UNESCO has convened an emergency meeting of education ministers to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on education. The meeting is taking place today, 10 March. The latest data from UNESCO show that a record number of students are currently unable to attend school.
According to UNESCO, 16 countries have implemented nationwide school and university closures to limit the spread of COVID-19. Over 363 million students at all levels of education cannot attend classes in these countries. Sixteen other countries have ordered localised school and university closures, affecting the education of an additional 567 million learners.
As education ministers meet today, we urge them to take into account the following points so that this major health crisis does not also become an education crisis.
- It is absolutely essential to prioritise the health and safety of students, teachers and education support personnel at this time.
- A whole school - whole community approach is the most effective in limiting the spread of the virus and keeping panic at bay. The school community must be provided with accurate education, information and guidance on preventive measures. Education unions are also working tirelessly to ensure our members are properly informed.
- Lengthy school closures cause major disruptions in the education of millions of students. Measures need to be put into place to minimise the impact of closures on the provision of education.
- The most vulnerable students are disproportionally affected by school closures. Many rely on the meals provided at school and may not have access to online tools that would allow them to access distance learning. School closures also put increasing pressure on already struggling families, with working parents having to take time off to care for their children. Concrete measures must be taken to ensure that the most vulnerable students are not left behind.
- We encourage governments to work with educators and their unions to find ways in which the education process can continue during the temporary school closures.
- While technology can facilitate distance learning in the short term, it is essential to understand these can only be temporary solutions that can never replace classroom teaching and learning.
- Teachers and education support personnel must be remunerated during closure periods.
- In countries where private education providers operate alongside public schools, measures must be taken so that the response is comprehensive and unified across the entire education system.
- Working across ministries is essential in dealing with the wide-spread impact of the outbreak. Schools are essential parts of every community and disruptions here affect the economy and can even undermine already strained health-care systems, as parents are forced to stay home with their children.
- Extended school closures often lead to an increase in the drop-out rate, as some students do not return to class once schools reopen. Governments must prepare strategies to address this possible consequence of the widespread closures.