On 10 March UNESCO announced the creation of an emergency task force and community of practice that will support national responses to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis in education. Educators welcome the swift mobilisation and insist that teachers and education support personnel be included in the work of the newly established bodies and that their views be taken into account in developing effective and proportionate responses to the crisis.
According to the latest data from UNESCO, 22 countries have implemented nation-wide school closures in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. Over 372 million students are out of school as a result of these containment measures.
UNESCO called an emergency meeting of education ministers on 10 March to discuss the best responses to the COVID-19 crisis and its repercussions in education. After the meeting, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay announced the creation of a COVID-19 Emergency Task Force that will help countries share best practices and effective responses. In addition, UNESCO will establish a wider community of practice to “facilitate knowledge sharing, peer learning and capacity building on distance and open learning”.
Education International welcomes the UNESCO initiative and we are ready to contribute to the development of effective responses and to their implementation. Educators are in a unique position to provide insights, experience and recommendations that are absolutely essential to minimising the effects of this crisis on education. We therefore insist that educators be included in the newly established action groups and in coming up with appropriate responses to the pandemic in education.
We believe that any successful strategy to stop the spread of the virus must prioritise health and safety, must be proportionate and context relevant. Decisions such as closing schools and all learning institutions have many implications for students, staff and the whole community and governments must be prepared to mitigate all the potential consequences. It is vital to ensure that this health crisis does not become an education crisis.
Where schools are closed, IT solutions can provide the necessary support for distance learning but they must function only as a stopgap measure, on a temporary basis. Distance learning can never replace the face-to-face interaction between teacher and student and among students that are central to the education process and the school experience.
In addition, while we welcome the support of technology companies in dealing with the challenge at hand, governments should not allow commercial entities to use this crisis to profit from children and privatise education. This crisis must not be used to undermine the right of all children, youth and adults to quality public education.