UNDP's warning is cause for more action


UNDP's warning is cause for more action

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

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As much as we anticipate the changes that will obtain in Jamaica after COVID-19 and the promise of an enticing and exciting future, we cannot ignore the warning from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that global human development could decline this year for the first time since the concept was introduced in 1990.

According to the UN agency, COVID-19 — which has delivered severe body blows to health, education, and income — may change the trend of development gains which have been made worldwide annually, despite many crises over the past 30 years, including the global financial meltdown of 2007-2009.

Pointing out that the global death toll from COVID-19 has exceeded 300,000 people, while the worldwide per capita income this year is expected to fall by four per cent, the UNDP has estimated that, with schools closed because of the virus, the “effective out-of-school rate” indicates that 60 per cent of children are not getting an education. This, the UNDP said, is leading to global levels not seen since the 1980s.

The agency has told us that the combined impact of these shocks could signify the largest reversal in human development on record. And this, the UNDP emphasised, is not counting other significant effects, for instance, in the progress towards gender equality.

Indeed, in a report it released last Wednesday, the UNDP said the drop in human development is expected to be much higher in developing countries that are less able to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic's social and economic fallout than richer nations.

According to the UNDP, with schools closed and stark divides in access to online learning, 86 per cent of children in primary education are now effectively out of school in countries with low human development, compared with just 20 per cent in countries with very high human development.

The agency, however, suggests that the current gaps in education could be closed with more equitable Internet access.

That is an ideal we would want for Jamaica, even as we admit that there is no formal survey to determine the depth of Internet availability in all communities across the island, and especially among students at the primary and secondary levels. We suspect, though, that the need is great.

Indeed, that inequity is now coming to the fore since March when COVID-19 forced the closure of schools and students in many households across the island have been struggling to access classes online.

We share the view of Mr Pedro Conceição, director of the UNDP's Human Development Report Office, that “This crisis shows that if we fail to bring equity into the policy toolkit, many will fall further behind,” especially given, as he pointed out, that access to the Internet is helping mankind to benefit from services such as tele-education and telemedicine.

This UNDP report, we suggest, should give the education ministry and telecoms providers reason to do far more than they have already done.

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