COVID-19 Policy

UNESCO Promotes Safe Reopening of Schools; Putting Teachers Up Front for Vaccines

UNESCO, the United Nations agency responsible for education, and Education International, the global federation of education unions, has made a plea for schools worldwide to reopen "safely" and to keep them open "as long as possible." That would require that teachers and others working in schools be considered part of a "priority 1" group for vaccines. The comments came during By UNESCO's recent International Day of Education, which took place online.

According to tracking by UNESCO, at least half of the world's student population--more than 800 million students--are continuing to face disruptions in their studies. Schools are fully closed in 31 countries and reduced to part-time schedules in another 48 countries. Those continued closures in response to COVID-19 are generating a learning loss of about two-thirds of an academic year, on average, the agency estimated, even taking into account delivery of virtual learning.

UNESCO Promotes Safe Reopening of Schools; Putting Teachers Up Front for Vaccines

An interactive map with daily updates on the UNESCO website showed that schools have been fully closed for an average of 14 weeks since the beginning of the current pandemic, and that rose to 22 weeks when taking into account localized school closures. At its height, 190 countries had undergone country-wide closures; now schools are fully open in 101 countries.

"Prolonged and repeated closures of educational institutions are taking a rising psycho-social toll on students, increasing learning losses and the risk of dropping out, disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable," said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, in a statement. "Full school closures must therefore be a last resort and reopening them safely a priority."

In a video, David Edwards, general secretary of Education International, emphasized that "schools are irreplaceable. Reopening schools and education institutions safely and keeping them open as long as possible is an imperative."

"In this context, as we see positive developments regarding vaccination, we believe that teachers and education support personnel must be considered a priority group," Azoulay added in that same video. The number of people in that priority group, according to a UNESCO count, was about 100 million.

Azoulay also urged world leaders to commit to financial recovery packages "to reopen schools safely, targeting those most in need and setting education back on track for the COVID-19 generation."

Worldwide, education has received less than one percent (0.78 percent) of relief funding, according to UNESCO data published in 2020. Aid to education was on target to decline by 12 percent as a result of the economic fallout of the pandemic, the agency stated. UNESCO researchers have suggested that upfront investment in catch-up and remedial programs would "save money down the line" by as much as 75 percent by reducing the expense of repairing the damage caused by COVID-19.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.