UNESCO Webinar “Back to school: Preparing and managing the reopening of schools
”​Back to school: Preparing and managing the reopening of schools

This webinar, organized by UNESCO yielded an extremely interesting discussion around school reopening, and included some very informative presentations, from UNESCO IIEP and from UNICEF, highlighting the major issues countries need to keep in mind from a policy, planning and implementation perspective.

These were followed by country presentations, featuring concrete examples of how different countries in different parts of the world are dealing with some of these issues.

Denmark shared experiences from the reopening schools which started on 15 April, the Republic of Korea informed of the country's planning of different scenarios.  Mexico informed of their strategy of prioritizing students' psycho-social needs and addressing learning loss and inequalities, and, presented how it is using lessons learnt from the Ebola crisis to better plan for responses in the current crisis.

In her closing remarks Vibeke Jensen highlighted the following key messages: On the "when" to reopen schools – school reopening is not unconditional. It is the result of careful consideration of various factors, in consultation with very many stakeholders, including health and education experts, but also parents and teachers, to ensure that there is a basic consensus. We know for sure the importance of the school setting, especially for poor and marginalized children. But this has to been seen in a perspective of broader health issues of the children, the entire school population, and, of course, the public in general. As such, the timing of the reopening of schools is a political decision and will be determined based on the status and evolution of the pandemic in each country. And each country will have to make its own decisions with advice from health experts. The framework for school reopening which was presented by UNICEF and was jointly done by the World Bank, UNICEF, UNESCO and WFP and also the related resources, they all provide very useful tools for decision-makers in this process. Planning and preparation for school reopenings must start as soon as possible and, ideally, with multiple and flexible scenarios, such as planning for partial reopening or, as we have heard, differential reopening, e.g. different grades on different days and at different times. 

Now, when it comes to "how" to reopen schools: the conditions under which schools reopen as well as the processes to follow, will the next issues to consider. Ministries must ensure the preparedness of the education system across several factors, including the preparedness of infrastructure, taking into consideration health and sanitation measures, preparedness of the teaching staff, and, first of all to first receive children, and help them adjust to being back to school. Teachers will need to attend to the psycho-social needs of children before addressing their academic needs. And pedagogical preparedness to assess progress under the closure and remedial action, decide on high-stake exams, etc. and there is also the preparedness of the students themselves, as well as that of their parents and families, who need to feel safe to return to the class room, and make sure they are physically and emotionally ready to continue learning.

We have learned from past crises that there are some common challenges to anticipate and those include an increased risk of drop out, emerging inequalities and widening of the existing ones, learning loss are among some of the challenges.

Children from vulnerable backgrounds will require particular attention, due to lack of care and support or exposure to adverse conditions and violence. Girls and women are particularly vulnerable and disproportionately affected in a period of crisis.

And, finally, when schools are up and partially or fully running, we must constantly be monitoring, assessing and re-assessing the situation. It is important to take small, careful and gradual steps, evaluating safety and effectiveness before moving to the next.

Please be informed u that a recording of the webinar, presentations and the report and all materials are all available on the webinar's web page. ​