Have we underestimated the number of students affected by school closures?

By Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only brought the loss of many lives and severe pressures on health systems, it has also had a severe and negative impact on livelihoods of disadvantaged people and has led to governments closing schools. Both factors threaten the ambitious education targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, notably by exacerbating learning inequities. This blog presents new information about partial closures of schools, proposing a new methodology to estimate the number of affected students and introducing two new dashboards on school closures.

Credit: Credit: GPE/Adrien Boucher

Since the beginning of the pandemic, school closure decisions have evolved as reflected through the data collected by the UNESCO school closures tracker. In March 2020, a drastic decision to close schools affected the vast majority of students, about 1.6 billion. As countries gradually controlled the spread of the virus, schools reopened, fully or partially, by September 2020. According to the UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank joint survey, 9 out of 10 countries implemented some remote learning modality to mitigate learning losses. A new UNESCO dashboard updates the COVID-19 country profiles with information on the different strategies used for remote learning.

At the beginning of the academic year in the northern hemisphere, the pandemic brought a different response with most countries re-opening schools, using full in-person instruction or hybrid models, which combined in-person attendance with remote learning. Full school closures continued in some regions, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, or closures for some grades, where the conditions for reopening fully did not favour in-presence interaction.

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LGBTI rights are human rights

By Jennifer Moses, National Official (Equality and Training), NASUWT

The NASUWT Teachers’ Union is fully committed to the belief that all students and teachers should be free to teach and learn in an inclusive environment that respects LGBTI* rights.  We strongly believe that an inclusive education environment for pupils and students must also be a safe and inclusive space for all school staff, particularly those that are LGBTI.

Monday was the international day against homophobia transphobia and biphobia and a new study released by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report and the LGBTQI youth organisation (IGLYO), finds that over half of LGBTI students in Europe have reported being bullied at school.

Credit: nathanmac87

The UNESCO paper rightly recognises the failure of some education establishments to address discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and intersex variations.  Sadly, evidence from engagement with our LGBTI members and surveys, shows that schools and colleges throughout the UK are ill-equipped to challenge homophobic/biphobic/transphobic bullying and harassment, creating hostile environments for many pupils and staff.  At our recent LGBTI Teachers’ Conference, 36% said that these incidences had worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic with many seeing a rise in homophobic and hateful language being used online.  One member states,

“Homophobia, when I returned to school in September, directed towards myself was worse than ever. I started keeping a diary and on some days there were as many as four incidences of homophobic language/taunts/comments.”

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“Nobody hears us” said a 17-year-old trans man about his experiences in school

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Today on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia we have released a new policy paper, Don’t look away, jointly with The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Intersex Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) with new survey findings and analysis showing unacceptably high levels of discrimination and harassment in education. The paper is being launched today at a Global Conference on Promoting the Rights and Inclusion of LGBTI+ Youth in Paris, co-hosted by the Mouvement d’Affirmation des Jeunes Gais, Lesbiennes, Bi & Trans (MAG), Out Right Action International, the Mairie de Paris and the Austrian Government, and attended by Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, as well as three French Ministers, le Drian, Blanquer, and Moreno as well as Wendy Morton, Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas in the United Kingdom.

‘I’m quite angry at the system because everyone says you can be whoever you want, you can be free, you can express yourself at school, said a 19-year-old student.And then if you try to be different, you get backlash. So, it’s not true.

Credit: jglsongs

According to an IGLYO survey of more than 17,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming and intersex 13- to 24-year olds in Europe, 54% had experienced bullying in school at least once based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or variations of sex characteristics. The survey also showed that 83% of them had at least sometimes witnessed negative comments towards LGBTQI students, and 67% had been the target of those negative comments at least once.

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Visualizing education systems around the world

By Manos Antoninis, Director, Global Education Monitoring Report and Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics

The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) was established in the 1970s and updated in 1997 and 2011 to categorize information on education systems in a way that facilitates cross-national comparisons of education statistics. For all countries outside of the OECD and the European Union, these systems are now available in diagram form and in multiple languages thanks to joint work by the UIS and the GEM Report. As from today, they can be accessed at a new ISCED website hosted by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), and at the GEM Report’s PEER website of country profiles. ISCED diagrams for the OECD and the European Union countries are available on their respective websites.

The diagrams help visualize different education system characteristics, including the age of students at different education levels or the length of study required for different tertiary education degrees.

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COVID‑19 highlights an opportunity for out-of-school children

The response of education during the pandemic has revealed the possibilities, both digital and non-digital, to reduce the number of out-of-school children, including those who were already excluded before the COVID‑19 crisis.

By Wongani Grace Taulo, Suguru Mizunoya, Garen Avanesian, Frank Van Cappelle, Jim Ackers

Until about a year ago, being out of school was solely about who you were, where you were born, where you lived and your social and economic conditions. Today, COVID‑19‑related school closures have impacted all children and young people, keeping them out of school for prolonged periods. At its peak, nationwide school closures affected over 90 per cent of the world’s student population resulting in extraordinary challenges to the continuity of learning – particularly for children in marginalized groups. With pandemic school closures, the concept of out-of-school children has taken on a new meaning and attracted increased attention.

Credit: UNICEF/Kanobana

In 2018, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimated that over 258 million children, adolescents and youth were out of school – one sixth of the global population of this age group. Lessons from previous school closures show that not all children will return to schools when they reopen. However, as schools reopen, there is a desire to reopen ‘wider’, to accommodate those learners who were already out of school pre‑COVID‑19 – but action is needed now to ensure the numbers of out-of-school children do not increase after this pandemic. 

Can COVID‑19 lessons help against the global problem of out-of-school children?

Efforts to deliver remote learning have shown us that there is an opportunity to exploit the creativity that has emerged in how education can be delivered through more differentiated approaches beyond schools. We have a window to build on the emerging concept of education being delivered any place, any time, to anyone, especially children from the most marginalized populations.

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Counting the cost of COVID-19 on learning in rural Kenya

By Dr Junaid Mubeen, Director of Education at Whizz Education

Learning loss has floated into the lexicon of educators, as we reckon with the consequences of COVID-19 on students’ academic progress. It can be defined in multiple ways. At Whizz Education, we simply take it to mean the erosion of previously acquired knowledge. It is not a new phenomenon: the so-called ‘summer slide’ is an established annual occurrence, with students losing around 2-3 months’ worth of maths knowledge over the extended break. Estimates from the World Bank place the global learning loss as a result of COVID-19 at 6-12 months.  Not all students are affected equally, however. Disadvantaged students from low-resource settings bear the brunt of prolonged breaks from schooling as our own new research from rural Kenya shows.

To date, there have been relatively few studies focused on low-resource settings. Fewer still have probed learning loss at the level of individual topics. To address this gap Whizz Education undertook an analysis of learning levels in rural Kenya, where schools were closed between March and September 2020.

Our analysis of almost 1000 students in Kenya showed that 53% of them experienced a decline in Maths Age (analogous to Reading Age: a nine-year-old student is expected to have a Maths Age of nine and so on)corresponding to learning loss. The average loss among students experiencing knowledge declines was equivalent to 1.1 years, or 13 months, with losses greatest in topics involving formal calculation methods. This confirms the widespread and emphatic nature of learning loss. It reinforces the urgent need for educators and policymakers to direct attention and resources towards recovery efforts.

Figure 1: Learning loss by topic

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What role can schools play to end violence and sexual harassment?

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By Manos Antoninis

Effective sex education programmes can help combat sexual violence in school and in society.

When will it be safe for a woman to walk herself home at night without the threat of assault or worse by a man? And when do we arrive at the moment that all women are safe from their partners in their own homes? When will schools and workplaces be free of gender-based violence? How can we use the power of education to turn these norms around?

Image: UN Women

In the space of just a few months, we have been reminded yet again how vulnerable women still are to violence and harassment. The tragic murder of Sarah Everard in the UK was followed by the senseless shooting of six Asian American women in the state of Georgia. In February, 317 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from their boarding school in the northwestern state of Zamfara. In India, as people were still reeling from the September 2020 gang rape and subsequent death of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh, a supreme court judge in New Delhi caused outrage after he was quoted as asking an accused rapist whether he would marry his school-aged victim. In Australia, former government employee Brittany Higgins said she was raped by a male colleague in a government minister’s office in 2019 Meanwhile, there are reports that male government staff have set up a Facebook group so they can share videos of sex acts performed in Parliament in Canberra.

Violence and sexual assault against girls and women are more common than we think. Globally, about 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

On the Instagram page of Everyone’s Invited, an online campaign against rape culture set up in the UK, more than 15,000 disturbing accounts of sexual assault and harassment have been shared by girls and boys. It is striking how many of the accounts took place in education institutions. So disturbing and numerous are some of the testimonies that newspapers referred to one school as a “hotbed of sexual violence”.

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Children with disabilities can learn…and the pandemic should be no barrier!

By Rita Crespo Fernandez, Humanity & Inclusion

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Photo credit: Humanity & Inclusion

Khursaid, who lives in Nepal, is in the 4th grade. He can only see when using glasses and has been using them since he was two. During the lockdown, his glasses broke, and ever since he has had difficulty in performing everyday activities, particularly in doing school work. He has no access to internet and his mother just has a simple phone which is not suitable for distance learning.

His father lost his job, which has affected the household’s income. Currently, it is difficult to see how Khursaid will be able to remain in school without financial support to cover other school costs. His family may also need him to help earn an income, which is currently their biggest priority.

Testimony collected by Humanity & Inclusion in Nepal, as part of the Assessment of education provision for children with disabilities during COVID-19, 2020.

Challenging times for children with disabilities

At the peak of the pandemic, according to UNESCO, 1.6 billion children were out of school. Already before the COVID-19 outbreak, one in five children and young people were excluded from education, children with disabilities being 2.5 times more likely to have never been in school than their peers without disabilities.

While school closures represented a challenging situation for all learners, children with disabilities found it particularly difficult to stay connected and continue learning. A survey conducted by Save the Children showed that during the pandemic 90% of the caregivers of children and young people with disabilities reported encountering obstacles to learning.

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Introducing five new GEM Report Fellows for 2021

English / Español

We are pleased to announce five new fellowship appointments for the GEM Report for this year.

The new fellows for 2021 responded to a call for research proposals that would: 

  • utilize the GEM Report’s data resources, notably those household and school surveys linked to the World Inequality Database on Education, to strengthen analyses of global, regional and national education trends on issues of access, equity, inclusion, quality and learning; 
  • strengthen the content of the GEM Report with respect to its coverage of important issues at the global, regional and national level, through evidence-based analyses of education policy and practice; 
  • advance the SDG 4 monitoring agenda, especially on issues related to the global and thematic indicator framework that have been highlighted in previous reports; 
  • support the themes of forthcoming GEM reports, i.e. the 2023 report on technology.

“The GEM Report Fellowship gave me the opportunity to develop a research project in global education and receive feedback from a fantastic team of specialists that encouraged me to combine rigorous data analysis with a special focus on its policy implications.”

Nicolas Buchbinder, GEM Report Fellow 2020

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Female science and mathematics teachers: Better than they think?

By Dirk Hastedt (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement), Justine Sass (UNESCO) and Matthias Eck (UNESCO)

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More urgently than ever before, more girls and women are needed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In over two-thirds of education systems, less than 25% of students in engineering, manufacturing, construction, or information and communication technologies (ICT) are women. Yet STEM careers are growing in demand and needed to solve the current challenges facing the world, including the current COVID-19 crisis, climate change and food and water security.

Considering this urgency, UNESCO and the International Association of the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) investigated how teacher self-efficacy – or belief in your own capacity to master a task or accomplish a goal – and gender are related in mathematics and science teaching in a special issue of the IEA Compass: Briefs in Education Series.

Using data from IEA’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015, the analysis looked at 43 education systems at Grade 8 and 52 education systems at Grade 4. The results of this new analysis show that there is no direct relationship between the gender of the teacher and students’ performance in science and mathematics. Grade 4 and 8 students taught by female teachers perform just as well in science and mathematics as their peers taught by male teachers.

However, the analysis finds that female science and mathematics teachers have less self-efficacy overall than their male counterparts. This is particularly the case for science. Grade 4 female science teachers reported lower levels of self-efficacy than their male counterparts in 16 education systems. This was also the case at Grade 8, where female science teachers reported lower levels of self-efficacy in 13 education systems.

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