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Framework for Reopening Schools

3rd September, 2020

Greenbay Primary

Global school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic present an unprecedented risk to children’s education, protection and wellbeing. The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently called on governments and donors to prioritize education for all children, including the most marginalized, and the Global Education Coalition was established to support governments in strengthening distance learning and facilitating the reopening of schools.

While we do not yet have enough evidence to measure the effect of school closures on the risk of disease transmission, the adverse effects of school closures on children’s safety, wellbeing and learning are well documented. Interrupting education services also has serious, long-term consequences for economies and societies such as increased inequality, poorer health outcomes, and reduced social cohesion. In many countries, data on virus prevalence is incomplete and decision makers will need to make their best assessments in a context of incomplete information and uncertainty. National governments and partners must simultaneously work to promote and safeguard every child’s right to education, health and safety, as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The best interest of the child must be paramount.

Across countries leaders are grappling with difficult and uncertain trade-offs as they consider easing lockdowns. This framework serves to inform the decision-making process on when to reopen schools, support national preparations and guide the implementation process, as part of the overall public health and education planning processes. Contextualization and continuous adaptation are necessary in order to respond to local conditions and meet each child’s learning, health and safety needs.

Why reopen schools?

Disruptions to instructional time in the classroom can have a severe impact on a child’s ability to learn. The longer marginalized children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. Children from the poorest households are already almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than those from the richest. Being out of school also increases the risk of teenage pregnancy, sexual exploitation, child marriage, violence and other threats. Further, prolonged closures disrupt essential school-based services such as immunization, school feeding, and mental health and psychosocial support, and can cause stress and anxiety due to the loss of peer interaction and disrupted routines. These negative impacts will be significantly higher for marginalized children, such as those living in countries affected by conflict and other protracted crises, migrants, refugees and the forcibly displaced, minorities, children living with disabilities, and children in institutions. School reopenings must be safe and consistent with each country’s overall COVID-19 health response, with all reasonable measures taken to protect students, staff, teachers and their families.

When, where and which schools to reopen?

The timing of school reopenings should be guided by the best interest of the child and overall public health considerations, based on an assessment of the associated benefits and risks and informed by cross-sectoral and context-specific evidence, including education, public health and socio-economic factors. This analysis will also help to prioritize risk mitigation measures. Decision-making should be done together with subnational stakeholders so that actions are based on an analysis of each local context.

Decisions on reopening will require countries to quickly gather critical information on how schools, teachers, students and communities are coping with closures and the pandemic. Rapid response surveys of school and local leaders, teachers, students and parents can help provide this information. Decision makers must then assess how learning and wellbeing can best be supported in each context, with special consideration of the benefits of classroom-based instruction vis-à-vis remote learning, against risk factors related to reopening of schools, noting the inconclusive evidence around the infection risks related to school attendance.

Analyzing the context-specific benefits and risks enables prioritization of schools (or components of schools) for reopening; prioritization of risk mitigation measures within schools and communities; and areas of focus for remote learning.

Reference: This article was reprinted from