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Covid-19 and the Closing Gap - webinar report

By Keira Moulding 

One-and-a-half billion children – that is, 75% of enrolled students in 140 countries around the globe – have been out of school during the Covid-19 pandemic. Never before have school closures been in effect on such a global scale. But are school closures impacting all learners in the same ways? Is Covid-19 increasing social inequality through its impact on education? Here, our international panel of education thought leaders seek to tackle these questions as we look at the impact of Covid-19 on education, particularly on disadvantaged students; what can be done to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on education equity; and what it means for the future of education.

Optimism in the face of challenges

Despite challenges facing education systems around the world, there are reasons to be optimistic. Dynamic initiatives have been borne out of this crisis, along with a sense of collaboration between teachers, parents and communities. The innovative and responsive teaching workforce is garnering more appreciation than perhaps has been seen before. The drive to support our teachers, parents and, of course, the children whose education and development has been so drastically restricted has prompted rapid changes. But how do we maintain these efforts going forward, and mitigate some of the negative impacts of school closures? How can we build more resilient education systems for the future?

In this webinar report, Dr Rukmini Banerji, Dr Rabea Malik, Dr Ricardo Sabates, the Rt Hon Charles Clarke and Vikas Pota offer their insights and guidance for a wholly strategic, proactive, cross-sector, approach to the future of education post-pandemic. They are in agreement that, to achieve this, teachers must be consulted at every stage, online provision must move from being supplementary to being integral in the future of education, and education spending must be guarded above all. They suggest that there needs to be a ‘sense of celebration’ when schools reopen, ‘to let parents know that children are welcome again', that teachers and ministries and departments of education have prepared to welcome them back.

A global perspective

The need to get children back in school safely on a regular basis, whether physically or digitally, is critical. But we need to consider the individual risks and challenges facing different cohorts of children, as well as recognising the large learning gap that existed in many places before the pandemic. This will involve targeted strategies for getting at-risk children back to school and engaging them in learning once again. As Dr Banerji cautions, we should be wary of ‘a rush to get back to the curriculum’ if we are to avoid further learning loss. 

Researchers and educators alike have realised that access is a top priority for reducing learning loss, and Mr Pota highlights six new randomised control trials that are being held around the world to look at the impact of the use of radio, television, and other technological inventions, to improve children’s access to learning in varying contexts.  

Drawing on research from Pakistan, Turkey, India and Ghana, the panel offers their insights on learning loss and draws on findings from other crisis-contexts to inform and support governments and educationalists' plans for the future of education.

Resilience and sustainability

The pandemic and lockdown has shown that educational capacity needs to be expanded and strengthened. Mr Pota sees a space being created for the teacher workforce to have an influence and an impact based upon what they are seeing on the frontline, while Dr Malik discusses the benefits of allowing for flexibility and giving more autonomy to schools and teachers.   Predictably, technology was of great interest to the panel in thinking about resilient and sustainable education systems for the future, as was collaboration and leadership, but also the wellbeing of the teacher workforce and the role of the community. Building resilient education systems generates incredible returns, yet this is one area that is largely ignored in both developed and developing countries.  Any strategy – at government and even individual school level – will have to include short- and long-term planning to carry it forward. As Charles Clarke says, ‘the two key words to the new world are going to be resilience and sustainability. And those are going to be things that every part of every education system is going to need to be able to achieve.’   Hosted by Ben Knight, this webinar recording and report bring together insights and guidance from thought leaders from different corners of the world. Together, they discuss the impact on disadvantaged communities, review responses to school closures in different educational contexts, and offer solutions for how education policy and practice might need to adapt in the long term.

Read the report here

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