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Education: A Powerful Driver Of Social Mobility

The importance of ensuring access to and completion of quality education for all children and youth is a primary target in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). The progress of a nation remains rooted in education, as stated by the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. With a greater number of people receiving quality education, the country develops progressively. 

Education is a fundamental right and the basis for progress in every country. Prosperous countries depend on skilled and educated workers. With partnership, leadership and wise investments in education, we can transform individual lives, national economies and our world.[1] -Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations

Source: UKEC

Education is a powerful driver of social mobility. Advancing education together with other social mobility factors will certainly develop the nation both in its economic standing as well as social equity. The social mobility index formulated by the World Economic Forum[2] in January 2020 depicted that Malaysia performed rather well in Education Access (ranked 29th), Lifelong Learning (29th) and Work Opportunities (24th) out of 82 countries.

Higher social mobility within the society will increase economic growth and create more peaceful and equal societies. Education opens the door for children and youths to acquire knowledge and skills which provides them with a pathway out of poverty, alleviates income inequality and increases employment opportunities. 

The Pandemic And Its Impact On Education

The UNESCO 2020 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report described that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a gap in educational attainment[3]. Inequalities and exclusion in education attainment are increasing and may result in dampening the progress of societies.

From an economical perspective, a policy brief by the Center for Market Education and Bait Al Amanah reported that school closure could cost RM80 billion future earning losses per year (counted in GDP losses)[4]

Adding on, the Asian Development Bank 2021 Outlook described that Malaysia faced an average of 0.66 years (7.9 months) of intermediate learning losses, as a result of school closure and the effectiveness of remote learning strategies[5]. Such learning losses will severely impact skills and work productivity, lifetime earnings and loss of potential income.

The pandemic crisis has exacerbated the learning ecosystem. Having to keep up with the loss, the adoption of online technologies became the focus, yet this has incurred more costs on communication tools, training in technological practices, equipment, and internet connectivity. 

Education Access Is Now Dependant On Digital Access

In 2020, the International Association of Universities (IAU) Global Survey Report on “The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education Around the World” learned that 60% of universities and colleges have recorded an increase in virtual student mobility and/or collaborative online learning[6].

As one of the ways forward, a project on virtual student mobility (VSM) was launched in 2020 by UNESCO’s International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNESCO-IESALC)[7]. ICT is used to expedite “cross-border or inter-institutional academic, cultural and experimental exchanges and collaboration” in a VSM setting, defined by UNESCO-IESALC. The VSM is outlined into academic, experiential, cultural and emergency.

Source: Unsplash

However, there are students who face digital divides and this has led to limited access to online resources, as pointed out by the University World News[8]. Poor internet connection, lack of training on e-learning tools, and unaffordability for mobile data are among the impacts of online learning if not being addressed appropriately. 

The drastic transition to online learning emerged due to the unexpected pandemic crisis. Even prior to the pandemic, online learning was limited within a constraining regulatory framework. Higher learning institutions have different levels of preparedness to work remotely with limited digital readiness. Similarly, Malaysia also faces limitations in adopting online learning and digital readiness in the education system.

This rapid change in education noted a shift in teaching and learning experience. The future of education awaits as much effort is placed into the continuation of academic learning in cultivating a holistic learning experience for learners. 

Indeed, education increases a person’s social mobility and enhances better and more secure work. No one would have thought that the pandemic crisis would impede growth and learning opportunities. Yet, societies are trying to elevate social mobility to expand the potential of lifelong learning. Much is needed to accelerate educational efforts and decision-making to build a resilient education ecosystem in this new era.

This opinion piece is contributed by Bait Al Amanah and edited by Wiki Impact as part of a series to explore social mobility, equality and shared opportunity in Malaysia. This series is written against the backdrop of the Global Social Mobility Index which benchmarks 82 global economies and looks into five key dimensions including Health, Education (access, quality and equity, lifelong learning), Technology, Work (opportunities, wages, conditions) and Protection and Institutions (social protection and inclusive institutions).

The higher a country ranks in terms of social mobility, the greater the chance for the next generation to experience a better life than their parents. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Social Mobility Report 2020, Malaysia ranked #43 out of 82 countries.

Explore Our Sources: 

  1. UNESCO. (2015). UNESCO: Sustainable development begins with education. Link.
  2. World Economic Forum (2020). Global Social Mobility Index 2020: Why Economies Benefit from Fixing Inequality. Link. 
  3. UNESCO. (2020). New UNESCO Report Shows Extent of Global Inequalities in Education and Calls for Greater Inclusion as Schools Re-Open. Link.  
  4. Center for Market Education & Bait Al Amanah. (2021). The Economic Impact of School Closures in Malaysia. Policy Brief No.1. Link.  
  5. Asian Development Bank. (2021). Asian Development Outlook 2021: Financing a Green and Inclusive Recovery, April. Link.
  6. International Association of Universities. (2020). IAU Global Survey on the Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education around the World. Link.
  7. UNESCO’s International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean. (UNESCO-IESALC) (2021). Virtual Mobility of Students. Link.
  8. University World News. (2021). The Impact of the Digital Divide on Student Mobility. Link

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