From Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world, the Nizami Ganjavi International Centre continues to express its heartfelt solidarity with all those affected and to call for more transnational cooperation. In addition, the members of the NGIC International Board of Trustees have been busy, each in their own country as well as inter-nationally, offering objective analyses of the world situation along with words of moral support and reassurance to distraught populations. They have also been intermediaries in the distribution of aid of various kinds to the vulnerable, both in Azerbaijan, the home country of NGIC, and in other countries, with concrete initiatives that respond to concrete needs and do so in an effective and timely manner.

The pandemic is causing a domino cascade of negative consequences, the gravity of which we are just beginning to appreciate. While the elderly form medically the highest risk group among all populations, children, adolescents and young adults are seriously affected as concerns their education. According to the latest data gathered by UNESCO, over one and a half billion children across the world have been affected by school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As the months go by, and the children continue growing without the benefit of attending a classroom, the need to find alternative ways of educating them becomes more and more acute.

Only a few months ago, in January 2020, I had the honour of attending the first meeting of a High-level group tasked with producing a UNESCO report on The Futures of education. We started to discuss what education should be like in a long-term, 2050 perspective. Many excellent ideas were put on the table and more ideas were canvassed by UNESCO through world-wide consultations. One thing we did not anticipate, however, was that the future was already knocking at our door and drastic changes would be needed NOW, not 30 years later.

Public education is the responsibility of nation-states, and Ministries of education across the world have been taking up the challenge. In countries with good internet access and wide distribution of electronic devices within the population, innovative distance learning initiatives are being developed and improved. In countries under complete lockdown, this places a heavy burden on teachers. It also puts a double burden on parents working from their homes, who have to spend considerable time to help their pre-school and grade-school aged children to keep learning and adapt to lack of contact with their agemates.

UNESCO has been inviting people across the world to show in pictures how they see the education of to-morrow. In Azerbaijan, from the children receiving food and study materials through NGIC, we have received pictures that show how they see the world today. I wish to express my especial thanks to 8-year-old Aliyev Farhad Ramin who has sent me personally a sunny picture of a mum, dad and two children happily standing outside their home in a flowery garden. Another child holds a NIZAMI carrier bag in one hand and a bunch of balloons in the other. My dear little friend, may your vision of a happy world where all can move around freely come to pass, with people everywhere helping to bring it about!

Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Co-chair, NGIC International Board of Trustees
President, Republic of Latvia (1999-2007)