GoF for Education and Lifelong Learning Activities

Interview with H.E. Ms. María del Carmen Squeff, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Argentine to the United Nations

Question: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major setbacks in educational learning for students around the world. This has been exacerbated for students who lack reliable internet access, as they have been disproportionately affected by the current pandemic. In that regard, can you share with us what steps Argentina has taken to provide remote learning opportunities for students while schools are closed? 

Reducing educational inequalities is one of the Argentine government's priorities that cannot be postponed. The COVID 19 pandemic has intensified this challenge, revealing dynamics of school injustice that the health emergency has dramatically deepened, including the digital divide that severely affects children's educational opportunities from the poorest families. 

On 16 March 2020, Argentinean schools suspended their face-to-face activities. From that moment on, a series of actions and programmes were deployed that sought to guarantee pedagogical continuity through virtual means and, at the same time, through the production of analogue pedagogical resources and inputs that would guarantee the right to learning for children and young people whose living conditions did not allow access to digital devices and connectivity. 

Within this framework, the Seguimos Educando Programme was developed, aimed to produce and distribute educational resources in digital, printed, television and radio formats for students at all levels of compulsory education. Through it, theuring 2020, 50 million notebooks with educational activities were distributed, organized weekly for all ages of the school cycle; more than 2,000 hours of educational radio and television were produced and more than 120,000 notebooks were distributed to families in vulnerable educational situations. 

Likewise, the Ministry of Education continues to develop the Juana Manso Federal Plan with free and open access to digital pedagogical resources for pupils, students, and teachers. This public platform allows browsing and is a pioneering initiative in Latin America free of charge and is a pioneering initiative in Latin America.

The process of safely reopening educational institutions is accompanied by rigorous health monitoring, with the Cuidar Escuelas Platform, which makes it possible to monitor all schools' epidemiological situation in real-time.

It is worth noting that, from the perspective of the Argentinean government, the challenge of reducing the digital divide is not only reduced with access to technology and the expansion of the internet network, but also with an effort of pedagogical production that allows for the expansion of learning opportunities for all, leaving no one behind. 

An agenda that is in line with our National Education Law, which affirms education as a right and the obligation of the national state to guarantee the teaching-learning processes, providing all the necessary tools for the exercise of that right. 

The cross-cutting role of education in our contemporary societies is inscribed in the conception that sustainable development cannot be achieved only through technical solutions, regulatory policies, or fiscal incentives, but requires a fundamental change in the capacities, knowledge, attitudes, and values of all individuals and communities and values of all people, and that only education at all levels and in all contexts can make it possible to build more just, peaceful, sustainable and egalitarian societies. 

In this sense, it is the mandate of education systems to create and maintain an enabling environment for young people to exercise their rights and fulfill their obligations, to grow as human beings, to develop as critical subjects and to be heard, taken into account and valued as social agents and knowledge holders in specialized fields. 

Hence, in the critical context of the pandemic we are going through, we have developed various strategies at all levels of the education system with emphasis on the connectivity plan and distribution of equipment to get through the present, but also to guarantee the incorporation of young people into the full life of any adult subject in the near future. 

In parallel to the tools to guarantee pedagogical continuity in this particular situation (such as those mentioned above), we also focus on building a more resilient education system, as we have proposed at the G20, UNESCO, the OEI, and other international bodies. Because in a scenario of profound social transformations, it is essential to discuss what the foundations for the education of the future will be; to identify the skills required to favor integration into the society of the future and the world of work, and to guarantee their lifelong development. 

Consequently, we launched several initiatives, one of them being the National Programme of Education for Work and Sustainable Development, under the slogan "Training to work, working to produce". In these initiatives, we emphasize the holistic development of young people, promoting skills for an inclusive and sustainable future, critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, communication, flexibility and collaboration, and digital skills such as programming, big data analysis, and robotics. 

Question: The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with challenges and opportunities. Now is really the time to chart a vision of how education can emerge stronger from this global crisis. Looking ahead, what is Argentina's plan or strategy for harnessing education technology to empower schools, educators, and students and accelerate the digital transformation in education? 

To answer this question, we need to consider actions at two interrelated levels: the national level and the international level

At the national level, we begin 2021 with one of the most significant budget increases in Argentine education in these almost 40 years of democratic life. We will exponentially expand the investment and distribution of netbooks, reaching more than 500,000 computers to support connectivity and access to digital content in the framework of the combined education processes (face-to-face and virtual) that we are undergoing. Similarly, we will develop an ambitious teacher training programme that will expand opportunities for updating and, in particular, improve the digital skills of our teachers. We will carry out further development of infrastructure and equipment; a digital inclusion plan; technical education; among other initiatives. 

Finally, we decided to increase by more than 50% the number of students benefiting from the ProgresAR Scholarships, a comprehensive programme of educational scholarships that accompanies students at all levels of education during their academic career, through an economic incentive and personal stimulus, which would allow them to advance in their studies until they complete them. 

At the international level, international cooperation has proven to be a vital tool to accompany and design priority strategies to support the actions carried out against the effects of the coronavirus in the field of education. We must strengthen and expand all international educational cooperation partnerships. No country will emerge from this pandemic alone. And no education system will be able, in isolation, to design the best alternatives to a crisis that has unified our agendas and our challenges. 

As the Minister of National Education, Nicolás Trotta, together with the 24 ministers of the different Argentinean jurisdictions have said at the Federal Education Council: "without health there is no present and without education, there is no future". Guaranteeing the future of social justice, opportunities, well-being, and dignity that our people deserve requires strong decisions in education.