signalling that Girls in ICT Day aims to inspire a global movement that increases the representation of girls and women in technology, he urged everyone to “recommit to the goal of equal access for young women and girls to opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math”.   

Celebrating a decade 

While girls across the world tend to outperform boys in reading and writing skills, they continue to be under-represented amongst top performers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).  

To celebrate the 10th anniversary milestone of the day, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao threw his support behind The 10 moments of girls in ICT initiative, a year-long commitment to the next generation of young women in technology.  

As an international gender champion, he pledged to help countries raise awareness and promote the active participation of girls and young women in ICT-related careers. 

“It will be key to fulfilling the demand of future jobs on an equal basis”, he said. 

The ITU chief also committed to reinforce nations’ abilities to collect and disseminate gender and age disaggregated data on access and use of ICT and data skills, calling it “an important step towards informing, monitoring and tracking our global progress towards gender equality”. 

With more support towards education and skills training, ITU hopes to encourage more girls and young women to actively pursue careers in STEM to bridge the gender digital divide. 

Shaping the future 

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said that every girl has a right to be connected and play her part in “shaping a more equal, green and tech-driven future”.  

“This is the world we are building together through Generation Equality, and specifically, through our collective work on the Technology and Innovation blueprint, which proposes goals to bring about a more equal and diverse digital transformation”, she said in a statement. 

For every girl, the goal must be meaningful connectivity – including broadband that is reliable, fast and regularly available – along with access to digital technologies and universal digital literacy, according to Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. 

“Today, and every day, we recognize that digital power must be in the hands of girls”, she spelled out. “We have a unique window and momentum now to secure bold commitments that will ensure girls are connected and empowered to create the brighter futures the world needs”. 

Careers have no gender 

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that girls’ education is “one of the most powerful investments we can make for our collective future”. 

The UN agency also underlined the importance of mobile applications, female leadership and female entrepreneurship for sustainable development, tweeting: “Careers. Have. No. Gender”.

Iraq: UNESCO architectural design winners to rebuild iconic Al-Nouri Mosque complex 

Selected by an international jury from among 123 entries in a global competition, the winning design – called “Courtyards Dialogue” – is a major component of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) ambitious project to rehabilitate the ancient city. 

After years of control by ISIL extremists and the destruction of the iconic metropolis when they were driven out in 2017, UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay called it “a landmark moment” in restoring the war-torn city’s “fabric and history” and helping “reconciliation and social cohesion”. 

“Heritage sites and historical monuments are powerful catalysts for people’s sense of belonging, of community, and identity. They are key to reviving the spirit of Mosul and of Iraq as a whole”, she underscored. 

Revamped and re-envisioned 

The Egyptian team that won the competition consists of four partners: Salah El Din Samir Hareedy, Khaled Farid El-Deeb, Sherif Farag Ebrahim and Tarek Ali Mohamed. There were also four designer architects involved: Noha Mansour Ryan, Hager Abdel Ghani Gad, Mahmoud Saad Gamal and Yousra Muhamed El-Baha. 

They scooped the award for their imaginative reconstruction of Al-Nouri’s prayer hall and complex – and for the way it blends into its surrounding through open public spaces.  

While the hall will look as it did before the mosque was destroyed, it will reopen with better natural lighting and more space for women and visitors. 

There will be enclosed gardens too, inspired by the historic houses and gardens that were located around the prayer hall prior to its 1944 remodeling, according to UNESCO. 

International competition 

UNESCO launched the design competition last November in close coordination with the Iraqi Ministry of Culture and the Iraqi Sunni Endowment.  

In addition to being awarded the contract for the complex, the winners will receive a $50,000 prize.  

And in recognition of their work, the runners-up will also receive prizes: $30,000 to a team from India, $20,000 to an entry from Spain, $15,000 to a team in the United States and $10,000 to a team of architects from the United Arab Emirates, France, Turkey and Lebanon.

Museums must not be overlooked in pandemic recovery, UNESCO chief warns

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the entire cultural sector has been severely affected by the pandemic, with museums hit particularly hard. 

Based on data from 104,000 museums provided by 87 Member States, UNESCO has published a new update on its report from last year, Museums around the world in the face of COVID-19

The newly published report estimates that in 2020, nearly 90 per cent of museums had been closed for an average of 155 days, and since the beginning of 2021, many have had to shut their doors again, due to surging infection rates. 

This has resulted in a 70 per cent drop in attendance on average, and a 40 to 60 per cent decline in revenue compared to 2019, the agency reports. 

“In the midst of the crisis, we must not lose sight of the fundamental importance of ensuring access to culture and conserving our shared heritage in all its diversity”, said UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay. 

Essential roles 

Museums preserve heritage for future generations, promote lifelong learning, provide equal access to culture and spread the values on which humanity is based, said UNESCO.  

Their function in terms of social inclusion is also vital to help keep societies together, and they play a major role in both the creative and tourism industries. 

The authors also draw attention to traditional educational activities that are hosted by museums, such as school visits, guided tours and workshops. 

Key COVID impacts on museums 

  • For some institutions concerned, revenues have dropped up to 80 per cent compared to 2019. 
  • In 50 per cent of the States surveyed, public subsidies for national institutions have decreased, some very significantly. 
  • Some 43 per cent of museums faced closures in the first quarter of 2021. 

“The place we reserve for museums in pandemic recovery policies says a great deal about the societal values we wish to uphold”, Ms. Azoulay reminded. 

Moving into the future 

Recommendations made in Museums around the world include the implementation of a large-scale digitization policy for collections, along with measures to support more education, training and research. 

Moreover, the authors uphold the need for cooperation between museums at an international level and for public authorities to provide financial support throughout the pandemic and to strengthen cultures in the future, making the institutions more resilient. 

“States have an essential role to play in supporting museums in this difficult period, through an ambitious cultural policy, not only to guarantee their survival but to prepare them for the future”, underscored the UNESCO chief. 

The more you learn, the more you earn: education and poverty alleviation in Thailand

Chaisri Taya, a teacher in the mountainous north-west province of Mae Hong Son, is a testament to the power of education. Born stateless, he completed a bachelor’s degree and obtained Thai citizenship. He has since become a role model in his community, sharing his experience with children and youth in a language they can relate to.

UNESCO/Pornpilin Smithveja
Chaisri Taya is teaching children from disadvantaged communities in the village of Ban Nai Soi, northern Thailand, using tools from UNESCO’s Learning Coin initiative

For children in the village of Ban Nai Soi village, four kilometres from the community learning centre where Mr. Chaisri teaches, barriers to education are almost insurmountable: to reach the centre, they need to take a gravel road, which is often difficult to navigate in the flood season and, at home, they have no internet access, and limited, off-grid, access to electricity.

In addition many of them are stateless, which hinders their potential. Although all children in the country are officially guaranteed education, regardless of their status, language barriers, discrimination, lack of access to resources, financial hardship and geography create barriers to full enrolment, with an unknown number of children out of school.

“Being stateless deprives these youth of learning opportunities. Because of their status, they were not confident in attending school.” says Mr. Chaisri. “They came to start studying with non-formal education and I saw them trying hard to learn.”

UNESCO/Pornpilin Smithveja
Learning Coin student Arisa, 17, works with a tablet provided through the initiative.

The power of the Learning Coin

But Learning Coin, a UN-supported initiative, is giving them renewed motivation to embark on the difficult journey to meet their teacher. The Ban Nai Soi students travel to Mr. Chaisri’s house and the learning centre by motorbike for lessons and to download content onto digital tablets provided by the project, which they can read offline at home, advancing their education that previously might have hit, literally and figuratively, a roadblock.

Starting in July 2020, Learning Coin has expanded to support nearly 500 disadvantaged children across Thailand, from ethnic minority and stateless communities in Mae Hong Son, to disadvantaged Thai children in the southern Yala region.

The students can access multiingual content on their tablets, including lessons and reading materials. By logging data from the tablets on a daily basis, the Learning Coin app can work out how many hours each student has spent accessing the material, how consistently they have worked, and the answers they submit. Based on this information, students are awarded between 800 and 1,200 baht ($25-38) each month, accounting for as much as 10 per cent of average family income in these communities.

UNESCO/Pornpilin Smithveja
Learner Jaikham, 17, operates a Thai spicy salad food stall in Ban Nai Soi in Thailand that she opened during the pandemic.

Pandemic threatens permanent learning loss

“Whilst innovations such as Learning Coin are having a positive impact, they need to be matched at the policy level, with initiatives that address financial need and wellbeing and counter discrimination and lack of access to resources”, says Gita Sabharwal, the UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand (the highest-ranking representative of the UN development system at the country level). “There are still considerable challenges facing equitable education for ethnic and linguistic minority learners, girls and young women, and the most marginalized communities”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to these challenges, affecting marginalized communities first and most severely, causing major disruptions to education systems, and threatening permanent learning loss. Girls and young women are disproportionately at risk of losing access to their education during the pandemic, as they tend to bear the burden of family duties.

“These children have the same potential and aspirations as any others”, says Ms. Sabharwal. “As they try hard to support their families, their dreams are varied and brimming with hope: to become a doctor, an athlete or an interpreter, to live full lives within and for their community. These are the dreams that build healthy and more equitable societies for all”.

UNESCO/Pornpilin Smithveja
Telephone and internet connectivity is extremely limited in the village.

Learning Coin

  • The Learning Coin project aims to help disadvantaged children to make reading habits ingrained, for lifelong learning,
  • The first Learning Coin pilot was launched in 2018, with the support of the POSCO 1% Foundation and True Corporation, in partnership with the Foundation for Rural Youth, for about 150 learners in Bangkok and Pathumthani,
  • The initiative is supported by the Ministry of Education, Equitable Education Fund, teachers at 53 Thai public schools and community learning centres, and student volunteers from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Education, together with Mercy Centre in Bangkok and the Foundation for the Better Life of Children,
  • The programme is scalable, to support low-income and marginalized learners not only in Thailand, but across the region,
  • UNESCO and UN Thailand’s role in developing the model is underpinned by deep partnerships with government, the private sector and civil society, furthering commitments to inclusive and equitable education through relatively modest investments, supporting the learners who are most at need.

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