Three UN organisations and the World Bank on Monday issued guidelines on the safe reopening of schools amidst the COVID-19 closure that has affected 1.3 billion students worldwide.
UNICEF, UNESCO, and the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that the closure of schools presented an unprecedented risk to children’s education and wellbeing, particularly for the most marginalised ones who rely on school for education, health, safety and nutrition.
The guidelines offer practical advice for national and local authorities on how to keep children safe when they return to school.
“Rising inequality, poor health outcomes, violence, child labour and child marriage are just some of the long-term threats for children who miss out on school,” said Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF. “We know the longer children stay out of school, the less likely they are to ever return. Unless we prioritise the reopening of schools – when it is safe to do so – we will likely see a devastating reversal in education gains.”
Children often rely on schools for their only meal of the day, and this has also impacted on their health. Some 370 million of the poorest children worldwide are missing out on school meals. They are also being denied the health support they normally get through school.
The best interests of children and overall public health considerations – based on an assessment of the associated benefits and risks to education, public health and socio-economic factors – must be central to national and local authorities’ decisions to reopen schools, the guidelines say.
Schools must look at how they can reopen better – with improved learning and more comprehensive support for children at the school including health, nutrition, psychosocial support and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and World Bank are part of the Global Education Coalition and have urged governments to assess the benefits of classroom-based instruction 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.
“These guidelines provide all-round guidance for governments and partners to facilitate the reopening of schools for students, teachers and families. We share one goal: to protect and advance the right to education for every learner,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
The guidelines can be downloaded here, and suggest:
- Policy reform: Clear policies for school opening and closure during public health emergencies, strengthen and standardise remote learning practices.
- Financing requirements: Address the impact of COVID-19 on education and invest in strengthening education systems for recovery.
- Safe operations: Ensure conditions that reduce disease transmission, safeguard essential services and supplies and promote healthy behaviour.
- 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.
- Wellness and protection: Expand the protection of children through enhanced referral mechanisms and the provision of essential school-based services including healthcare and school feeding.
- Reaching the most marginalised: Adapt school opening policies and practices to expand access to marginalised groups such as previously out-of-school children, displaced and migrant children and minorities.
Said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education: “Once schools begin to reopen, the priority becomes reintegrating students into school settings safely and in ways that allow learning to pick up again, especially for those who suffered the biggest learning losses. To manage reopenings, schools will need to be logistically prepared with the teaching workforce ready.”
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