Online initiatives help foster global learning during COVID-19 crisis

The UN has partnered with EdApp, and Microsoft and UNICEF have teamed up to bring high-quality, free courseware to people in need around the world.

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The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) has partnered with microlearning platform provider EdApp to launch Educate All, a global learning initiative to increase access to free, high-quality education.

The initiative is geared toward individuals and small businesses around the world, including developing countries. It will provide free access to courses on the EdApp mobile learning platform for millions of people globally to advance their knowledge of sustainability, leadership, business skills, and more, EdApp and UNITAR said.  

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Beginning in May, UNITAR will contribute microlearning courseware to Educate All, creating a global learning library to support sustainable development goals (SDGs), as well as gender equality, leadership, and entrepreneurship, with EdApp opening up the platform to the public free of charge.

Adult education is a global problem. In almost one-third of countries, fewer than 5% of adults older than 15 participate in education and learning programs, according to a report from UNESCO. 

Before COVID-19, professional skills required for most jobs only had a five-year half-life, officials said. The acceleration toward a digital economy as a result of the pandemic has also accelerated the urgency to reskill the workforce.

With job losses in the US surpassing 20 million and much of the world sheltering in place, the need for high-quality, online learning has never been greater, UNITAR and EdApp said.

"We are striving for a world in which individuals, communities, and organizations are equipped with the knowledge and skills to overcome global challenges," said Nikhil Seth, assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and executive director of UNITAR, in a statement. 

As part of this initiative, EdApp and UNITAR are calling on private enterprises, institutions, and thought leaders to join the cause and contribute courseware relevant to upskilling a global audience to the Educate All library. "Existing corporate training on topics such as sustainability and human resource development are not just welcome, but essential,'' UNITAR said.

"When traditional face-to-face opportunities for learning are being canceled or postponed, remote and mobile learning platforms can keep education accessible and effective,'' said Darren Winterford, founder and CEO of EdApp, in a statement. "Digital access to high-quality educational coursework is even more vital now during this uncertain period of social distancing as countries fight the COVID-19 pandemic."

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Image: EdApp

Other global learning initiatives

In related news, UNICEF and Microsoft announced the expansion of a global learning platform to help children and youth affected by COVID-19 continue their education at home.

The Learning Passport started off as a partnership between organizations including UNICEF, Microsoft, and the University of Cambridge, and is designed to provide education for displaced and refugee children through a digital remote learning platform. It has now undergone rapid expansion to facilitate country-level curriculum for children and youth whose schools have been forced to close due to COVID-19, UNICEF and Microsoft said. The platform will also provide key resources to teachers and educators.

"From school closures, to isolation, to a persistent sense of fear and anxiety, the effects of this pandemic are impacting childhoods worldwide," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, in a statement. "We need to come together and explore every avenue to keep children learning and help them through this difficult time."

Fore said that with help from partners like Microsoft, UNICEF is able to swiftly deploy innovative, scalable solutions for children and youth. "The adaptations made to the Learning Passport are a powerful reminder of what we can achieve together for children as the crisis deepens globally," she said.
 
According to the latest available data from UNESCO, more than 1.5 billion students have been affected by school closures in more than 190 countries worldwide.

Children and young people can use a country-specific platform to continue their education online, which they can access via their country's learningpassport.unicef.org page, UNICEF and Microsoft said. The platform for each country provides a digitized curriculum with textbooks and a selection of supplemental content, in national languages, that is jointly curated at country-level to best serve learners' and educators' specific needs, the organization said.

The Learning Passport captures a record of the curriculum subjects each student learns and guides learners with little additional support needed, UNICEF and Microsoft said.

"Now all countries with a curriculum capable of being taught online will be able to facilitate online learning for children and youth with devices at home," UNICEF said.

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Image: EdApp