Around the world, students’ access to resources, advice and support varies dramatically. To Zubair, this seemed grossly unfair, and so at just 16 years old he decided to set up a blog to make learning resources available, completely free of charge. Today, with hundreds of contributors, ‘ZNotes’ has passed 24 million hits with more than 3.5 million unique visitors, becoming a go-to resource for students and teachers all around the world.
Making inclusive and equitable education available to all is critical in ensuring global peace and a sustainable future for our planet. And to recognise this, the UN passed a resolution in 2018 declaring 24th January as International Day of Education.
Now, for the fourth time in its history, the need to celebrate and remind ourselves of this message is more important than ever before. Covid-19 and ensuing lockdowns have shaken thousands of years of precedence and resulted in a global shift in how our education system works. It has also brought to light and exposed the many cracks that have existed in our system. While technology played an essential role to keep things running, it also exacerbated inequalities in education especially for those beyond the digital divide – leaving those likely to be left behind even further.
Past the doom and gloom, this year also witnessed how communities came together to support each other. Technology meant that content and knowledge that had remained inaccessible except for a select view was now being shared at incredible scales. We were able to continue to stay connected across time zones and geographies while working and studying together. And most of all, the tools allowed those who were previously unsupported by the system to now be included again, whether it was through closed captions in lectures, adjustment able visuals or simply the ability to access things from anywhere. As we get used to living with this pandemic and revert to old habits, we must remember not to step backwards but instead, take these learnings for a better future.
The theme of this year’s International Day of Education is set to “Changing Course, Transforming Education”. With inputs from over a million people, UNESCO recently published the Futures of Education report and detailed how the future requires an urgent rebalancing for our relationships with each other, with nature as well as with technology that permeates our lives. There are breakthrough opportunities available, but we must consider these under the critical aspects of equity, inclusion and democratic participation.
Regularity often reduces our sense of appreciation and the importance of something. We fall into patterns of normalcy and expectation. So, as we head into school or our university, we often forget to think what a massive privilege it is to be doing so. History books are filled with people who have fought, given their lives, to ensure this privilege is made available as widely and inclusively as possible. And even now, almost 260 million children, adolescents and youth are still out of school.
But what do I do about this?
First off, recognise it. Appreciate all that has been done for this privilege that we have – education. A gift that humanity has passed on for generations. This reflection will immediately make you more aware and cognizant of the challenges but also the opportunities that allow you to support others. In the UK, there is a multitude of charities and organisations that are trying to battle this problem whether it is through providing digital devices to learn from, free tutoring from volunteers and or mentoring for university applications. The best way to engage is to look at your local community. More often than not, there are those who are already engaged in efforts, looking for help, and your support can only multiply the impact.
In fact, at 16, I also came to the realisation of the unfair playing field and inequalities when it came to international exam systems like the GCSEs, A-Levels, and IB. I started a website to share my revision notes and over the last 7 years, hundreds have joined ZNotes in its mission by developing and sharing the very best educational resources at no cost. Together, we’ve been able to reach over 3.5 million students and garner 24 million hits from more than 150 countries of the world. In this way, there are many international organisations with opportunities to engage with them and make it easier for those who may not have access. Specifically, with ZNotes, you can support us in many ways – check that out here.
So, together, let us share far and wide the message that this day recognises. Let us celebrate the people who are working at the forefront of ensuring inclusive education is available to all. And let us join the efforts, in the multitude of different ways and context, to ensure this basic human need is met.