Getting back to learning: key policy actions for reopening schools

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Teacher standing in front of her class Teacher standing in front of her class

COVID-19 shuttered schools around the world, leaving more than 1.6 billion children out of school early in the pandemic. According to a recent UNICEF calculation, approximately 214 million children – or 1 in 7 globally – missed over three-quarters of in-person learning between March 2020 and February 2021. 

While most countries have reopened schools for some in-person instruction, subsequent COVID19 outbreaks have prompted lockdowns and more closures, suggesting that the recovery of learning is likely to involve schools’ switching between episodes of school reopening and closing.  

The ensuing  expected learning losses would translate into a rise in the global Learning Poverty rate to 63% (from 53% before COVID-19).

What can governments do to ensure that children return to school safely and stem learning losses they may have sustained? 

UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank, and the World Food Programme published a joint Framework for reopening schools that provides high-level guidance around safe operations, stemming learning loss, ensuring the well-being of students and teachers, and guidance on how to reach the most marginalized children. 

What have we learned so far about how countries should implement these recommendations? What specific investments, actions, and programs can help? 

To support countries’ reopening efforts, our team at the Bank’s education Global Practice has developed a package of short Policy Action Notes that curate evidence and examples around essential policy actions and provide choices for different contexts during both remote and in-person instruction. By design, the Notes are short and are meant to be “living documents” that offer a starting point for implementing recommendations related to health and safety, modifications to education systems’ pedagogical approaches, and management of the reopening process, covering needs and responsibilities of various stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, school management). 

Within these three broad buckets – health and safety, pedagogical, and managerial – we have identified a set of key policy actions countries may want to consider as they strive to bring children back to school:

Health and Safety 

Modifying Pedagogy


These Reopening Notes were produced in line with the Mission: Recovering Education 2021 by which the Bank is partnering with UNESCO and UNICEF to support countries as they take all actions possible to plan, prioritize, and ensure that all learners are back in school; that schools take all measures to reopen safely; that students receive effective remedial learning and comprehensive services to help recover learning losses and improve overall welfare; and their teachers are prepared and supported to meet their learning needs. 

The Reopening Notes were developed through a rigorous process of curating policy options, including reviewing the literature and consulting with expert researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. The pandemic is far from over, country policy responses keep evolving, and new evidence is accumulating. We welcome your feedback on how we can improve these Notes to ensure that the content reflects our shared best knowledge on how to help countries recover and accelerate learning. Please reach out to us at to share your thoughts or country examples, and stay tuned for updates on these Reopening Notes!


Samira Halabi

Senior Education Specialist

Alaka Holla

SIEF Program Manager

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