Based on lessons from the past two years, the majority of countries affected by the highly contagious variant of Omicron are succeeding in keeping schools open with reinforced health and safety protocols. But the continued disruption to education requires bolder measures to recover learning losses.
According to new data released by UNESCO on International Day of Education, schools are currently open in most countries of the world (135). In a small number of countries (25), schooling has been temporarily suspended by extending the end-of-year break.
Only a dozen countries have opted to close schools and pivot to fully remote rather than in-person learning since the outbreak of the Omicron variant. This is in stark contrast with the same period last year when schools were closed, and learning was fully remote in 40 countries.
Education continues to be deeply disrupted by the pandemic, but all countries are now keenly aware of the dramatic costs of keeping schools closed as UNESCO said for the past two years. The expansion of vaccination and lessons from the past two years, has resulted in a new model based on school health and safety protocols.
A dozen countries surveyed – including Brazil, France, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Palestine and Ukraine – now use traffic light monitoring systems that trigger different measures according to levels of infection: mask wearing, hand washing, ventilation, but also indoor and outdoor distancing, and class closures on a case-by-case basis to avoid impacting all students in the school. Countries including Canada, France, United Kingdom and Italy are also using mass rapid test-to-stay policies.
Socio-emotional support, assistance to teachers and financial resources are essential to effectively implement these protocols. UNESCO calls once again to step up efforts to vaccinate teachers, because teachers were not allocated to any priority group in about 1 in 3 countries.
If schools are on the way of reopening, we also need to act to bring back to school all the children who have moved away from it and to recover learning losses. Without remedial action and focus on the most vulnerable students, the COVID-19 pandemic will carry dramatic long-term consequences.
A large-scale survey conducted by UNESCO and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement in 11 countries and released today reports that more than 50% of teachers stated that students had not progressed to the levels expected, while most teachers agreed that it was difficult to provide necessary support for vulnerable students. Over 50% of students said they were anxious about the changes to their schools.
From the onset of the pandemic, UNESCO and its Global Education Coalition, counting 175 members, have catalyzed alliances in over 100 countries to maintain learning continuity. This has included the establishment of digital platforms, equipping teachers with digital skills and increasing access to remote learning contents.
For more information on events organized on the International Day of Education, including at Dubai Expo 2020 and in New York, please visit here
Media contact: Clare O’Hagan