Webinar on School Reopening and Teachers

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted education in an unprecedented way.  In order to contain the spread of the virus, many governments around the world have temporarily closed schools. According to a UNESCO report, 191 countries, 1.57 billion learners, and 91.4% of the world’s student population are affected by school closures. In addition, according to the Teacher Task Force, 63 million primary and secondary school teachers are affected. Governments have had to act rapidly to meet the challenge of providing quality education in this new environment, where face-to-face pedagogy is no longer possible, and where teachers lack skills related to ICT, distance education and emergency education.

Meanwhile, leaders are struggling with the risky ramifications of easing lockdowns and resuming school activities. When and how to reopen schools is one of the toughest and most sensitive decisions on political agendas today. According to UNESCO data, 100 countries have not yet announced a date for schools to reopen, 65 countries have plans for partial or full reopening, and 32 countries will end the academic year online. As a response to this unprecedented crisis, UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and the World Bank have jointly prepared a “Framework for School Reopening” in order for national and local authorities to facilitate decision making on how and when to reopen educational institutions. The guidelines elaborate measures to be taken prior to, during and after schools resume their daily schedule.

Undeniably, teaching and learning is under immense pressure during these unprecedented situations. As some countries plan to reopen schools, the role of teachers, their knowledge of their learners’ needs, and teaching expertise are critical to developing effective strategies. Education responses to COVID-19 and school reopening strategies need to ensure teachers and education support staff are consulted and receive ongoing support. Thus, the main aim of this webinar is to learn from experts and teachers how schools are reopened, and to understand the achievements and challenges faced by teachers and learners.  

The webinar was attended by Ministry of Education officials responsible for teacher development and management, school leaders, primary and secondary school teachers, teacher educators, education researchers, representatives of partner organizations, and UNESCO program staff.

The webinar started with welcoming and opening remarks given by Dr. Yumiko Yokozeki, Director of UNESCO IICBA. Dr. Yumiko welcomed all participants and introduced the theme of the webinar. She explained that the webinar intends to deliberate on school reopening in Africa and to share the experiences of teachers who are in the frontline. She added that IICBA works closely with the African Union Commission and currently coordinates the Teacher Development cluster of the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA) 2016-2025. Then, she introduced the program and the speakers and invited Dr. Rita Bissoonauth, Director of AU CIEFFA, to give a keynote speech.

Dr. Rita began by thanking IICBA for organizing this webinar on a very timely and important topic, and she said that she will be speaking today not only as a Head of AU CIEFFA, but also as a parent. She underlined that over the last few months, more than 250 million students are out of school and this is expected to negatively affect girls and young women in many ways with long-term consequences. This comes as an additional burden on girls who are already facing barriers to accessing quality education. Dr. Rita stressed that schools are safe havens for girls and staying out of school for a long time will put them at a higher risk of several challenges including child marriage, female genital cutting, social exclusion, sexual violence, etc. Having appreciated teachers for their various efforts to ensure continued learning during school closures, she highlighted that teachers once again have a key role to play as countries are planning to reopen schools. Dr. Rita stressed that two crucial points need to be taken into account as we discuss school reopening. First, the debate needs to center on learners and needs to be informed by the best available evidence. Second, school leaders and administrators need to ensure that girls and young women return back to school, and they must use and collect gender-disaggregated data to study girls’ learning progress and reintegration into school life. In connection to this, she cited the campaign that CIEFFA has launched recently to make sure that girls return to school.

Dr. Yumiko then thanked Dr. Rita for an insightful and rich keynote speech and she then invited Mr. Saliou Sall to share with participants the testimony of a teacher from Senegal. He explained that Senegal opened school on the 2nd of June 2020, but that it was closed again due to the growing number of infections by teachers in the region. He shared the testimony of a teacher who had a contact with another teacher infected with the virus, which vividly illustrated the stigma and fear that teachers face every day in these difficult times. The teacher, however, was consoled by the extraordinary support he received from his students and his neighbors, which shows how important it is for teachers to be supported in these precarious times.

Then, two teachers from Malawi and Liberia shared with participants their experience with the opening of schools in their respective countries. Mr. Samuel Johnson from Liberia described the situation in his country, and was complemented by details by Mr. Charles Kumchenga of Malawi. In both cases, the teachers reported that little consultation had been made with teachers as countries drew up plans to reopen schools.

In addition to this, Dr. Pedi Anawi of Education International also shared with participants some of the important work that his organization is doing to support countries in their reopening of schools. He highlighted that currently Education International has prepared a back-to-school movement with different guidelines and directives. Then, the webinar moved to the question-and-answer session, which Dr. Binyam Sisay of IICBA moderated. Some of the major questions raised in the chat include a point about whether teachers were provided with knowledge and skills for the reopening of schools, or whether they were left on their own to figure things out. Another important point discussed was what innovative strategies were put in place in some of the countries as they reopen schools, and what could be learned from them. An interactive discussion was held among speakers and participants, and the webinar then concluded with final words from Dr. Yumiko Yokozeki, who expressed her gratitude to the speakers and participants.

Recording of the webinar