While the COVID-19 pandemic first affects the health care system, spreading effects are already being observed in the education system, mainly as a result of increased school closures. The following key issues require attention:
School closures today due to the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 has affected nearly 1 billion students worldwide. According to information compiled by the World Bank, at the time of writing this year – 100 countries at the national level, with 85 schools at the national level, with 85 schools on five continents reporting on five continents. These numbers are changing very quickly.
There are various factors that need to be weighed when deciding to close a school. On one hand, despite the low incidence of COVID-19 among children, school closure is a critical element of social distancing tools designed to slow the spread of infection and prevent the acceleration of cases in the disease to avoid burdening the health system. The effectiveness of this measure as a means of slowing the spread of infection will depend on the exact timing of the population and school closures, age structure the duration of the closing period. The latest guidance from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that school closures do serve their purpose (especially if COVID-19 cases are detected in schools) by allowing rooms to be disinfected and contacts traced. The Center’s guidance also recognizes the importance of school closures as a tool to increase social distancing. The document notes that in cases of significant new infection in society, the closure may be required for a period of 4 to 8 weeks.
On the other hand, a long period of discontinuance that separates students from the teaching and learning process entails potential costs in the form of losses in learning outcomes. An even more significant cost is incurred when disadvantaged students (academically lagging behind or experiencing socioeconomic difficulties) are out of school who may not be able to cope with a distance learning strategy (see next section). Where school meals are routinely provided for schoolchildren, school closures may exclude students from school meals unless alternative mechanisms are in place. During medium-long school closures, it can increase the risk that young people, especially those in relatively low-income groups, will drop out of school. Closing a school also increases the burden of the public who have to stay at home or look for new opportunities if children stay at home (the situation is even worse with the closure of playgrounds in childcare centers), which affects the supply of labor.
Differences in the degree of importance attached to these aspects influence the decisions of authorities on whether and when to close schools. In the UK, Finland, and Sweden, schools are still operating. In the UK, the costs of school closures are considered — at least for now — to outweigh the health benefits of the population, justifying the postponement of decision.
In countries where the outbreak is localized, some governments have decided to close schools in the immediate area or region of the outbreak, or schools themselves have decided to close as a preventive measure or to disinfect before children return to class. Portugal, Spain, India are examples of countries closing schools regionally in an effort to contain or slow the spread of infection. The figure below illustrates a decision tree that can be useful to governments when considering different options.
Indirect impacts of the pandemic: In addition to the direct impact on schooling, the impacts of the pandemic include the potential use of school premises as makeshift hospitals, as in some rural areas with poor infrastructure, schools may be the only public buildings available since the premises will be inaccessible for the purpose of teaching children. In addition, by using accommodating mechanisms (see below), the practice of providing alternative services for distance learning can work more effectively for those students who have better communications at home and those with higher initial digital skills. As a result, students in disadvantaged situations may fall further behind in their studies, so that school closures with inadequate adaptation mechanisms could imply increasing inequalities in children’s education.
How can the education system lighten the influence of COVID-19?
Raise preparedness with working schools. Currently, most governments are deploying student hygiene and sanitation awareness campaigns in schools (as well as other platforms). In Afghanistan, the Ministries of Health and Education have launched an awareness campaign on good hygiene practices in schools, on television, and on social media. In Finland, where some schools are closed, most schools continue to operate in a preventive manner. In Russia, in particular in Moscow and the Moscow region, schools have been transferred to free attendance. If parents want their children to stop attending school, they have the right to leave them at home. As compensation, distance learning was organized using information technology. In Ethiopia, an education campaign is being carried out in schools through which the Ministry of Education is disseminating information materials to students and parents on ways to reduce the risk of infection.
In places where the potential (for example, those who were fighting the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015) is low, governments can use the material and manpower of the education service to combat the epidemic. Because educators are well educated and have the credibility of the low-literacy community, educators can serve as a resource for raising awareness and providing guidance to local communities. For example, in Liberia, or, let`s say, Sierra Leone, teachers were trained in the protocols for screening children for fever after schools reopened. Teachers were also involved in raising awareness of the causes and symptoms of infection.
Limiting physical contact by cutting back on social and extra-curricular activities. Many countries restrict or cancel extra-curricular, sporting, and social activities to reduce physical contact. These measures are taken at the level of individual schools, imposed by governments at the regional or national level in order to embody social distancing rules. In Europe and the Middle East, governments have banned large gatherings, including sporting and scientific events that are not of prime importance. For instance, in the Republic of Belarus, where schools continue to operate, social interaction is limited, including large gatherings of people and communication outside of school.
Distance learning use o reduce learning losses
With school closings, many countries have resorted to distance learning as a way to compensate the lost time. the process of providing educational services. In some countries, resources are simply posted on the website and additional educational products are provided, but the online lesson is not necessarily delivered. In other countries, such as Spain, teachers are asked to develop interactive electronic content and deliver lessons online. Infrastructure availability and knowing the tools appear to be factors determining the success of remote learning. For example, China, where connectivity is high, has been successful in distance learning, while other countries where the Internet, cellular and television penetration is limited (such as Vietnam, Mongolia) struggle to reach all students equally.
The provision of resources for working from home can now be achieved through a variety of technological methods. However, the ability to access communications and different types of devices varies greatly depending on the income level of people. Therefore, one of the key challenges is to prevent the creation of additional inequalities. Some African countries (Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, Botswana, The Gambia) can start preparing now, because in these countries schools are sufficiently equipped with communication means and devices (tablets) that kids can take home with them. However, in most places, students only have some access to mobile devices, and the focus should be on optimizing the available technical capabilities for such students. Despite a large amount of digital content available (some of it is even offered in the open access), the most important task for the coming weeks is to prepare teaching material that will be available in a structured form and will attract the attention of all students.
In order to provide access to the developed content, it is possible to consider such a useful option as establishing partnerships with some service providers in the private sector. (An example would be Ubongo, which has branches in all African countries). One of the key elements when considering using cell phones for any of the content ministries could be established by any ministries for downloading content from any of the ministries of education. hosting platforms containing educational resources on its basis). You can still use radio and television, but these options are generally more suitable for younger grades (in doing so, radio and TV channels must prepare to take into account the interests of children and their caregivers.) Many countries already have material that can be re-broadcast on radio and TV broadcast. Plus, a critical factor to provide remote learning is that teachers and administrations know how it works. Singapore, in preparation for school closings, is currently organizing teacher training on how to deliver e-lessons. In a number of countries, for example, in Lebanon, a different option was chosen: the children were given homework and sent home, where they would study independently in a distance mode with the help of their peers and parents, and then, after the schools reopened, the knowledge gained would be consolidated. organizing remote learning in a pandemic, prepared by the World Bank experts on educational technologies.)
Using resources of education to support the overall crisis response
With low capacity and poor infrastructure, some countries use workers and the physical infrastructure of the education system to support local populations during crisis situations. For example, in areas with a low degree or lack of territorial connectivity, educational institutions can be used as information centers and medical evacuation centers (after school closings). In such cases, there should be clear guidelines for returning the school to its original purpose after the crisis is over. In addition, staff members of educational institutions, during the closure, can receive training and then assist in the implementation of some initiatives, in particular, in carrying out educational and other activities among the population (for example, during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, teachers in Ebola in Guinea helped to track the contacts of their patients in Guinea and was involved in work with the Guinean community).
Lessons took from the previous cases of emergency to ensure adequate recovery
Supporting the return of the educational sector to normalcy requires a number of important actions: Evaluating the impact to learn lessons for the future and absence of teachers for job, postponement of exams, lack of sufficient funds for families to send their children back to school, etc.
Communication campaigns and information dissemination are essential to reassure parents of the safety of children returning to school. Such measures are urgently needed in communities severely affected by emergencies and mistrust of the authorities’ efforts to take action. You can inform about the timing of disinfection of schools (if they were used as isolation centers), disseminate screening protocols (describing the procedure for action if a child has a fever at school), inform about the provision of handwashing facilities, consumables, etc.
If the current education system is facing great difficulties and schools lack the basic infrastructure to meet student needs, there should be no rush to reopen schools. Returning educational facilities to their original state may not be sufficient if schools do not have handwashing facilities or toilets, as schoolchildren will again become vulnerable to health risks in the future. Thus, recovery from crisis situations creates opportunities for school refurbishment to improve quality.
Reduced family incomes due to the economic impact of the crisis can affect the level of attendance, especially where a school is paid for by families. When assessments are identified, governments may consider temporarily waiving tuition fees or providing conditional cash transfers to families most in need.
Prepare reliable data collection mechanisms. Systems with implemented and proven information tools work more efficiently. In many data-deficient countries in sub-Saharan Africa, World Bank experts are helping to build stable systems to support operational decision-making.
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