UNESCO, UNICEF and WHO support Central Asian countries in planning and managing the reopening of schools

1 June 2020

Since February 2020, closures of education institutions have been implemented in most countries worldwide as part of wider measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. About three months after the country-wide school closure wave started, Ministries of Education (MOEs) are considering school reopening, with the primary concern of ensuring the safety and protection of the entire school population, as well as their physical, mental and psychosocial health, well-being and social relationships.

To provide guidance and recommendations for Central Asian countries education planners and decision-makers who are anticipating the reopening of schools following closures, UNESCO Almaty in cooperation with UNICEF and WHO organized its third COVID-19 education response webinar on 28 May to share information about effective strategies for preparing and planning for school reopening and understand some of the common challenges to anticipate and ways to address them.

Over 60 participants attended the webinar, including representatives of MOEs in 7 countries (Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Armenia and the Russian Federation), as well as experts from international organizations and UN agencies.

The health, safety and overall well-being of students and the entire education community was highlighted by Ms Krista Pikkat, Director of UNESCO Almaty, who opened the webinar, and all the 3 keynote speakers - Ms Tatiana Aderikhina, Education and Child Protection Officer of UNICEF Kazakhstan, Ms Aisulu Sulaimanova, National Education Officer of UNESCO Almaty (based in Kyrgyzstan) and Ms Laura Utemissova, Consultant of WHO Kazakhstan.

Following the opening remarks a video-collage of students from the Central Asian region sharing their concerns and expectations about school reopening.

The UN Framework for Reopening Schools issued jointly by UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and the World Bank provides guidance to help national and local authorities make decisions on why, when and how to reopen learning establishments depending on the capacity of school systems to mitigate risks as well as community-based factors.

According to UNESCO, there are at least three conditions for reopening schools: physical protection, including safe hygiene conditions, the availability of teachers and school personnel, and the capacity of local administrations and institutions to implement changes, such as remedial actions, accelerated learning strategies and double shift schooling in some cases. It is also important to consult, communicate and coordinate within the school community as well as with parents to build trust, reassure parents of the safety of schools and coordinate among various stakeholders.

WHOs guidance and considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19 highlight the importance, when deciding to close, partially close or reopen schools, to be guided by a risk-based approach to maximize the educational and health benefit for students, teachers, staff, and the wider community, and help prevent a new outbreak of COVID-19 in the community. Factors to consider in a general health risk assessment include epidemiological factors, health system and public health capacities, community engagement and government capacity to sustain social and economic support to the most vulnerable.

The presentations and ensuing exchanges enabled the participants to gain clarity around key questions such as the timing, conditions and processes for school reopening between the participating countries. It is important to take into consideration different contexts and country situations and consult with health authorities and stakeholders in preparing and planning of reopening schools.

The webinars will be continued based on the identified common challenges by Ministries of Education during the first webinar.

The recording of the webinar is available here.

For more information about previous webinars:
The Vice Ministers of Education in the Central Asian countries agreed on common challenges in distance learning
Organization of examinations and e-assessment in the context of distance learning: Estonian and other country experiences
education transforms lives
sustainable development
ICT in Education

Permanent link: http://en.unesco.kz/unesco-unicef-and-who-support-central-asian-countries-in-planning-and-managing-the