From education to employment

World Education Leaders Shed Light on Transforming Learning Post-COVID

@AgustínPorres, a leading voice on education and the teaching profession, interviewed 31 former education ministers in his new book, ‘Unfinished Business in Education’.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Agustín Porres, the Varkey Foundation’s Latin America Regional Director, set out to write a book to answer the fundamental questions that education must face in the age of COVID and beyond. Through conversations with 31 former Ministers of Education from around the world, he sought to discover how we reform global education for the better, whether the pandemic can serve as a catalyst for necessary change, and whether there is a real political will to push for it.

Porres did not want to hear only about their achievements and triumphs. Rather, he hoped to understand the battles that had not been won, the obstacles, the unfinished reforms, the decisions they would not take again. He also wanted to gain insight into which specific opportunities presented themselves in this post-pandemic scenario.

Writing the forward for this report, Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD who oversees PISA, says:

“It takes time to discover the hidden social fabric of education systems and to understand the political economy of educational reform. But a new education minister will rarely have that time. From day one, they need to make tough choices when evaluating policy alternatives. Should they pursue what scientists tell them is most effective and technically feasible? What is most politically and socially desirable? What can be implemented quickly? What can be sustainable over a given time horizon?

“While these challenges are real, we make our lives unnecessarily difficult by too easily discarding valuable experience that was gained in preceding electoral cycles. Sometimes blinded by political choices and ideological imperatives, policy-makers rarely consult educational leaders engaged in past administrations when initiating new reforms.

“Agustín Porres has taken that as an opportunity. He has asked former education ministers to share their experience with reform priorities, what they did to put those into practice, but also where they struggled and what they would do differently if they were given another chance. The lessons offer powerful insights and provide a rare moment for reflection on how to build better, fairer and more effective education systems.

“Powerful insights in an exceptional time.”

Prefaced by Andreas Schleicher, ‘Unfinished Business in Education’ includes names such as Arne Duncan from the United States; Ju Ho Lee from South Korea; Stefania Giannini from Italy; George Papandreou from Greece, Julia Gillard from Australia; and Julio María Sanguinetti from Uruguay; among a long list of distinguished voices.

How many resources, how much energy, how much time could we save with just a general view of humanity’s great learnings and mistakes?

This is the opening question of the book, which offers data, concepts, and experiences that suggest specific clues on how to move towards a new education today.

The book was launched in Argentina on 19 August, with a series of virtual and face-to-face events planned around the world.

Response to ‘Unifinished Business in Education’:

“Daily fast-pace does not always allow us to stop and think about the direction of the educational task. However, the goal cannot be to return to “normalcy” because many children did not find it useful. We have to reimagine education as something better than what it used to be. This book is an invitation to do so”. Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education in the Obama administration

“31 candid interviews with expert sources from all over the world. Decades of experience: Porres conducts a global chorus of voices that places children back at the centre of the education conversation. Again and again, we are reminded that the path to achieving quality education is found in the full development of teachers.” Maggie MacDonnell, winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2017

“We have to deepen the dialogue to understand what has worked and what we have to keep thinking about. As a society, we have to listen to all voices and take on this enormous challenge that lies ahead. The crisis challenges us to think calmly and act decisively. Agustín invites us to that conversation with that double rhythm of vision and thinking about the long term”. Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education

The interviewees were:

  1. Rosalía Arteaga, Ecuador
  2. Esteban Bullrich, Argentina
  3. David Coltart, Zimbabwe
  4. Claudia Costin, Brazil
  5. Nuno Crato, Portugal
  6. Luis García de Brigard, Colombia
  7. Arne Duncan, United States
  8. Jorge Ferrão, Mozambique
  9. Daniel Filmus, Argentina
  10. Gustav Fridolin, Sweden
  11. Leonardo Garnier, Costa Rica
  12. Stefania Giannini, Italy
  13. Julia Gillard, Australia
  14. Otto Granados, Mexico
  15. Ju Ho Lee, South Korea
  16. Armin Luistro, Philippines
  17. Silas Lwakabamba, Rwanda
  18. Steve Maharey, New Zealand
  19. George Papandreou, Greece
  20. Jozef “Jo” Ritzen, Netherlands
  21. Jaime Saavedra, Peru
  22. Sabri Saidam, Palestine
  23. Julio María Sanguinetti, Uruguay
  24. Rossieli Soares, Brazil
  25. Androulla Vassiliou, European Commission
  26. Cecilia Vélez, Colombia
  27. Srdjan Verbić, Serbia
  28. Gloria Vidal, Ecuador
  29. José Weinstein, Chile
  30. George Werner, Liberia
  31. Maja Zalaznik, Slovenia

Agustín Porres studied Philosophy at the Catholic University of Argentina, where he also completed a postgraduate degree in Politics, Government and Administration. He also holds a master’s degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University’s McCourt School.

He is the Regional Director of Latin America at the Varkey Foundation, an organisation dedicated to celebrating and empowering the teaching profession around the world. He worked in the Ministry of Education of the city of Buenos Aires, as well as in the National Social Security Administration. 

He led the Educational Policy sector of Fundación Contemporánea and was Executive Director of FormarHub in the United States. Additionally, he is a founding member of the Latin American Coalition for Excellence in Teaching, a group that brings together experts from the region to design reforms for the teaching career.

He frequently writes for the leading media organisations in Argentina and Latin America at large, and is annually invited to serve as a judge for organisations that work to recognise teachers in the region.

He is a visiting professor at the Austral University, has taught at various universities and is a member of the alumni board of the McCourt School at Georgetown University. He is married to Inés and they have three children.

Related Articles