Mission: Recovering Education 2021

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Ayyub Najarada, attends school at the Kalbajar School #56 in the Masazy settlement in Absheron Region. He is at the chalkboard, ready to answer questions.

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When your house is on fire, you don’t worry about how big it is, the color of the paint on the walls, or whether the kitchen is too small. You just focus on putting out the fire. In the education sector, our house is on fire. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the worst shock to education systems in a century, with the longest school closures combined with the worst recessions in decades. More than 1.6 billion children have lost instructional time for many months at a time, if not for much of the last year, and many children are still not back in school. School closures and the resulting disruptions to school participation and learning are projected to amount to losses valued at $10 trillion in terms of affected children’s future earnings. 

We need to put the fire out right now. Children’s learning has suffered immensely. And because the Education sector also provides health, nutrition, and psychosocial services, the overall welfare of children has declined substantially. Their recovery should start immediately. This is why UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank are launching a joint mission – Mission: Recovering Education 2021  – focused on three priorities: bringing all children back to schools, recovering learning losses, and preparing and supporting teachers. We commit to working together as multilaterals on these priorities and to supporting countries more directly in their efforts to bring children back to school and get them back on track to learning.  These priorities might not give you your dream house; they are meant to put out the fire first.

For each priority, we have set ambitious targets. We will track progress on these through existing indicators following the SDG 4 monitoring framework, as well as more recent data efforts such as the UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank joint Survey on National Educational Response to COVID-19 School Closures and the COVID-19 Global Education Recovery Tracker, a new tool developed in partnership by Johns Hopkins University’s eSchool+ Initiative, UNICEF, and the World Bank to monitor school reopening and recovery planning efforts in more than 200 countries and territories.

Priority 1: All children back in a safe and supportive school

The first priority is to get all children back in school for complete or partial in-person instruction before the end of 2021 – that is, to get back to pre-COVID enrolment rates. As of March 2021, more than 168 million children globally have been shut out of any form of in-person learning for almost an entire year. This figure does not include the children who have dropped out of school entirely as a result of the pandemic.  

Experience from reopened schools around the world shows that schools can reopen, and take all possible measures to reopen safely, even when community transmission hasn’t been completely contained and vaccination coverage is low. Young children are not only less likely to transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus than adults, but they are also less likely to suffer from severe forms of COVID-19 when they are infected. Moreover, mitigation efforts like masking, physical distancing, ventilation, and handwashing can effectively minimize disease transmission.

Schools do not just provide instruction for children; they play a critical role in child welfare and development as they also encourage children at-risk of dropping out to remain in school, they provide nutritious meals and  vaccinations, and they connect children with psycho-social support, particularly children who may experience violence in their homes. Cut off from these services for many months -and in many parts of the world more than a year, children need to return to schools that provide comprehensive support to get their learning, health, and overall wellbeing back on track. 

Priority 2: Recovering learning loss

Children around the world have lost substantial instructional time, which in turn will translate into substantial losses in learning. It can’t be assumed that when they return to school, students can easily return to their new grade with a curriculum that assumes they have mastered concepts from the previous year. Prior to the pandemic, remedial education, particularly in the poorest countries, functioned like a luxury good. It was rarely offered by schools serving disadvantaged populations, and when offered by more mature school systems, it was targeted to children at risk of failing. 

Now, having lost months of instructional time, many students will need some remedial education. Just as the Great Depression in the United States helped mainstream acceptance of a publicly funded social safety net, let’s use the current crisis to expand and mainstream remedial education, with a focus on foundational literacy and numeracy skills. To the extent that digital technologies can support these efforts – for example, through adaptive learning software – education systems should direct them to this expansion in remedial education. Tutoring schemes may or may not be tech supported but might be important. By the end of this year, it will be imperative to see countries reporting that their schools in each level of education provide this kind of support.  

In school, children are also learning how to learn and how to react to setbacks; they are developing their social-emotional skills. Recovering months of learning loss will also be challenging for them, requiring self-control, perseverance, and a positive self-image. Like remedial education, social emotional learning functioned like a luxury good before the crisis but now must be mainstreamed to get children back on track. Again, by the end of this year, we aim for countries to report that their schools have incorporated social emotional learning into their teaching.   

Incorporating these elements will require important financial investments to avoid losing this generation, as well as creative managerial decisions of prioritizing elements of the curriculum, adjusting school days and school calendars, and expanding the workforce as needed.   

Priority 3: Preparing and empowering teachers

Teachers are on the front lines in putting out the fire, and they will need support to do this. They need to help children (re)learn what they should have learned last school year as well as teach the current year’s curriculum. They will need training and possible additional support to implement remedial education and social emotional learning, as for many teachers, these will be new tasks. Similarly, teachers will likely need training on delivering instruction remotely or through hybrid approaches, as pedagogy for distance or digital learning would not have been part of their formal training. They need to receive a minimum set of tools and instruments to assess the learning levels of their students and estimate the support they need. All teachers should be prepared for remedial education, social emotional learning, and distance learning by the end of the year.  

Teachers also have to worry about their own health. They face greater risks than children in contracting COVID-19, and they have a higher likelihood of suffering more severe consequences. Although available evidence suggests that schools are not more hazardous than other employment settings, it is imperative for all countries to prioritize teachers for vaccination, after frontline personnel and high-risk populations. 

What will the partners do?

UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank will join forces within countries to help governments and school authorities achieve this critical mission and engage with governments to prioritize education financing for these three priorities. In addition to the global tracking and monitoring of reopening and recovery, we will support countries as they measure learning both in the classroom and system-wide after schools reopen to have a clear diagnostic of students’ needs and estimate the magnitude of learning losses. We will also continue providing technical assistance and financial support for the return to school, for supporting classroom activities to accelerate learning and implement remedial education schemes, and for supporting teachers’ professional development, including the skills particularly needed for this crisis.  

Early in 2022, we will assess progress on these three priorities. We hope we’ll be able to tell you that the fire in education has been contained and that we can focus increasingly on the longer-term task of rebuilding. 

Authors

Stefania Giannini

Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO

Robert Jenkins

Chief, Education and Associate Director, Programme Division, UNICEF

Join the Conversation

Daniel Imeli
April 01, 2021

I love this. It will really help to address the challenges we now face as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In a country like Nigeria, I hope this initiative will be well implemented by those that will be directly and indirectly involved in the entire process of implementation. Though it is not stated here how this initiative will be carries out, and it is not clear how it is structured to achieve the three areas of priorities, I am hopeful that the trio of UNICEF, UNESCO and World Bank will address all the possible hindrances to this learning recovery initiative before it fully kicks off. Let us know how NGOs working in the education sector can be involved. And if provisions are made for assistance from volunteers, let it be known too. I look forward to the convening of all relevant stakeholders in education and outside education to discuss and explain further these priorities and how they can be achieved. For a country like Nigeria, and Africa in general, we will need to engage the government, ministries, departments and agencies of education, schools, administrators, communities, parents and students so as to bring to the knowledge of everyone this initiative and solicit their involvement and participation. I really would love to be involved. Thanks.

geetanjali master
April 01, 2021

This is such an important piece of work. It would also be great to understand how the private sector can play a role in supporting the three priorities not just by financing. How the private sector can become a key partner in the effective use of core assets, as well as integration of these priorities in their core CSR for education.

Ronald Thwaites
April 07, 2021

Will it be advisable to repeat the lost school year rather than trying to patch up learning loss unevenly?

Sivaram
April 07, 2021

For once, in this world, everybody is aware that we are all in it! True that children's vulnerability increases by being away from schools and the learning curve are definitely getting affected.
Key factors that may help children's return to school may be:

Engaging, empowering, and taking the parents of school-going children into confidence is essential;

This needs participatory/collaborative process between local government, school administration, and parents;

It could begin with a 25% attendance both for teachers and students with carefully planned activities;

Global efforts may bring in funds - but how effectively we channelize and use these funds to get the best needs to be planned differently for each country as one size does not fit all.

Messages from the United Nations organizations in the social media must have "it can be done" kind of reassuring success stories to keep people motivated.

Every picture showing the pain and suffering due to pandemics should have captions that speak about how to turn this around and win. The world needs to continue to see our technical supremacy.
Sivaram
Unicef
India country office

Lakhumang Chowtang
April 07, 2021

C19 put full stop in daily routine of our children- at Home and mostly at Schools. Now it must be restarted. Its duty of every individual to think and work on it voluntarily.

Eileen
April 09, 2021

I am overwhelmed with the issues but recognise the incredible selfless generosity and compassion everyone is doing to improve the quality of life of every family.