The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted the largest population on earth. Not only in countries that cannot afford a good and stable Internet, but in a lot of countries that are techno rich. Classes have largely moved online, and it is definitely not the same as in-person classes.
The crisis, however, is exacerbating pre-existing education disparities by reducing the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable children, youth, and adults–those living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, persons with disabilities and forcibly displaced persons–to continue their learning.
Learning losses also threaten to extend beyond this generation and erase decades of progress, not least in support of girls and young women’s educational access and retention. Similarly, the education disruption has had, and will continue to have, substantial effects beyond education. Closures of educational institutions hamper the provision of essential services to children and communities.
The single most significant step that countries can take to hasten the reopening of schools and education institutions is to suppress transmission of the virus to control national or local outbreaks. Once they have done so, to deal with the complex challenge of reopening schools, it is important to be guided by the following parameters: ensure the safety of all; plan for inclusive re-opening; listen to the voices of all concerned; and coordinate with key actors, including the health community.
Ensuring learning continuity during the time of school closures became a priority for the government requiring teachers to move to online delivery of lessons. Further education may still be disrupted even if it has shifted to online. But when it comes to undergraduate or graduate level education, students who had to go abroad for studies, have been stranded in the country and almost all education is being taken online.
While the majority of colleges and universities around the world integrate some form of online education into their coursework, moving all programs online may prove challenging. While some universities may already have strong online systems, smaller universities may struggle under the weight of the demand. Administrators should undertake simple measures to prevent the spread of the disease on their campuses. Thus, to ensure safe learning, there must be high precautions adopted so that it will be easier for students and teachers to teach and learn as well as for parents to know that their child is safe.
Higher education even after the pandemic is likely to return to normal and students can and colleges can ensure the same level of engagement and creative learning process at colleges and universities. In the renewal of education, human interaction and well-being must be given priority. Technology particularly digital technology that enables communication, collaboration and learning across distance has been a source of innovation and expanded potentials.
To safeguard the right to education under the extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic, and to facilitate the levels of trust necessary for global collaboration in mobilizing resources to support the universal right to education, we call on all education stakeholders to monitor that education resources are used for the sole purpose of advancing the interests and capabilities of learners.