The data is clear and worrying, more than 1.5 billion students are affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19. That it’s the 91.4% of the world’s student population affected, 1.57 billion learners out of school, 192 countries affected by school closures. As UNESCO indicates, the COVID – 19 outbreak is not only a global health crisis but also an educational crisis.
The adverse impacts of school closures are many and varied, including: Interrupted learning; nutrition; protection; parents unprepared for distance and homeschooling; unequal access to digital learning portals; gaps in childcare; high economic cost; increase pressure on schools and schools systems that remain open; rise in dropout rates and social isolation. That is why UNESCO has decided to motivate a wide variety of tools, initiatives and projects to combat COVID-19. Apart from a large number of articles and publications of interest on the subject, UNESCO has decided to organize its work into two sections: A global response and the regional response:
Concerning the Global Response, we can find seven different but complementary measures among them:
- Global Education Coalition: This coalition is the biggest response to this educational and health crisis, under the #LearningNeverStops and formed by multilateral partners, private sector, civil society / non-profit organizations, media partners and networks and associations. The main objective of this coalition is to help countries to improve their good distance learning practices and to lessen the consequences for students. This initiatives are crucial bearing in mind that the closure of schools exacerbates inequalities in education and more aggressively affects the most disadvantaged children and young people and vulnerable (most acutely for girls) who depend on schools for a wide variety of social services.
«Specifically, the Coalition aims to:
- Help countries in mobilizing resources and implementing innovative and context-appropriate solutions to provide education remotely, leveraging hi-tech, low-tech and no-tech approaches
- Seek equitable solutions and universal access
- Ensure coordinated responses and avoid overlapping efforts
- Facilitate the return of students to school when they reopen to avoid an upsurge in dropout rates»
- Technical assistance: «to quickly prepare and deploy including distant learning solutions, utilizing hi-tech, low-tech and no-tech approaches«
III. Webinars: Essentially intended for officials from the ministries of education and other stakeholders in sharing joint efforts to mitigate the effects of COVID – 19.
- Distance learning solutions / Digital learning resources: Here a long list of platforms (mostly free) are made available to the public to help parents, teachers, schools and school administrations in the work of distance education. Among them are:
- Resources to provide psychosocial support
- Digital learning management systems
- Systems built for use on basic mobile phones
- Systems with strong offline functionality
- Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Platforms
- Self-directed learning content
- Mobile Reading applications
- Collaboration platforms that support live-video communication
- Tools for teachers to create of digital learning content
- External repositories of distance learning solutions
- National learning platforms and tools: Where it is allowed to observe at the national level what are the measures that each country is taking to give an educational response to COVID-19.
- Minister – level virtual meetings: On March 10, UNESCO convened an emergency meeting with ministers of education to share responses and strategies to maintain the continuity of learning and assure inclusion and equity.
VII. Global monitoring of country-wide and localized school closures and the number of learners affected: This section is of utmost importance since it allows to know worldwide the data concerning schools closed due to COVID-19, the total number of affected students and the countries that have taken these measures. It is updated every three days.
In relation to the Regional Responses, UNESCO divides it into «Arab States, Asia Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean» In this section I will highlight» specific «measures that are being taken in each region:
Arab States: «Alternative solutions to school closure to ensuring that learning Never Stops» and «Motivating and supporting children during remote learning: tips for teachers and parents»
Asia Pacific: «Mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 on food and nutrition of schoolchildren»
Latin America and The Caribbean: «Children without class due to the coronavirus: the internet helps but it is not the same.»
In each region, UNESCO is trying to analyze what are the most direct consequences, informing, and motivating leaders to find the most appropriate solutions.
Finally, we can conclude with a few words from Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General «Partnership is the only way forward. This Coalition is a call for coordinated and innovative action to unlock solutions that will not only support learners and teachers now, but through the recovery process, with a principle focus on inclusion and equity. «