How is the coronavirus affecting learners with disabilities?

Schools perform many functions outside of education. They provide a safe haven, a social arena, and, for families with children with special needs, they offer vital one-to-one support. Online learning, by comparison, is simply not up to the task. So what about their right to an education?


Image: Shivam Kapoor/UNESCO

Many websites and programmes are simply not accessible for blind or deaf students. As the 2020 GEM Report on inclusion will show, we have the technology to ensure that visually impaired students can study in mainstream schools and to use online studying materials in different formats, such as scanned versions that convert texts into sound or Braille characters – and some countries already do this. But, with schools closed around the world, some teachers are going the extra mile, using video conferencing to try and teach Braille, as this example from Canada describes, this is the exception rather than the rule.  And it is not sustainable.

Aside from technology matters, for children with even mild learning difficulties, such as attention deficit disorders, finding the self-motivation to work independently in front of a computer is a major challenge. Learning aside, losing the daily routine that school provides adds a significant layer of difficulty for learners with disabilities who are sensitive to change, such as those with autism spectrum disorder. To combat this, in Argentina, despite the lock down, special dispensation is given to parents of children with autism who are allowed to take their children on short car rides. But is this enough? Continue reading

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Who are the GEM Report Fellows?

gem report fellowshipThe GEM Report Fellowship, supported by OSF, and launched in 2019, aims to strengthen the evidence base on education, particularly in emerging economies, build research capacity in education, and reinforce the links between research, policy, and practice in education. There were four Fellows in the first year of the programme, and four more have just been appointed for the second round. This blog tells you about their areas of research.

The first round of fellows were Madhuri Agarwal from India, Gabriel Badescu from Romania, Enrique Valencia-Lopez from Mexico and Donny Baum from the USA. The first three worked on studies to inform the 2020 GEM Report on inclusion due for launch on June 23. Danny worked on a study relevant to the 2021 GEM Report on non-state provision. More information on their particular areas of research are below.

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Drawing links between economic status and education outcomes from ASER 2019

By M. Afzan Munir

Economic well-being affects a child’s education achievement in multiple ways. Studies have shown that a family’s socioeconomic status positively contributes not only towards a child’s educational attainment, but towards their academic performance as well.  ASER Pakistan 2019 survey has further explored this relationship in rural areas across Pakistan, collecting information on multiple education and household indicators. Using this data, an assets-based wealth index was generated using a Principal Component Analysis method to then break down the data  into four categories of socio economic status – or quartiles.


Image: Mohammad Abu Bakar

Screenshot 2020-03-27 at 11.40.46

Figure 1: Learning Levels (Highest Competency) by Wealth Status (ASER 2019)

This figure on the left shows that children in Pakistan from the richest families   (Wealth Quartile 4) outperformed children from the lower quartiles in all three subjects. The learning gaps are widest between children from the richest and the poorest households. On average, 40% of children from the richest but only and 22% of children from the poorest families are  able to read a story in Urdu;  38% of children from the richest but only 20% of children from the poorest are able to read English sentences, and 36% of children from the richest compared to 19% of the poorest can solve 2-digit division questions. Moreover, children from the same wealth quartile have been found to be performing better in reading Urdu relative to the assessment of other subjects.

This pattern continues for other higher-level competencies such as General Knowledge, Urdu Comprehension and Arithmetic Word Problems as well. Around twice as many children in Pakistan from the richest households answered all questions in respective domains correctly compared to children with lower socio-economic status as the next figure shows. Continue reading

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Coronavirus also has implications for data collection on education

Questions around Covid-19 and education arise in the short, medium and long term. Right now, it is important to understand how to support teachers, parents, and students to mitigate the impact of school closures, especially for the most vulnerable Later on, we will need to understand the effects on entire school careers and beyond, and on countries’ progress towards the 2030 targets. Both perspectives will require quality data and analysis in the coming 2-3 years to understand and learn which of today’s activities worked or not, and what this means for continued support needs in the decade to come. But finding that data is not easy pickings.


Image: Petterik Wiggers/Panos 

For example, this year, more than two dozen MICS and DHS surveys are planned or are already underway. These are critical for informing on many low and lower-middle income countries’ progress towards SDG 4.

However, these surveys are likely to be disrupted. Fieldwork in many countries may be suspended to be resumed at another point in time, leading to data being collected across different school years, hampering interpretation. Both the DHS and the MICS ask about attendance at any time during the current school year rather than strictly ‘current’ attendance. However, in countries in the southern hemisphere, where schools closed shortly after the beginning of the school year because of the virus, or didn’t open to begin with, it is unclear to what extent households will answer the question consistently. Are children being home-schooled ‘attending’ school? Continue reading

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Three ways to plan for equity during the coronavirus school closures

By Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education and Suzanne Grant Lewis, UNESCO-IIEP Director

From school closures and home confinement to travel bans, countries and municipalities are ramping up efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. For education, the ramifications have resulted in a record number of children, youth and adults not attending schools or universities.

UNESCO estimates that, as of 24 March, 138 countries have closed schools nationwide, impacting over 1.3 billion children and youth. A further 11 countries have implemented localized school closures.

In the ensuing weeks, this will raise major challenges around equity: how will the most vulnerable students fare when schools are closed?

Understanding the risks of school closures for the most vulnerable

School closures in the context of this rapidly-spreading virus have been deemed necessary by health authorities across the globe, to both slow the spread of the disease and to mitigate the effects on health systems that will not be able to cope with potentially massive numbers of critically ill patients. In some contexts, confinement is becoming not only an act of civil solidarity, but an imperative measure for protecting public health.

However, confinement and school closures often have longer-term consequences, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized, magnifying already-existing disparities within the education system. In addition to the missed opportunities for learning, many children and youth lose access to healthy meals, and are subjected to economic and social stress.


Image: Kate Holt

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How are countries addressing the Covid-19 challenges in education? A snapshot of policy measures

By Gwang-Chol Chang and Satoko Yano, UNESCO’s Section of Education Policy

Close to 80% of the world’s student population – 1.3 billion children and youth – is affected by school closures in 138 countries. Taken as a measure to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, some of these closures are recent, in others they have already been in place for months. In all cases, closures are placing unprecedented challenges on governments to ensure learning continuity, and on teachers, students, caregivers and parents.


Image: Ivan Flores

UNESCO has been monitoring school closures since early March and documenting national responses, including through virtual ministerial meetings and webinars bringing together a community of practice.

This blog provides a snapshot of some of the measures taken by countries to address their immediate challenges. The information is based on various sources, including government announcements, official documents, decrees, circulars and guidelines available online, as well as media reports. As education is decentralized in many of the countries reviewed, the examples presented below may be implemented locally and not nation-wide – they are by no means exhaustive.

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What are the financial implications of the coronavirus for education?

How long is a piece of string? You might be asking, looking at the question this blog is asking. And to some extent, you’d be right. In these early days of the outbreak, it is as yet unknown how long it will be among us, and for how long measures, such as school closures will be required.  We don’t know how much budgets are going to be diverted or how long austerity will be in place to recover the costs of the temporary emergency measures. But instead of fixating on what we do not know, however, let’s list what we do.

One report, which looked at labour market data in the United States, the United Kingdom and the eurozone surmised that, in the event of school closures, up to 20% of the workforce may need to take off work to care for dependent children. If this were to be the case for four weeks, the GDP of these countries could fall by 1.5%.

A separate study looked just at the UK, showing that school closures lasting four weeks could cut 3% from the country’s GDP, costing the economy billions of pounds.  Most studies, however, tend to look at the case of the United States. One, conducted in 2009, which estimated the effect of potential measures under the federal government’s Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation, found that the cost per student per week of school closures that leaves parents unable to work ranges from US$35 to US$157. In total, closing schools for four weeks would cost between 10 and 47 billion US dollars, equivalent to 0.1-0.3 percent of US GDP.

The three researchers dusted their assumptions of ten years ago to produce an updated estimate in the context of the current crisis, which confirmed these fairly devastating sums: $51 billion a month, equivalent to 0.24% of the US economy, would be the price of closing all schools.

estimated economic cost

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