The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to increasingly stringent measures around the world, including countrywide or localized school closures. As news is moving fast, this blog aims to synthesize some of the resources UNESCO has been set up for countries’ and organisations’ disposal.
As of 22 March, UNESCO has counted as many as 124 countries that have carried out countrywide school closures, affecting over 1.25 billion learners from pre-primary to tertiary education. While some of the first countries to be affected by the crisis, such as China and Japan, are already considering a partial return to school, this number is likely to continue increasing. The crisis brings multiple challenges, some obvious, some not. To operationalize remote learning at such scale requires human capacities, technological infrastructure, experience and finance. Many agencies, organisations and companies are ramping up to help meet the needs.
In the immediate phase, UNESCO set up an Education Response Task Force, coordinated by the Assistant Director-General for Education, which created a web platform with examples of online remote learning solutions, and of different set ups per country. As school closures multiplied at the start of the month, it held a virtual meeting on 10 March with representatives from over 70 countries, which shared some of their innovative and reactive responses to this sudden education crisis.
Building on that first meeting, UNESCO is proposing an ad-hoc ministerial group that will share effective policy responses with a focus on the most vulnerable with the next meeting planned for today – the 23 March. It will focus on support to teachers, parents and caregivers.
UNESCO has also created a wider Community of Practice running webinars, for instance, with countries and organisations the first of which took place at the end of last week, focusing on remote learning with an equity lens, and the next one scheduled to focus on teachers.
In addition to these online hubs, UNESCO is also planning set up a Global Covid-19 Education Coalition to give technical assistance and capacity development to countries in the face of the crisis. Partners eager to offer solutions that scalable and can contribute to a strong evidence base of good practices for distance learning are invited. The ambition is for this coalition to form a strong advocacy platform at the global level, potentially attracting funding as a result. As solutions emerge from partners, UNESCO will help match them up with countries needing support. As such, it aims to perform a brokering function as well.
These are unprecedented times, which call for international solidarity, multilateralism, coordination and peer-learning, a function that UNESCO is determined to help provide.