On January 24, we celebrated the International Day of Education, a date proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) with the aim of raising awareness around the world on the importance of education in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically, SDG No. 4, which looks to ensure access to quality and inclusive education for all.

Education is one of the most important human rights, as it is fundamental for the exercise of all other human rights. Education enables individuals to rise out of poverty and develop socially, physically, and emotionally. Education not only gives us the skills and knowledge necessary to survive, but it also gives us the power and sense of self-worth to demand the fulfillment of our human rights.

Education, however, has been severely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of children have seen their education affected, leading to a lack of schooling for the most vulnerable, especially in countries where a lack of resources makes the impacts of the pandemic stronger. Although real efforts have been made to maintain access to education, quality distance education has been impossible in many countries.

The pandemic has exacerbated an already complex educational crisis. Before 2020, over 260 million boys and girls were out of school and 50% of young people in 58 of 133 countries had not completed secondary education. This situation has only worsened over the past 12 months. We find ourselves in a reality determined by health security, which forces education to occur either online or with partial presence. Education is threatened with school dropouts, a school calendar lag, the exhaustion of teachers and students and the reduction of curricular content, among others.

Life without education is not sustainable. This is the slogan of this year’s La Silla Roja campaign (The Red Chair, in English). La Silla Roja is a symbol that represents the right to an inclusive and quality education. The campaign calls attention to the impact that the lack of access to education has on individual and communal development, even more so now in times of a pandemic.

This initiative, launched in 2012 by Entreculturas – Fe y Alegría Spain, invites students from all over the world to reflect on what access to education means for them, and what their roles and responsibilities as global citizens could be.

This is how the campaign has been implemented in different countries:

With the aim of calling attention to the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on access to quality education, Magis Americas joined efforts with Educate Magis to adapt the La Silla Roja campaign to an American context. This adaptation takes into account the new realities faced by teachers and students in this new learning and educational reality.

The campaign in the US is presented in the form of a challenge, which can be implemented both online and in person, seeking to give teachers flexibility in its implementation. The challenge consists of three phases, which seek to take students through a learning process in which they consider their role as global citizens, inviting them to take action through research and reflection on the impacts that COVID-19 is having on education around the world.

The three phases of this challenge invite students to evaluate: 1) COVID-19 and the state of education, answering the question – why does the red chair only have three legs?; 2) Share stories and make experiences tangible, exploring – How is the absence of this leg represented in the real world?; and finally 3) Dream of a future in which we can guarantee #EducationForSustainableLife, finally putting the leg back on the chair.

As of today, more than 200 students are participating in about 5 schools all over the US.

Given the flexibility of the campaign, each group has defined how the implementation will be and how to carry out the challenge.

At Jesuit High School, a high school in Tampa, Florida, more than 50 students have begun to explore and share with their peers, using the Educate Magis student portal, reflections on the effects the pandemic is having on the digital divide, dropout rates and innovation in education, focusing on the realities of countries where Fe y Alegría is present.

At another high school in New Jersey, a group of 5 student leaders are promoting initiatives that invite global citizenship by collaborating with a school in Peru to explore and compare realities of education in times of pandemic.

In Ecuador, the pandemic has affected the right to receive a quality education for 4.6 million students. (UNICEF, 2020). La Silla Roja represents hope for a better future, so that many of the children without opportunities can be educated. From Fe y Alegría Ecuador, in addition to other actions that have been carried out throughout these months, the La Silla Roja campaign continues to be promoted in schools of the Jesuit Educational Network and 49 private and public educational institutions nationwide, to reflect on the right to education.

In the Province of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, with the support of Districts I and II of Education, Fe y Alegría launched the campaign thanks to coordinated work with the teaching staff, psychologists, pastoralists and companions of the area. In the 300 participating educational institutions, spaces for reflection and development of educational guides were created around the theme of “Life without education is not sustainable” and “The Earth is our best school.” A discussion was also held with boys and girls from various educational centers.

Students of the U.E. Dr. Carlos Rufino Marin developed some work on the guides “Right to Education” of the Campaign “La Silla Roja de Fe y Alegría Ecuador”

Likewise, in the San Luis Gonzaga Educational Unit in Quito, January 20, in honor of our Sorrowful Mother, the “Inspiration of Solidarity” campaign was resumed, so that together we can continue to build opportunities for the most vulnerable.

“The Red Chair is like the finger. We must not turn into it a myth, domesticate it or turn it into an object of solidarity merchandising. It shouldn’t be “pretty,” but a silent reminder of a difficult and hurtful reality. It is a symbol, pointing in another direction. It is in that direction that we have to look. The chair points to so many boys and girls without a classroom, without a teacher, without books, without notebooks, without time. To whom, having a basic right to education, is not a reality. And it points, as in a mirror, towards each one of us, asking us, with urgent desire: “And you, what can you do?”

To learn more about the implementation of this project in Ecuador, click here.