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Education Reforms in Global Context: Policy & Practice

(Past event)

Event type: Webinar

Related research: Education

events23 November 2020

Leaders and experts from across the globe will discuss the efforts of international organizations, research institutes and governments to ensure the provision of quality education for all children. COVID-19 has added another layer of challenges vis-a-vis equity, learning and governance. How are governments responding to the COVID-19 educational disruption? What role are international organizations playing in this regard? Is Edtech an effective solution? What kind of research is being conducted to help the decision makers? Are policy makers and development practitioners using evidence to inform policy and practice? What are the key challenges facing education today, and how can different stakeholders join hands to resolve them effectively? We will be discussing all this and more with our panel of high-level experts.


Alice Albright - CEO of Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

Dr. Murad Raas - Minister of School Education Punjab (Pakistan)

Dr. Sharon Ravitch - Professor of Practice at the Graduate School of Education (GSE)

Jaime Saavedra - Global Director for Education, The World Bank

Matt Brossard - Chief of Education, UNICEF Office of Research

Robert Jenkins - Chief of Education, UNICEF Program Division

Edward Davis - Head Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, FCDO


Mathieu Brossard
Chief of Education

UNICEF Innocenti

Robert Jenkins
Chief, Education and Associate Director, UNICEF
Jaime Saavedra Chanduvi
Global Director, Education, World Bank


COVID-19 and Education for Children: Lessons Learned

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Children in the poorest countries have lost nearly four months of schooling since start of pandemic

Children in the poorest countries have lost nearly four months of schooling since start of pandemic

NEW YORK/PARIS/Washington D.C. 29 October 2020 - New report looks at national education responses to COVID-19 including lost learning; remote learning support for students, parents and teachers; school reopening plans; health protocols; and financing. Schoolchildren in low-and lower-middle-income countries have already lost nearly four months of schooling since the start of the pandemic, compared to six weeks of loss in high-income countries, according to a new report published today by UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank.


A global learning crisis is undermining children’s education and their futures. Pre-COVID, more than half of children in low- and middle-income countries could not read and understand a simple text by age 10. In poor countries, this “learning poverty” rate was as high as 80 percent. Due to COVID-19, an additional 10 percent of children globally will fall into learning poverty. UNICEF Innocenti’s education research looks to address the learning crisis to ensure that every child learns.
Lessons from COVID-19: Getting remote learning right 
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Lessons from COVID-19: Getting remote learning right 

This blogpost summarizes recommendations for policy makers and explores 3 good practices for equitable remote learning, based on recent research conducted using data on education responses to COVID-19 from UNICEF staff in 127 countries.To help contain the spread COVID-19, schools have closed around the world, at its peak putting  approximately 1.6 billion or 91% of the world’s enrolled students out of school (UNESCO). Governments and education stakeholders have responded swiftly implementing remote learning, using various delivery channels, including digital tools, TV/radio-based teaching, and take-home packages. The massive scale of school closures has laid bare the uneven distribution of technology to facilitate remote learning and the lack of preparedness of systems to support teachers, and caregivers in the successful and safe use of technology for learning. Key recommendations to education policy makers for COVID-19 and beyond:Education systems need a ‘Plan B’ for safe and effective learning delivery when schools are closed. Producing accessible digital and media resources based on the curriculum will not only allow a quicker response, but their use in ordinary times can enrich learning opportunities for children in and out of school.Infrastructure investment in remote and rural areas to reach marginalized children should be a priority. Initiatives like Generation Unlimited and GIGA, can democratize access to technology and connectivity, increasing options for remote learning delivery and speeding up response during school closures.Teacher training should change to include management of remote ‘virtual’ classrooms, improving presentation techniques, tailoring follow-up sessions with caregivers and effective blending of technology into lessons.Further applied research for learning and sharing what works is more important than ever. Increased focus on implementation research is needed to develop practical ways to improve teacher training, content production, parental engagement, and to leverage the use of technologies at scale.Practices for more equitable remote learningGiven the digital divide use multiple delivery channelsLarge inequities exist in access to internet around the world as illustrated by figure 1 below.  Governments are increasing access to digital content for children where possible, by negotiating to not charge data costs for education content (Rwanda, South Africa, Jordan). Even with initiatives to increase access in the short-term, digital channels are not enough to reach all children, especially the most disadvantaged as explored in Remote Learning Amid a Pandemic: Insights from MICS6.   To expand their reach, 68% countries are utilizing some combination of digital and non-digital (TV, Radio, and take-home packages) in their education responses. TV is being used by 75% of countries, including making TV lessons accessible for children with hearing impairments with sign language (Morocco, Uzbekistan).  Radio is also a widely used tool, 58% of countries report using it to deliver audio content. However, digital, tv and radio delivery channels all require electricity.  Simple (unweighted) average of the 28 countries with data by income level, shows that only 65% of households from the poorest quintile have electricity, compared to 98% of households from the wealthiest quintile. In seven countries (Côte d'Ivoire, Lesotho, Kiribati, Sudan, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Mauritania) less than 10% of the poorest households have electricity. To address this challenge, 49% of countries are also using “take home” packages for learners. In Jordan, refugee children are receiving learning packages and in Jamaica learn and play kits are delivered to children in quarantined zones.  Parental engagement is critically important for learning and should not be overlooked as explored in the recent research brief on parental Engagement in Children’s Learning – Insights for remote learning response during COVID-19 Figure 3. Below shows the wide disparity in Radio ownership across 88 countries, while figure 4 illustrates the urban rural gap in TV ownership within countries. Strengthen support to the teachers, facilitators and parents delivering remote learningAccess to content is only the first step in remote learning. Countries are supporting caregivers who have been thrust into teaching at home, with tutoring materials, webinars/helplines to answer their questions (North Macedonia, Uruguay). Countries are engaging with caregivers, to not only support learning but to, provide psychosocial support to children (Bhutan, Cameroon, Ecuador, Eswatini, Guatemala, Oman, India), provide tips for children’s online safety (North Macedonia, Serbia) and engage with families to allow girls to continue learning remotely rather than increasing their household duties (Ghana). Gather feedback and strengthen monitoring of reach and qualityCountries have engaged in a variety of measures to collect feedback, and to understand the usage and effectiveness of different delivery channels. Monitoring of reach and quality for remote learning remains a challenge for many countries.  While there is great need to understand how COVID-19 has impacted children, education actors must take care to ensure that any data collection exercise from children follows ethical considerations and, first and foremost does no harm (Berman, 2020). Several countries are using simple tools (SMS in Tanzania, Chatbots in Mongolia) to gather feedback from parents to improve remote learning.  Serbia, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have incorporated assessment tools within digital platforms. Thomas Dreesen  is an Education Manager at UNICEF’s Office of Research (OoR), Mathieu Brossard is the Chief of Education at UNICEF OoR- Innocenti. Spogmai Akseer, Akito Kamei and Javier Santiago Ortiz are education research consultants at UNICEF OoR- Innocenti, Pragya Dewan is a consultant in the education section of UNICEF’s programme division, Juan-Pablo Giraldo is an education specialist in UNICEF’s Programme division, and Suguru Mizunoya is a Senior Advisor in statistics and monitoring with UNICEF’s Data and Analytics team.
How prepared are global education systems for future crises?
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How prepared are global education systems for future crises?

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an education emergency of unprecedented global scale. At its peak, over 190 countries closed schools in response to the health emergency, leaving 9 out of 10 enrolled learners around the world out of school. Although previous health emergencies – such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 and the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016 – have caused short- and long-term school closures in several countries, the COVID-19 crisis has caught most of the world’s education systems unprepared. As a result, countries have been scrambling to implement immediate, wide-scale distance learning for the first time.  In this blog, we explore lessons from current and past school closures and call for investment to improve the resiliency of national education systems to respond to future disruptions and crises.    The effects of school closures on children Whether closing schools is an effective policy for limiting the spread of infectious diseases largely depends on the epidemiology of the disease as well as demographic, geographic and social factors, as well as the presence of other community mitigation efforts. In terms of educational outcomes, disruptions in schooling can lead to significant losses in learning and to increases in grade repetition and school dropouts.  In the United States, even short, unexpected school closures due to bad winter weather have shown to negatively affect primary-school children’s learning outcomes. Research shows that during longer term disruptions, like those following Hurricane Katrina, primary and secondary students’ learning can take upwards of two years to recover to pre-disruption levels. Beyond the negative consequences on learning, school closures expose students to additional risks. Hundreds of millions of children rely on schools for free or low-price meals, and a safe space. When schools close, many children face an increased risk of malnutrition. Despite an estimated 370 million children missing out on school meals, according to a recent survey of 129 UNICEF programme countries, only 41 per cent of countries reported that interventions in the area of nutrition and school feeding were part of their national response to COVID-19 as of May 1st. Many of the children who benefit from school meal programmes could already be nutrient deficient, vulnerable or at risk. In addition, studies show that girls’ exposure to risks of sexual violence increased dramatically when schools were closed during the Ebola crisis. Sierra Leone saw a 65 per cent increase in adolescent pregnancies – a vector for early marriage as well as school dropouts – in some areas. Moreover, once schools re-opened, girls’ enrolment decreased by 16 per cent. Some students who needed to help their families with household work or generate income fell behind in school or simply never returned.   Distance learning has an opportunity to shine Despite challenges and setbacks, learning can and does continue in times of crisis. Technology offers a wide variety of methods to support distance education. Which kinds of technology are most appropriate vary due to differing access among populations – particularly vulnerable groups – in a country or region. This decision tree outlines an avenue for considering which combinations of interventions may be needed, from paper-based approaches to online classrooms.  The same recent survey of UNICEF programme countries found that 93 per cent are incorporating distance learning in their national responses to the COVID-19 emergency. As depicted in Figure 1 below, TV education programming and government-supported online platforms are the most common methods employed, but most countries draw upon a combination of several methods to reach children However, 30 per cent of these programme countries reported that distance learning is not reaching vulnerable and marginalized children. Drawing on MICS6 data on access to Internet and broadcast media, two recent UNICEF blogs highlighted that relying on the internet alone will not ensure inclusive, equitable education. They found that television and radio broadcasts have the potential to reach a majority of the world’s children, especially the most vulnerable, but paper-based approaches remain a necessary alternative in some settings.     During the Ebola crisis, the government of Sierra Leone, with support from UNICEF and other partners, created the Emergency Radio Education Programme (EREP) to continue learning during the school closures. To reach vulnerable children, the government delivered 50,000 solar-powered radios to the poorest households across the country with USB ports for content provision in areas lacking radio signal coverage. The use of an existing supply chain designed for the distribution of voting materials proved effective for delivering the radios and supporting educational materials to households.  EREP household surveys showed that weekly listenership ranged from 40 to 80 per cent and was lowest during weeks that were normally school holidays. Families that did not engage with the radio content often cited that since the content was not examinable, it was of no value. This challenge – that governments cannot make distance education mandatory and examinable because it may discriminate against those who lack proper access – lingers during the current COVID-19 crisis.    Future preparedness and resilience The education sector has rebuilt after natural disasters and delivered education during conflicts or in refugee settings; it is also increasingly adapting to climate change. However, COVID-19 is a global health emergency of unprecedented scale, presenting unique challenges that many countries were unprepared to address. While forms of distance education are now being delivered, only 30 per cent or fewer of countries report that they are monitoring take-up of distance education or whether children are learning. As the world will likely face more health crises in the future, we must prioritise strengthening the resilience of education systems to mitigate the harm to children’s learning. Countries must build capacity to deliver quality education remotely, targeting vulnerable and marginalized children who are often forgotten. Once the current crisis subsides, countries must continue to scale up distance learning and incorporate aspects into everyday schooling for all children and youth.  Building on lessons learned from these school closures, they must create comprehensive preparedness plans and develop strong national infrastructure to deliver education through different modalities and monitor its reach and contribution to learning. Vigilance is essential to prevent children's learning from falling through the cracks during this present crisis as well as future ones.