Go lead the Global Education Movement to Build Back Better

Remarks at 2021 Commencement ceremony of graduates of the International Education Policy Program. May 27, 2021

Congratulations to all of you who are graduating from the International Education Policy Program. I share your joy today, mindful of the significance of this moment in your lives and in your profession. There are four reasons this graduation, you graduation, is especially meaningful to all of us.

The first reason, you are members of the last cohort of students admitted to the International Education Policy Program. As you know this program, established twenty years ago, is no longer a program available to future incoming students to the school. Creating and leading this program has been one of the greatest sources of joy in my life. Knowing the wonderful work that the graduates of this program, since the first class twenty years ago, do in advancing educational opportunity around the world gives me deep satisfaction. This wonderful community, which you join today, leads a global education movement to provide all children opportunities to become architects of their own lives and contributing members of their communities, who can join others in improving the world. As the sun sets on this program on Appian Way, all of you who graduated from this program, this powerful community of change makers, will continue to do the important work of making the world better through education. I am so glad you are able, as the last class of students in the program, to join this community.

The second reason this year will be memorable is because the pain and loss inflicted on the world by the covid-19 pandemic. More than three million lives lost to this plague, each one of them impacting at least nine other members of those families in ways that will last for years to come. The education crisis the pandemic created has altered the educational opportunities, trajectories and future opportunities of millions of students the world over. Students around the world have been set back several grade levels, many have dropped out, to not return. As a result, decades of global education progress have been wiped out just in a year. This pain and this loss will mark your future careers in many ways.

The third reason this year will be memorable is because of the resiliency and commitment you have demonstrated. That in the midst of this global calamity you persevered in the important task of preparing yourself to advance education, that in spite of the challenges affecting your lives and our ability to come together in person as a community you nevertheless persisted, will cause me to remember you all, your resiliency, your persistence, for as long as I have memories.

The fourth reason this year will be memorable is because you graduate, to take your place in leading the global education movement, at a time when this leadership is critical. The challenges caused by the pandemic can only be addressed if people with your skills, with your resolve, with your commitment, choose to take them on, and take them on you will, I am certain.

So let me remind you of some of the challenges in need of your good leadership, and suggest also some of the possibilities.

There are at least five ways in which this pandemic will influence education in the foreseeable future: it will cause a new austerity in public spending in education, the result of the demands caused by the health crisis and of the recession, it will cause austerity in households, especially for the most vulnerable, who have been those most affected by the pandemic, the lives lost will continue to impact the relatives who survived for some time to come, the interruption of schooling caused many children to regress in their skills and knowledge and many of them to disengage with school and to drop out, and the pandemic and its aftermath will have a multiplier effect on pre-existing challenges. Those were educational challenges, challenges in social inclusion and inequality, challenges in inclusive economic competitiveness, challenges of social fragmentation and violence, challenges of democratic governance and climate change. Those are the challenges that the United Nations Development Goals propose a solution to, advancing towards the achievement of those goals has never been more necessary and important. It will only happen if you step up to lead.

There are, perhaps, some silverlinings that this pandemic has given the field of education. As a result of the difficulties in trying to educate during this period, we have all learned that no one learns very much when they are in fear, that the only way to educate is to see our learners as whole human beings, that to educate their mind we need to help them develop their emotions, their self-knowledge and their social skills. We have learned that to educate well we need to think clearly about what purposes matter, and that the ethical development of our students is essential if they are indeed to be able to build a better world at a time of great need. We have learned that one of the most important things we can do as educators is to help students develop a sense of purpose, the capacity to learn autonomously, and to manage themselves and their own learning, so they can become lifelong learners. The pandemic has taught us that we need to think broadly about the skills that matter, that just as knowledge is crucial, so are resiliency, perseverence, creativity, empathy and the capacity to treat others in ways that lead to productive collaboration. We have learned that to support the development of such breath of skills schools need high quality curriculum and well supported teachers, capable of leading deeper learning, where students learn from their experience engaging in challenging problems and projects. We have learned that no two students are alike, and that good teaching meets each student where they are, and supports each person to achieve the goals they set for themselves. The pandemic has taught us that we need to think differently about the teaching profession to produce powerful learning, as the result of the work of teams, capable of collaboration, and that we need to have schools that can learn. The pandemic has also made visible the importance of collaboration and partnership, and of good leadership to steer these institutions so they can prepare all students to invent a better future.

To realize those silverlinings, to take these lessons learned during the pandemic and act on them to transform all schools around the world into institutions that truly give each student the opportunity to take charge of their lives and build a better future we need each and every one of you, we need your leadership, your commitment. I am grateful for your commitment to that task, for the privilege to have taught you. I am reassured to know that in the midst of all the challenges of the world, you will do all in your power to build an education renaissance out of the ashes left by this pandemic. Members of the class of graduates of the International Education Policy of 2021, I salute you!



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Fernando M. Reimers

Expert in Global Education, researching and teaching how to educate children and youth so they can thrive in complex and fluid times.