COVID-19: Teachers report reduced capacity to help vulnerable students, finds UNESCO survey

Students with low socioeconomic status more likely to worry about future education, falling behind 

By Susan Chacko
Published: Tuesday 08 February 2022

Around half the teachers and principals of schools surveyed in 11 countries said learning of students fell behind expected levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a UNESCO report

Around 50 per cent of the students surveyed expressed anxiety for changes in teaching methods and finding it difficult to cope with it, the paper published January 2022 noted. 

The survey focused on lower-secondary education (till grade 8) and covered 11 countries of varying income and education development levels in Africa (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda), Asia (India, Uzbekistan), the Arab region (United Arab Emirates), Europe (Denmark, Russian, Slovenia) and Latin America (Uruguay).

Data of 21,063 students, 15,004 teachers and 1,581 principals were gathered during the survey. 

Students with low socio-economic status were more likely to worry about their future education and falling behind in learning, the study showed. Many of these students were less confident in completing schoolwork independently and were more likely to not feel prepared for school closures, according to the report. 

Teachers reported a reduced capacity to manage the needs of vulnerable students. Higher declines in learning progress were noticed also for students with special needs and students with a migration background. 

Audrey Azoulay, director-general, UNESCO said:

If schools are on the way of reopening, we also need to act to bring back to school all the children who have moved away from it and to recover learning losses. Without remedial action and focus on the most vulnerable students, the COVID-19 pandemic will carry dramatic long-term consequences.

In most countries, students received help from their parents and teachers on learning topics during the pandemic. But there was still a significant percentage of students, who sometimes had no one at all available who could help them with their school work, the survey indicated.

A large majority of teachers reported being open to innovation and believe that new approaches to teaching and learning will remain after the pandemic.

In decentralised school systems like in Denmark, schools had the freedom to decide on the learning plans implemented during the disruption, the survey found. In more centralised education systems, there was less freedom to deviate from required measures. However, in some countries like Rwanda, Slovenia and Uruguay greater autonomy was granted to schools to adapt measures to their specific context, the report added. 

While the availability of digital resources varied from country to country prior to the COVID-19 disruption, all countries made them available during school closures, if possible, either by strengthening existing infrastructures or designing new materials, the researchers found.

A number of countries said when students had limited access to digital materials, other resources were made available for instance paper-based materials, television or radio broadcasts.

The report was based on the findings of the Responses to Educational Disruption Survey (REDS). It is hoped that the data, evidence and insights would help in reimagining teaching and learning and building resilient and inclusive education systems for the future.

All countries participating in REDS, created policy and guideline documents to assist schools in responding to the COVID-19 disruption, including measures to ensure continuity and hygiene measures for the eventual return to school.

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