Today, on 29th March a high-level meeting of education ministers of UNESCO took place, where ministers exchanged experiences on the issues of related to COVID-19 and discussed how to overcome the gap in knowledge that has arisen over the year and bring students back safely to school.
“Fortunately, we are not in the same situation as a year ago, where overnight teaching and studying had to continue from a distance. Today, we have significantly more data and knowledge on which to make decisions and understand what works and what does not,” Liina Kersna, the Minister of Education and Research of Estonia told her colleagues. On the other hand, the continuing pandemic has highlighted bottlenecks that need significantly greater attention: for example, mental health, one-sidedness of distances or an uneven approach to it, Kersna added.
Minister Kersna explained in her speech that, alongside many concerns, it is not worth forgetting the positive: any crisis will stimulate innovation and allow experimentation and but also to fail. In this way, the crisis has accelerated the introduction of multi-faceted technological solutions that help to make learning smarter and more personalized. On the other hand, distance learning has forced teachers and students to embrace new solutions and put aside their fears, doubts or prejudices about smart solutions, because it may be the only way to learn.
Continuing contact lessons is a major challenge
Ministers discussed how to exit the pandemic situation and admitted that the virus is unlikely to disappear in the near future. This challenging situation needs to be adapted and the distance learning is a viable alternative to contact learning. Minister Kersna told to colleagues Estonia's plans for resuming contact learning, and although it is not yet clear when students will return to the school, it is important to prepare and to think how to ensure secure school environment possible.
“In Estonian schools, rapid tests will be introduced, ventilation of school buildings will be improved, masks will be worn, and widespread vaccination of education workers will be decisive,” Kersna said at the meeting. Kersna added that various support measures, such as more effective involvement of school psychologists to prevent and address concerns, technological support for educational institutions, the involvement of educational technology companies and the introduction of a programme of substitute teachers.
Rapid tests are widely used in other countries
Jean-Francois Roberge, the Minister of Education of the Quebec Province of Canada, pointed out that thanks to the COVID-19 crisis there has been increased inter-regional cooperation in finding and sharing the best solutions, as well as in supporting the development of digital competences of teachers and students. In this academic year, schools in Quebec have been closed comparatively very little due to the prompt isolation of COVID-positive and close contacts, using shifts in school and the use of teaching profession students and retired teachers as substitute teachers.
Jean-Michel Blanquer, the Minister of Education of France said that schools’ closure in France have been low because of the widespread use of rapid tests and that different platforms for distance courses have been set up. Nicolas Trotta, the Minister of Education of Argentina added that the new school year, which began in February, is guided by the idea of “there’s no present without health, there’s no future without education”, according to which, among other things, a platform has been set up to monitor COVID-19 outbreaks in schools in Argentina in real time.
The meeting focused on the effects of an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on education and the prevention of knowledge gaps. The focus of the discussions was on supporting teachers and keeping schools open by ensuring a safe learning environment. The panel was attended by the education ministers of Indonesia, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gabon, Mauritania, Canada's Quebec province, Paraguay, South Sudan, Kyrgyzstan, France, Liberia, Nicaragua, Syria, Angola, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Belgium, Colombia, Finland, South Africa, and high education officials from Japan, Armenia, the Dominican Republic, Qatar, Cuba, Nauru and representatives of the WHO and UNESCO. The meeting was attended by education ministers and officials from more than 90 countries.
The recording of the meeting can be viewed here.