The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shifted education and development priorities. The tragic death toll and high rates of morbidity across many countries are an unprecedented setback and a calamity for those affected physically and mentally. The economic and social effects of lockdowns, loss of production and business confidence, and global recession will cast a long shadow over education systems. Despite the 435 million items that Google already indexes under “COVID-19 education”, many things remain unknown. No one has a clear idea of how the current pandemic will unravel over anything but the short term. The challenge is to strengthen the mechanisms to separate evidence from opinion and to balance popularism with speaking truth to power—especially when political systems can find it difficult to distinguish fact from convenient fiction.
This paper advances ten propositions that will shape policy dialogue and whatever iteration of the Sustainable Development Goals is needed to ensure they remain fit for purpose. Testing these propositions over the next year will open the door to an evidence-based approach to reconstruction and sustainable development and juxtapose immediate concerns of the present with aspirations for the future. More than ever the need is to see beyond the exigencies of COVID-19 and act to secure the educational gains of the recent past. UNESCO and other development agencies can play a key role in sharing how to manage revitalised and resilient learning systems that allow the community of practice to stay focussed on development that is economically, socially, medically, and educationally sustainable. Spaceship Earth has to be secured for future generations through the knowledge, skill and attitudes of its crew and passengers. Seriously revisiting SDG4, its targets and indicators, and its relationships with other SDGs, would be a start.