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Framework for reopening schools (Part 1/3)

In response to the COVID-19 situation, UNESCO has come up with the guidelines for the cities and schools on how and when to reopen the schools. We thought, this is a good read for everyone and should be shared with all.

Global school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic present an unprecedented risk to children’s education, protection, and wellbeing. The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently called on governments and donors to prioritize education for all children, including the most marginalized, and the Global Education Coalition was established to support governments in strengthening distance learning and facilitating the reopening of schools.

While we do not yet have enough evidence to measure the effect of school closures on the risk of disease transmission, the ad-verse effects of school closures on children’s safety, wellbeing and learning are well documented. Interrupting education services also has serious, long-term consequences for economies and societies such as increased inequality, poorer health outcomes, and reduced social cohesion. In many countries, data on virus prevalence is incomplete and decision-makers will need to make their best assessments in a context of incomplete information and uncertainty. National governments and partners must simultaneously work to promote and safeguard every child’s right to education, health, and safety, as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The best interest of the child must be paramount. Across countries, leaders are grappling with difficult and uncertain trade-offs as they consider easing lockdowns. This framework serves to inform the decision-making process on when to reopen schools, support national preparations, and guide the implementation process, as part of the overall public health and education planning processes. Contextualization and continuous adaptation are necessary in order to respond to local conditions and meet each child’s learning, health, and safety needs.

Why reopen schools?

Disruptions to instructional time in the classroom can have a severe impact on a child’s ability to learn. The longer marginalized children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. Children from the poorest households are already almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than those from the richest. Being out of school also increases the risk of teenage pregnancy, sexual exploitation, child marriage, violence, and other threats. Further, prolonged closures disrupt essential school-based services such as immunization, school feeding, and mental health and psychosocial support, and can cause stress and anxiety due to the loss of peer interaction and disrupted routines. These negative impacts will be significantly higher for marginalized children, such as those living in countries affected by conflict and other protracted crises, migrants, the forcibly displaced, minorities, children living with disabilities, and children in institutions. School reopenings must be safe and consistent with each country’s overall COVID-19 health response, with all reasonable measures taken to protect students, staff, teachers, and their families.

When, where, and which schools to reopen?

The timing of school reopenings should be guided by the best interest of the child and overall public health considerations, based on an assessment of the associated benefits and risks and informed by cross-sectoral and context-specific evidence, including education, public health, and socio-economic factors. This analysis will also help to prioritize risk mitigation measures. Decision-making should be done together with subnational stakeholders so that actions are based on an analysis of each local context.

Decisions on reopening will require countries to quickly gather critical information on how schools, teachers, students, and communities are coping with closures and the pandemic. Rapid response surveys of school and local leaders, teachers, students, and parents can help provide this information. Decision-makers must then assess how learning and wellbeing can best be supported in each context, with special consideration of the benefits of classroom-based instruction vis-à-vis remote learning, against risk factors related to reopening of schools, noting the inconclusive evidence around the infection risks related to school attendance.

• How essential is classroom instruction to achieve the respective learning outcomes (foundational, transferable, digital, job-specific), recognizing issues such as the importance of direct interaction with teachers for play-based learning with younger children and developing foundational skills?

• How available and accessible is high-quality remote learning (for respective learning outcomes, age groups, and for marginalized groups)?

• How long can the current remote learning approach be sustained, including learning achievements, and social-emotional wellbeing, given domestic pressure on caregivers and other context-specific factors?

• Do caregivers have the necessary tools to protect children from online harassment and online gender-based violence, while they are learning through online platforms?

• How are the ‘high stakes’ key transition points on the learning journey (readiness for school; primary completion and transition; secondary completion and transition to tertiary) affected by the pandemic and responses to it?

• How ready and able are teachers and educational authorities to adapt to different administrative and learning approaches? Are they able and ready to implement infection prevention and control measures?

• Are there protection-related risks related to children not attending schools, such as the increased risk of domestic violence or sexual exploitation against girls and boys?• Do school closures compromise other support services provided by schools, such as school health and nutrition activities?• What are the social, economic, and well-being related implications of children not attending school?

What is the capacity of the school to maintain safe school operations to mitigate risks, such as social distancing (i.e. the size of classroom compared to the number of students); and water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities and practices?

• What is the level of exposure between the school population and higher-risk groups, such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions? If exposure is high, can sufficient mitigation efforts be taken?• How does the school population travel to and from school?

• What are the community-related risk factors considering epidemiological factors, public health, and health-care capacities, population density and adherence to social distancing and good hygiene practices?

End of Part 1

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