Jess Persell is 2020-21 Tzedek Fellow, learning about global poverty and international development with a diverse cohort of students and young professionals. In her second year of university studying Global Studies and International Relations, she is also a current Tzedek Intern and a graduate of Tzedek’s Ghana Summer Experience Programme.
Here are her thoughts on World Day of Social Justice 2021:
We have all seen the ongoing effects that COVID-19 has had worldwide on the health sector. As well as this, the educational sector has taken a huge hit. Schools globally have been forced to close their doors, effecting 90% of students worldwide since early 2020. The UK as well as Tzedek’s focus regions in Ghana and India are no exception to these struggles.
February 20th is the World Day of Social Justice. This day promotes equality for everyone and considers areas such as education, gender equality and employment rights. The 2021 theme is ‘Social Justice in the Digital Economy’. The digital world has become part of everyday life and due to COVID-19, the reliance on technology, especially in the educational sector, has been amplified. Access to quality education is a human right and should be available universally. The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), which reflect the Declaration of Human Rights, include a framework for achieving this in Goal 4: ‘Quality Education’. According to the UN, nearly 1.6 billion learners have had their education affected by COVID-19. With the closure of many schools, there have been huge social and economic implications which are sure to cause lasting effects on educational institutions and current students and will increase the difficulty of achieving these goals by 2030. Reducing inequalities is a prominent feature of the SDG’s, which strive to increase social justice for all. We are left to question the extent to which the digital divide, emphasised by COVID-19, will hinder this.
With schools shutting during the pandemic, reliance on technology for education is the norm; leaving children without digital access unable to participate in online schoolwork and essentially missing out on an entire year worth of education. Being in my second year at university, all of my schooling has been moved online. It has been assumed that all attendees have access to and can afford technological devices. However, some of my peers have struggled to access the necessary devices, forcing them to miss out on lectures and other learning resources. These are issues that are being faced worldwide but low- and middle-income countries face additional barriers, which many of us do not consider in our day to day lives.
When I visited Tamale1 in Northern Ghana in 2017 with Tzedek and FZY, I noticed that blackouts in surrounding rural areas were common. Electricity was turned off at points, due to disruptions in the energy lines as well as lack of power to fuel the villages. The facilities available vary from region to region and in some communities a stable internet connection, constant electricity and a good supply of data can be very expensive. While it is evident that in the UK, the educational system has been affected by COVID-19, we must recognize the additional challenges faced by poorer regions of the world.
Now participating in the Tzedek Fellowship, I have been able to reconnect with Love, another Fellow who I met on my visit to Tamale a few years ago. Love put me in contact with her husband Solomon Kyeremah-Darko, who works on an educational project in Ghana. He shared:
“Schools in Ghana remained closed between the period of March, 2020 to January, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic2. Government strengthened the ‘Ghana learning Radio’ and the ‘Ghana learning Television’ interventions, to give children the opportunity to learn while at home. Many organisations also put in place several mechanisms to ensure students were learning. Right to Play Ghana, initiated what they call Supplemental Learning, where teachers living in communities brought children together to teach them using games while observing the COVID protocols, Impact(Ed) international also used information centres in communities to broadcast learning programmes. Some parents who could afford also adopted home schooling strategies for their wards to have access to education”.
It is interesting to learn about what initiatives other countries and their governments have taken in order to aid the educational sector in ways that are accessible to them. However, in addition to noting the differences between countries, Tzedek’s partner at YEFL-Ghana, Ganiyu3, pointed out that there are still inequalities within regions in Ghana. He emphasised that
“some communities do not have access to electricity, others are not privileged to own televisions in their homes, parents did not have time to guide children to watch televisions and so for these children, the question is, how are they able to benefit from this intervention?”.
Relating back to the SDG’s, with just 10 years to go until the 2030 target, it is imperative that we work together to achieve this common goal. One of the main lessons we have learnt from this pandemic is how crucial it is to bridge the digital divide to improve access to quality education worldwide. Though access to technology is not a target of the SDGs, the United Nations commented separately that digital technology can lead to greater interconnectivity and making the world more ‘just’.
With social justice at the heart of Tzedek’s work, this year on World Day for Social Justice we must commit to work harder, educate ourselves more and to strive for the alleviation of poverty at a time when inequalities have been exacerbated more than ever before in our lifetime. As Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations declares, we need to ‘move our world forward and leave no one behind’.
1Tamale is the Regional Capital of Ghana’s Northern Region. Tzedek partners with a number of schools in and around Tamale on our School’s Twinning Programme. Tolon, Tzedek’s focus region for most of our Ghana-based development work, is a District just outside of Tamale.
2Schools in Ghana have now reopened. Our Schools Twinning Programme has begun for this academic year and the Parent-Teacher Associations and School Management Committees enrolled on our Empowerment for Life programme are working to strengthen educational institutions in Tolon District.
3YEFL-Ghana, formally Youth Empowerment for Life, are longstanding Tzedek partners. Previously, we worked with them to deliver Ghana Summer Experience (in partnership with Tribe and FZY), a programme Jess joined in 2017. Now, YEFL-Ghana supports our Schools Twinning Programme and the delivery of our Empowerment for Life programme.