The Challenge of Getting Education Back on Track
To curb the spread of COVID-19, educational institutions around the world have temporarily closed their facilities to protect the health and well-being of their school communities. During this period, 1.58 billion children and youth have been away from schools and needed to stay at home for social distancing.
The unprecedented mass school closures have been vital in helping mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading within school communities, but at the same time, it has also exposed learners to other risks, including the lack of access to effective education, proper nutrition, health and hygiene services, and psychosocial support.
As the pandemic situation in every country varies and constantly evolves, some have started to restart physical classes while others have adopted hybrid learning methodologies. To ensure that back-to-school plans are strategized around the best interest of the school population, it is crucial for authorities to thoroughly plan the reopening of schools and universities while also taking into account every benefit and risk of doing so. Planning for school reopening should begin as early as now to ensure continuity of learning, but it should also be planned conscientiously while acknowledging the fact that situations can change at a moment’s notice.
What are the Top Concerns in Reopening Schools?
The decision to reopen schools and universities is a difficult one, especially because the pandemic continually evolves; some of the key concerns revolving around reopening include the following:
When is the right timing?
One of the most vital questions in reopening schools is that it may be too early and can cause infection outbreaks within school communities. On the other hand, there is also greater risk of learning loss if schools are closed longer, especially for students in vulnerable groups.
Have the ideal conditions been determined?
Another concern of school administrators is the steep challenge of creating policies and strategies that will preserve both the education system and the safety and health of the school community. For the conditions for reopening to be in an ideal state, policies and strategies will depend on the preparedness of several factors, such as infrastructure, faculty manpower, pedagogy, and the school community.
Are the processes set?
Once the timing for school reopening has been set and the necessary health and safety conditions are ensured, the process of reopening schools need to be determined, including strategies and actions at the national, district, and school level.
Framework for Reopening Schools and Universities
The Framework for Reopening Schools has been designed by UNESCO, UNICEF, World Food Programme, and the World Bank, to help provide national and local authorities and policymakers a tool for planning on why, when, and how to reopen education institutions successfully. In summary, the guidelines of the framework include:
Policy Reform: Policy implications address all dimensions of the guidelines, including clear policies for school opening and closure during public health emergencies, reforms needed to expand equitable access for marginalized and out-of-school children as well as strengthen and standardize remote learning practices.Financing requirements: Address the impact of COVID-19 on education and invest in strengthening education systems for recovery and resilience.
Safe Operations: Ensure conditions that reduce disease transmission, safeguard essential services and supplies and promote healthy behavior. This includes access to soap and clean water for safe handwashing, procedures on when staff or students feel unwell, protocols on social distancing, and good hygiene practices.
Compensating Learning: Focus on practices that compensate for lost instructional time, strengthen pedagogy and build on hybrid learning models such as integrating approaches in remote and distance education. This must include knowledge on disease transmission and prevention.
Wellness and Protection: Expand the focus on students’ well-being and reinforce the protection of children through enhanced referral mechanisms and the provision of essential school-based services including healthcare and school feeding.
Reaching the most marginalized: Adapt school opening policies and practices to expand access to marginalized groups such as previously out-of-school children, displaced and migrant children, and minorities. Diversify critical communications and outreach by making them available in relevant languages and in accessible formats.
See and consult the Framework for Reopening Schools here.
Best Health and Safety Strategies in Reopening Schools
Some countries have already reopened schools and universities and they have been successful, to date, in preventing the spread of COVID-19 on their campuses. Here is a quick brief on the different health and safety strategies employed by five countries in reopening their educational institutions; the strategies revolve around attendance, social distancing, and cleaning.
Source: The Learning Policy Institute. See the full table here.
Disclaimer: The health implications of using any of these practices in the United States and other countries have not been investigated, thus the safety or effectiveness of these practices or of any medical practices cannot be fully endorsed yet.