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Alice Albright: “Covid-19 has shown the vulnerability of education. We are facing an existential problem and we cannot hesitate anymore “

She has been surrounded by numbers all her life. Alice Albright (59-year-old United States) worked in banking, spent several years at the Carlyle Group and JP Morgan, and served as the Bank of America’s Chief Export and Import Operations Officer during Barack Obama’s tenure. However, since seven years ago he has been at the head of the Global Alliance for Education (GPE), the world’s largest public-private alliance (21 countries and organizations such as Rockefeller Foundation and OpenSociety participate) to promote universal access to education in developing countries. The figures that concern you now have names and faces. Specifically, that of the 1.3 billion children who were left without school due to the pandemic. That is why this Friday it launches in Spain a global fundraising campaign in order to raise awareness about the reality of these children in the southern hemisphere and raise at least $ 5 billion ―4,300 million euros― that heal the effects that the coronavirus crisis has caused. The event Raise your hand, moderated by EL PAÍS journalist Alejandra Agudo, will feature the intervention of Ángeles Moreno Bau, Secretary of State for International Cooperation of Spain, and Serigne Thiam, Minister of Water and Sanitation of Senegal, among others. “It is a difficult time to think about investing,” Albright acknowledges on the other side of the screen, “but now is when we most have to think about the future.”

Question: Do you expect a great commitment in the meeting this Friday?

Reply: We are very excited. Education is at a crossroads and even before the covid, in many developing countries, it was already in jeopardy. During the pandemic, countries were forced to close schools overnight and this affected 1.6 billion children. It was a challenge both to close them and to reopen them and make them work. We know that our campaign is very ambitious, but it is focused on transforming education. Today we will gather central voices and main actors to debate about it and seek solutions for change.

Q: You yourself recognize that it is an ambitious campaign. In a crisis scenario like the current one, why launch this financing call now?

A: Because it is the best investment you can make. We need to invest in the future and focus on providing children and teachers with the tools that the 21st century demands. One of the things that we have perceived during the pandemic is how vulnerable education is. They can take it from you in a minute [chasquea los dedos]. And we have also seen how difficult it is to replace it. There are many new ways to improve it, but we have found that teachers are irreplaceable. They are also at the center of our program. Now is the time to get serious and invest.

We need to invest in the future and focus on providing children and teachers with the tools that the 21st century demands

Q: How is that money going to be invested?

A: With the 5,000 million dollars that we estimate to obtain, we will reach 175 million children. We will give them the opportunity to access education. We will also expand the teacher training program, around 140 million will benefit from it. But it is much more than this. Our work also goes through developing new curricula, building schools, printing books … We have to stretch every last dollar. What we have to assume is that by investing in education, there are many very positive collateral results: the economies of our collaborators will grow close to 160 million dollars, we will save three million lives, we will lift 18 million people out of poverty and we will prevent more than two million child weddings… Investing in education is also avoiding child marriage, poverty and child labor.

Q: Why do you focus on girls?

A: It is not something new. When you look at the records of who attends class and who does not, you realize that they are the ones who are left out. Especially in high school. With the pandemic, everything got worse. You have to look at what happened in previous epidemics like Ebola. As schools closed, the numbers of domestic violence and teenage pregnancy increased. Covid-19 is going to have these consequences as well. Not just the cheap ones. When a family has to choose who to send to school, they probably won’t choose the girl.

Q: During the pandemic, they ran a scholarship program in more than 87 countries …

A: That is our way of acting. The focus is on low-income countries and we help with donations. During the pandemic, we distributed more than $ 508.8 million, the vast majority going to 66 countries where the emphasis was on improving distance education systems, mainly through radio and television. It was a package of aid for these countries to use it as they saw fit.

Q: The pandemic has highlighted the brutal digital divide that exists in the world. Virtual study is not easy when there are places where the Internet does not reach.

A: Exact. Our goal is to listen well to the needs of each country. And this reality changes from one to another. It would be a mistake to assume that suddenly we are all going to be connected. We have adapted to what already exists, which is why the main channels have been radio and television. Yes, technology is part of the answer but we cannot forget about teachers. They are key.

Investing in education is also avoiding child marriage, poverty and child labor

Q: Do you think that the pandemic has highlighted your essential work?

A: I think there is a general idea that teachers can be replaced by technologies. But the pandemic has reflected just the opposite. The physical interaction between teacher and student has no substitute. But technology should become the new tool for these teachers. That would be the ideal scenario. And this is a pillar of our way of understanding education: teacher training for the 21st century.

Q: Of the 87 countries in which you work, which ones have adapted better or faster?

A: There are three cases that especially attract our attention. The first is Sudan. There, a very positive sexual education and anti-violence campaign was developed. The second is the State of Puntland, in Somalia, because they found a way to improve remote education systems, thanks to MP3 devices. And in Afghanistan the system of sanitation and access to water, vital for the reopening of classrooms, was greatly strengthened. And there are many more examples.

Q: The covid has changed the educational paradigm, do you think it will improve it?

A: No one would have wanted this pandemic, but at the same time it is being very illuminating. We have noticed the vulnerability of education. What we do have to thank for this situation is that it has focused on teaching, when before it tended to escape among the priorities. We are facing an existential problem and we cannot hesitate any longer.

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