Transforming Education for Just and Sustainable Futures

By Kristina Lekova

On June 28th, the International Commission met to discuss the future of education and the need for educational transformation to make the system more sustainable and just. The IC was summoned in 2019 as an independent institution by UNESCO and is now led by the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zewde. The Commission focuses on rethinking the role of education regarding current opportunities and obstacles. Following the 2021 UNESCO report “Reimagining our Future together: a new social contract of education”, the IC released a report with a list of changes in the school system, teaching, and the digital sector, which includes five directions of transformation. According to UNESCO, transforming education is a process by which the educational system is altered for entire nations to focus on learners through supporting teaching. The information described in the IC is not a complete overturning, but rather a “metamorphosis”, a sustainable and stable change. Due to current disparities in education, the call sounds relevant, and much needed as the change and progress made worldwide are highly uneven. Under a similar program, the primary school completion rate in Chad significantly improved between 2015 and 2019, with a 24% female and 31% male primary graduation rates increasing to 29% and 38% by 2019. In the nearby country of Mali which has utilized traditional educational models, the percentage of both male and female youth dropped by 2% from the year 2015 to 2018. However, due to differences in educational systems around the world, the approach to education must be constructed in each context according to each state’s spending, social, political, and economic problems, as well as rates of gender and class inequalities.  

This UNESCO initiative is organized into five policy changes, what they describe as directions. The first is to make the educational system a place of equal opportunity. The Commission calls for changes in school systems while protecting them as places of “unique social and educational sites, because of the inclusion and equity”. The IC argues that the expertise and knowledge at schools should be distributed equally rather than concentrated in the hands of the few by reducing competition and loosening the selection process. The second direction describes a transformation in curriculum, allowing learners to look beyond the scope of the already existing system of views and widen the perspective to develop “creativity, engagement, and a breadth of capabilities across the lifespan”. The third directives calls for policy-makers to provide teachers with excellent working conditions to support cooperation and solidarity. The fifth direction highlights the need to ensure collaboration across countries. This point asserts that there is a need to move beyond aid and philanthropy and instead work on the reparations of existing inequality and strengthen the North-to-South transfer of resources.  

While the directives mentioned above seems like transformative change, several of these proposals have already been featured in previous UN directives. The report “Reimagining our Future together: a new social contract of education” was informed by a consultation process that involved around million people (including governments, institutions, and organizations) and attempted to create a new social contract for education. There are questions, however, about how much authority global initiatives hold to effectuate the change they seek. The educational systems of African countries tend to be inferior to those in Europe and the United States, though there has been some improvement in recent years. In Ethiopia, the Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) for pre-primary education is at 43%. This is up from 36.7% in the 2020 academic year (UNHCR). It is crucial that global initiatives do more than provide lip service to issues in education. For any proposal to be effective, the directors must provide strategies for resource for the implementation of these projects, particularly when discussing countries with limited financial resources.

HBCU’s: Historically Black and Historically Successful

By Maura Mulholland

When it comes to Black education, HBCUs, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities, constantly emerge as pathways to success. These prestigious and historic institutions bring together Black students into a community where they can grow as both people and academics, and provide a positive environment for both social and academic aspects of student life. The success that HBCU students have at school has also translated into the workforce. Recent trends show that the average hiring rate of HBCU graduates grew 5.9% from 2016 to 2019, over four times the growth rate of the national average from non-HBCUs, which was 1.3%. 

In 2020, graduates of HBCUs faced more overall job resilience, with a hiring rate decline of 11.9%, a third less than the rate of the national LinkedIn average. This trend seems to be accompanied by higher hiring rates in general of HBCU graduates, and is especially prevalent in major companies, like Apple, Bank of America, and Estee Lauder. These companies, among many others, are recent additions to recruiting websites affiliated with HBCUs. Morgan State University, an HBCU in Baltimore, Maryland, saw a 263% increase in employer log-ins to its recruiting site between 2020 and 2021. 

Historically Black colleges and universities have also produced numerous famous alumni. In 2020, over 80% of Black judges in the United States graduated from an HBCU. While HBCU’s continue to produce graduates from its humanities programs, they have largely failed to establish pipelines to growing technological fields like robotics, computer sciences, and engineering. This is likely due to the historical emphasis on HBCUs as teacher-training institutions, pushing many of their graduates back into academia. However, HBCUs are, however, are beginning to catch up to other institutions in terms of representation in the hard sciences. As of 2019, almost 30% of STEM bachelor degrees held by Black graduates were from HBCUs. 

While experts say the recent surge in HBCU hires may level out in the short term, it is clear that these institutions have established themselves as some of the premier producers of talented workers. HBCU graduates, like alumnae of women’s colleges, have faced proportionately more success in their fields than underrepresented students at other universities, likely as a result of their unique educational experiences. Whatever the long-term ramifications, the latest increase in interest in HBCUs has allowed them to increase academic funding, extend more recruitment offers of their own to high schoolers, and continue the advancement of the Black community. 

The Good and Bad of Black Charter Schools

By Maura Mulholland

The controversy surrounding charter schools has existed almost since their inception. Charter schools were originally conceptualized as an alternative to public schools, where teachers could experiment with new ideas in education. They soon became predominantly Black schools, as Black families jumped at the opportunity to both put their students at the forefront of education, and remove them from rampant racism in largely white public schools. Charter schools now run on a publicly funded “business model”, where they are more responsible for their students’ outcomes than public schools, in exchange for more funding. But have charter schools truly improved the educational experiences of the mostly Black populations they serve? 

Many critics of charter schools say that they have simply reinvented segregation. Charter schools mostly serve the Black community and other racial minorities, as many such schools are located in urban areas. Racial isolation within these schools seems to be concentrated within Black and Latino populations: at a typical Black student’s charter high school, three-fourths of their classmates are also likely to be Black. Instead of being governed by a publicly accessible school board, charter schools are run by private organizations, which give community members much less say over what happens in the schools that serve their neighborhoods. 

While there is suspicion surrounding charter schools, other members of the Black community have expressed their support for some charter institutions. Schools like the Barbara A. Sizemore Academy in Chicago teach an Afro-centric curriculum in an effort to decolonize the Black students they serve. Parents of the children at Sizemore also appreciate the extra care and attention that their children receive in charter schools, as it prevents them from “slipping through the cracks”, a phenomenon that occurs frequently in larger, traditional schools in big districts. This “leveling of the playing field” is supported by state funding which is often contested by white progressives: people who Black parents say should have no place deciding the futures of schools their own children do not attend. 

Whatever the case, charter schools have very powerful supporters, especially in big, urban school districts. Billionaire Eli Broad described a $490 million plan in 2015 that plans to educate half of the student body of Los Angeles in charter schools by 2023, and former California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have held charter schools more accountable to the state legislature. Brown oversaw the opening of multiple charter schools while he was the Mayor of Oakland. An ongoing issue for charter schools will be a lack of transparency that engenders mistrust. There are many in the Black community who question whose interest these intercity charter schools serve.

Climate Change as a Black Issue and the Importance of Education

Lost in the conversation about the impact of global climate change, and policies designed to prevent rising temperatures and mitigate their consequences, is an understanding of the human impact of an increase in global temperature. Warnings of rising sea levels and an increase in natural disasters form compelling narratives about the threat of man-made climate change, but these figures ignore the localized nature of climate disasters. The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2013 climate change science report states with a 90 to 99 percent certainty that more frequent and more severe weather events, and “more frequent/ intense heavy rainfall events” are a consequence of the climate crisis. (IPCC, 2013: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.) An expected increase in climate-related natural disasters is especially troubling for poor communities of color. Due to several historical and political factors, these are the communities which are likely to suffer the greatest impact from increased flooding and severe weather events. Climate education may be the most important tool for mitigating the impact of climate change on communities of color. Not only will increased education help communities of color to harness their political capital to slow the increase in global temperatures, it will also give those communities the tools and knowledge to adapt to change in their natural environment resulting from the climate crisis. 

The narratives surrounding the current climate crisis have taken a global perspective, but the negative impacts of a shift in global temperature will not be distributed equally. It is well established that communities which are lower on the socioeconomic scale, which includes many communities of color, will be particularly impacted by the negative repercussions of climate change.1 According to the 2016 U.S. Census, more than half the population of African Americans resides in the south, an area that is predicted to see a significant increase in natural disasters as a result of shifting climate. (2016 U.S. Census, United States Census Bureau.) In addition, many African Americans live in less desirable flood prone areas as a result of historic segregation. (Ueland, Jeff, and Barney Warf. “Racialized Topographies: Altitude and Race in Southern Cities.” Geographical Review 96, no. 1 (2006): 55.) Given the fact that these communities will largely carry the burden of a temperature shift, policies designed to address the threat of man-made climate change must focus on those communities most likely to be impacted.  

One of the most important ways that we can address the inequality effects of climate change is by improving climate education in African American communities. It is not a coincidence that communities of color are those most likely to be negatively impacted by a climate shift. Deteriorating economic conditions and a lack of representation in political systems has left these communities without the resources to build climate resistance, or adapt to climate related disasters. These are generational problems caused, in part, by lower education rates among African Americans. In the U.S., the wealthiest 10 percent of school districts spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent. (Farmer-Hinton, Raquel L, Joi D Lewis, Lori D Patton, and Ishwanzya D Rivers. “Dear Mr. Kozol…. Four African American Women Scholars and the Re-Authoring of Savage Inequalities.” Teachers College Record (1970) 115, no. 5 (2013): 1-38.) By improving education, African American communities can gain the tools to address the localized impact of man-made climate change. Improved education has the potential to inform communities of color of the nuances of the impending climate crisis, as well as steps that may immediately be taken to mitigate its impact. 

It has become increasingly clear that communities of color must take action to address the threat of man-made climate change. Research across several fields has determined that those who suffer from socioeconomic inequalities, including many people of color, will be disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of climate change. Through education, these communities can garner the tools necessary to both help mitigate the impact of global climate change, and prepare their individual communities for any changes wrought by shifting climates. This policy paper should serve as an introduction to the unique problems facing communities of color and a call for more comprehensive proposals to increase climate education in those communities most likely to be impacted by the repercussions of the current climate crisis.  

EDUCATION – Black America and COVID-19

This collection documents the experience of COVID-19 across Black communities in America.  Its intention is to create a collective conversation of material for teaching and learning about the contemporary effects of COVID-19 among Black communities as it is tied to the historical legacy of race in America.

The aim of this guide is to assist students, faculty and researchers in exploring this topic from multiple social and cultural perspectives as a place to begin inquiry.  In using this guide, please see that we have also linked this resource with additional sources for more in-depth conversations.  As scholarship on COVID-19 is new and emerging many of the sources are from news sources, journalists, personal narratives, and community town-hall meetings. Please continue to check-back as we will be building the collection as new resources become available.

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