BEIRUT: While countries grapple with when to reopen schools, UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP, and World Bank, as part of the Global Education Coalition are urging governments to assess the benefits of classroom-based instructions compared to remote learning, and the risk factors related to reopening of schools, noting the inconclusive evidence around the infection risks related to school attendance.
The agencies issued new guidelines on the safe reopening of schools amidst ongoing closures affecting nearly 1.3 billion students worldwide and offered practical advice for national and local authorities on how to keep children safe when they return to school.
The new guidelines note that while there is not yet enough evidence to measure the impact of school closures on disease transmission rates, the adverse effects of school closures on children’s safety and learning are well documented.
The guidelines 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 of 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.
In the end, schools must look at how they can “reopen better”. The agencies say the best interests of children and overall public health considerations, based on an assessment of associated benefits and risks to education, public health, and socioeconomic factors, must be central to these decisions.
UNESCO has previously warned that the "unparalleled" disruption to global education is concerning as the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption could threaten the right to education if prolonged, particularly for the most marginalized children who rely on school for their education, health, safety, and nutrition.
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