Silvia Montoya, Director UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Martin Gustafssson, Research on Socio-Economic Policy (ReSEP), University of Stellenbosch
The 2020 learning losses equal the gains made in the last 20 years
Some numbers to retain:
In many developing countries the percentage of children considered proficient was increasing by two percentage points a year before COVID-19
COVID-19 school disruptions have caused learning losses equal to all of the learning gains in the last two decades
101 million children and youth from Grades 1 to 8 will fall below the minimum proficiency level after 2020 [note]
For each month of no or little contact between teacher and learner two months of learning were lost
Recovery could occur by 2024, but only if exceptional efforts are devoted to the task through remedial and catch-up strategies
The effects of the pandemic on children have been multifaceted and for too many, devastating. Before the pandemic, the data suggested that learning proficiency was gradually improving, though not fast enough to reach the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) objective of all children and young people being minimally proficient in reading and mathematics by 2030. Yet was progress was occurring. A new report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) examines the learning losses associated with school closures and considers how interventions may help children catch up.
In many developing countries the percentage of children considered proficient was increasing by two percentage points a year. To provide an idea of the global trend, among the 130 million children of the age corresponding to Grade 3, only 73 million could read proficiently before the pandemic, but this was increasing by 700,000 a year. Each year roughly 700,000 additional children were proficient, compared to the previous year. And this is counting just one school grade. This was mainly because learning improved in schools, but to some extent better school participation rates played a role.
Recovering from COVID-19 learning losses will depend on catch-up strategies
The pandemic brought with it school closures of a scale never previously seen. At the most serious point, around March and April 2020, around 95% of children were not attending school. It has been estimated that by early November, the world’s learners had lost between 41% and 68% of the contact schooling they should have received in 2020. It has been difficult to establish precise figures mainly because once schools re-opened many only allowed learners to attend on a rotational basis.
João Pedro Azevedo, Lead Economist, Education Global Practice, World Bank Group and Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)
Our choice of a measure shapes our understanding of the size and nature of a problem. In a recent blog we discuss why the learning poverty measure is well suited to monitor the educational impacts of COVID-19. In this blog, we discuss two complementary concepts: the learning poverty gap and learning poverty severity, to look at distributions among the learning poor and measure how these changes affect learning inequality. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the World Bank provide data for both of these concepts. Data for many key SDG 4 indicators were updated in the March data refresh. The UIS is also collecting data on the national response to COVID-19 on education, equity and inclusion.
Understanding changes in learning inequality through the learning poverty gap, learning poverty severity and minimum proficiency
While learning poverty is a simple concept to grasp, this indicator alone does not provide a picture of the learning level and distribution of learning among those below the minimum proficiency level (MPL). Because learning poverty is a headcount ratio, estimates treat all students below the minimum proficiency level as being equally learning deprived. It also does not reflect improvements in learning below the MPL threshold, which can fail to create compatible incentives as it may miss progress in foundational subskills critical for developing reading proficiency, for example, knowledge of spoken words and how to use them, hearing and making the sounds of words, mapping sounds to letters and letters to sounds while learning letter names, among others, as described in the reading rainbow (Figure 1). Understanding the heterogeneity among the learning poor is critical to combat learning poverty as children who do not master these subskills in early primary grades remain unable to read with comprehension.
Figure 1: SDG 4.1 framework and reading rainbow of literacy subskills
Figure 2: Distributional sensitive measure of learning deprivation
João Pedro Azevedo, economista jefe, Education Global Practice, Grupo Banco Mundial y Silvia Montoya, Directora, Instituto de Estadística de la UNESCO (UIS)
La mayoría de los gobiernos y asociados para el desarrollo están trabajando en la identificación, protección y apoyo del aprendizaje de los miembros más vulnerables de la generación COVID-19. En este blog, analizamos cómo el marco delODS 4.1.1 y el concepto de pobreza en el aprendizaje son herramientas útiles para ayudar a los países a entender y corregir los efectos de la COVID-19 en la escolarización y el aprendizaje.
Del nivel mínimo de competencias a una medición de la privación del aprendizaje
En octubre de 2018, la comunidad internacional acordó ser prudente en la utilización de un estándar global para el seguimiento del progreso en el aprendizaje de los estudiantes. El nivel mínimo de competencias (NMC) acordado a través de la Alianza Global para el Seguimiento del Aprendizaje (AGSA) ofrece un punto de referencia único para ayudar a los países y los asociados para el desarrollo a trabajar juntos para monitorear y mejorar el aprendizaje de aquellos estudiantes que se están quedando atrás. La pantalla de visualización interactiva que se muestra a continuación (Figura 1) permite explorar con el control deslizante los datos utilizados para monitorear este ODS, utilizando tanto el NMC de la AGSA como diferentes niveles mínimos de competencia.
Figura 1. Ejemplo de cómo el ODS 4.1.1 puede utilizarse para poner el foco en los estudiantes que están por debajo del nivel mínimo de competencias (NMC)
La pobreza en el aprendizaje: un indicador multidimensional para el sector educativo
En octubre de 2019, el Banco Mundial y el Instituto de Estadística de la UNESCO (UIS) lanzaron un nuevo indicador multidimensional llamado pobreza en el aprendizaje. Se basa en la idea de que todos los niños deberían estar escolarizados y ser capaces de leer un texto apropiado para su edad a los 10 años. Esta formulación refleja cuál es su aspiración y sirve como indicador de alerta temprana del Objetivo de Desarrollo Sostenible 4 (ODS 4), de que todos los niños deben estar escolarizados y aprendiendo, y se basa en dos privaciones.
João Pedro Azevedo, économiste principal, Pôle mondial d’expertise en éducation, Groupe de la Banque mondiale et Silvia Montoya, directrice, Institut de statistique de l’UNESCO (ISU)
La plupart des gouvernements et des partenaires de développement s’emploient à connaître, à protéger et à soutenir l’apprentissage des membres les plus vulnérables de la génération COVID-19. Dans ce blog, nous examinons de quelle manière le cadre de l’ODD 4.1.1 et le concept de pauvreté des apprentissages sont en mesure d’aider les pays à comprendre les impacts de la COVID-19 sur la scolarité et l’apprentissage, et à prendre les mesures appropriées pour les atténuer.
Du seuil minimal de compétences à la mesure de la pauvreté des apprentissages
En octobre 2018, la communauté internationale a convenu de réfléchir sur le suivi des progrès de l’apprentissage des élèves à l’aide d’une norme mondiale. Le Seuil Minimal de Compétences (SMC), approuvé par l’Alliance mondiale pour la mesure de l’apprentissage, fournit une valeur de référence incomparable pour aider les pays et les partenaires de développement à travailler de concert pour suivre et pour améliorer l’apprentissage des élèves qui ont du retard. La visualisation interactive ci-dessous (figure 1) vous permet d’explorer les données utilisées pour le suivi de cet ODD à l’aide du SMC-GAML et des différents seuils minimaux de compétence en déplaçant le curseur.
La figure 1 montre comment utiliser l’ODD 4.1.1 pour mettre l’accent sur les élèves en dessous du Seuil Minimal de Compétences (SMC).
La pauvreté des apprentissages : un facteur multidimensionnel pour le secteur éducatif
En octobre 2019, la Banque mondiale et l’Institut de statistique de l’UNESCO (ISU) ont lancé le nouvel indicateur multidimensionnel appelé « pauvreté des apprentissages ». Il est fondé sur la notion selon laquelle chaque enfant devrait aller à l’école et savoir lire un texte adapté à son âge à 10 ans. Cette formulation, qui traduit l’aspiration de l’Objectif de Développement Durable (ODD) 4 qui stipule que tous les enfants doivent aller à l’école et apprendre et qui tient lieu d’indicateur d’alerte précoce, repose sur deux privations.
João Pedro Azevedo, Lead Economist, Education Global Practice, World Bank Group and Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)
Most governments and development partners are working on identifying, protecting, and supporting learning of the most vulnerable members of the COVID-19 generation. In this blog, we examine how the SDG 4.1.1 framework and the concept of learning poverty are well positioned to help countries understand and act on the impacts of COVID-19 on schooling and learning.
From the minimum proficiency level to a measure of learning deprivation
In October 2018, the international community agreed to be deliberate about tracking progress in learning of students using a global standard. The minimum proficiency level (MPL) agreed through the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning offers a unique benchmark to help countries and development partners work together to monitor and improve learning for these students that are falling behind. The interactive visualization linked to in the image below (Figure 1) allows you to explore the data used to monitor this SDG, using both the GAML MPL as well as different minimum proficiency levels by interacting with the slider.
Figure 1 shows how SDG 4.1.1. can be used to generate focus on students below the minimum proficiency level (MPL)
Learning poverty: a multidimensional indicator for the education sector
In October 2019, the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) launched a new multidimensional indicator called learning poverty. It is based on the notion that every child should be in school and be able to read an age-appropriate text by age 10. This formulation reflects the aspiration and serves as an early warning indicator of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 that all children must be in school and learning and builds on two deprivations.
Learning poverty (and Indicator 4.1.1 on learning deprivation) has many desirable characteristics, including simplicity and focus on those in the bottom of the learning distribution (for a longer discussion on some of the properties of the learning poverty measure please see a recent paper). It brings together schooling and learning indicators, as it combines the share of primary-aged children out-of-school who are schooling deprived (SD), and the share of pupils below a minimum proficiency in reading, who are learning deprived (LD). This measure implies that both “more schooling”, which by itself serves a variety of critical societal functions, as well as “better learning” which is important to ensure that time spent in school translates into acquisition of skills and capabilities.
Figure 2 provides an animation which numerically and visually illustrates the concept of learning poverty
The learning poverty indicator is calculated as follows:
LP = [LD x (1-SD)] + [1 x SD]
LP = Learning poverty
LD = Learning deprivation, defined as share of children at the end of primary who read at below the minimum proficiency level, as defined by the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML) in the context of the SDG 4.1.1 monitoring
SD = Schooling deprivation, defined as the share of primary aged children who are out-of-school. All out-of-school children are assumed to be below the minimum proficiency level in reading.
By construction, learning poverty can be affected by changes in its two dimensions: (i) learning deprivation as the share of students below the minimum proficiency threshold improves or worsens, or (ii) schooling deprivation as access or age-grade distortion changes due to shocks or policies.
While schooling deprivation can be directly observed depending on whether the child is enrolled or not enrolled in school, learning deprivation cannot be directly observed, and is measured through standardized learning assessments using SDG’s definition of minimum proficiency level, where reading proficiency is defined as:
“Students independently and fluently read simple, short narrative and expository texts. They locate explicitly stated information. They interpret and give some explanations about the key ideas in these texts. They provide simple, personal opinions or judgements about the information, events and characters in a text.” (UIS and GAML 2019)
SDG 4.1.1, learning poverty and COVID-19
The SDG 4.1.1 framework and the learning poverty measure can help monitor and guide national conversations on the impacts and education policy response to COVID-19 by:
Reaching agreement and clarity on a minimum proficiency level: The GAML process, through the Global Proficiency Framework, has produced detailed documentation about the competences expected to be mastered at the minimum proficiency level (MPL). All this material can be used to inform a national conversation on what elements of the curriculum could be prioritized as the system reopens.
Focus on children falling behind: SDG 4.1.1 uses the MPL to measure the share of students above this threshold reflecting the aspiration that all children must be performing above the MPL. However, during a time of crisis and shock, such as COVID-19, countries might want to pay special attention to those students left behind. The latter is precisely what the measure of learning deprivation used in the learning poverty measure does.
Monitoring multiple dimensions of education: As schools close, students will lose learning. However, for certain sub-populations, COVID-19 might push students out of the educational system, increasing drop-out rates; and in certain countries, due to a choice of policies and practices, might increase repetition and age-grade distortion. Moreover, if school deprivation increases, through an increase of drop-out or of the age-grade distortion of previously low-performing students, it is statistically possible that average learning scores might increase or at least not fall as much after COVID-19. This misleading result can be avoided if effects are monitored using a measure which is simultaneously sensitive to changes in learning and access to schooling.
COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented crisis within an already existing global crisis of the education system in the developing world. The ability to use it as an opportunity to build back better will depend on the quality of our understanding of its effects. For that, both data and our choice of measures will be equally critical.
 SDG 4 makes this commitment: by 2030, signatories will “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The goal’s target 4.1 is to “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.”
By Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics
World Children’s Day, established to promote child rights and welfare, is more important than ever this year as the world grapples with dual threats to education and health. Creating the evidence for policy actions to mitigate the impact of school closures is crucial, and for this, countries must assess children’s learning, along with the effectiveness of remote schooling, while supporting families, teachers and other front-line workers. At the same time, keeping schools open is a priority, so taking measures to ensure children’s safety in school is central to preventing further closures during a second wave of COVID-19.
From the beginning of the pandemic, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) has set the pace, collecting data on national government responses to the crisis, and collaborating with the World Bank and UNICEF on a joint report, What Have We Learnt. The report is based on two quarterly surveys – the first taking place between April and May with 118 respondents, and the second between July and October with 149 respondents.
The surveys confirm that students in low-income countries are most at risk from school closures. This is because lost school days and the perception (and perhaps reality) that learning from home does not have the same value as learning in the classroom, increases pressure on young people to drop out. Ultimately, only learning assessments will be able to tell us if remote schooling – online, TV and radio programming, as well as take-home paper-based work – have been effective. But in the meantime, 24 million students are at risk of dropping out this year, reducing their skills acquisition and earning prospects for years to come.
By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics
After more than 6 months since the beginning of national lockdowns and school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reopening schools is necessary and essential. Interruptions to classroom-based instructions have widened existing inequalities for vulnerable populations and reduced access to learning for a large fraction of the world’s children and youth. The longer schools remain closed, the more likely disadvantaged children are at risk of dropping out of school completely. Before the pandemic, children from the poorest households were already almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than their richer counterparts.
Proper infrastructure lacking to prevent the spread of COVID-19
As countries start to rethink how to address school openings, new national risk mitigation measures and public health regulations need to be considered within the school’s physical space. Children’s role in transmitting the coronavirus is still uncertain, and younger children are less likely to be sensitive or respectful of strict measures. As such, few schools are prepared to reopen in a way that can protect children, teachers and other school staff. Two of the most important measures cited by global health authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – namely, frequent and proper hand washing (using soap and water) and social distancing – are highly dependent on the existing physical infrastructure.
COVID-19-related hygiene and social distancing norms in schools are unearthing a range of systemic problems with infrastructure in schools across the world. From European schools in densely-populated urban areas to rural remote village schools in the mountains of north-eastern Cambodia, schools are facing a wide range of challenges in their provision of adequately protective COVID-19 environments. Inadequate physical conditions, such as water shortages, poor sanitation and small classrooms, are proving difficult to overcome in the short-term for an immediate response.
Almost half the schools in the world do not have access to basic handwashing facilities with soap and water while one-third are lacking in basic sanitation (i.e. improved facilities that are single-sex and usable at the school). Overall, schools in rural areas fare worse than those in urban areas while children at the pre-primary and primary levels have less access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities than those in higher education levels. Younger children are more likely to be vulnerable to WASH-related diseases, yet are at the right ages at which to establish foundational learning around health and hygiene. Thus, training young children, staff and family members is an essential component to establishing WASH services for a community.
Establishing adequate WASH facilities for vulnerable populations is crucial
Basic WASH facilities in schools are particularly important for WASH-vulnerable populations, including girls, persons with disabilities, children from poor households and children living in fragile contexts. Access to water and sanitation is not only a right in itself as established in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – and safeguarded by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – but it contributes to the realization of other child rights, such as health, nutrition and education. Girls require separate latrines as a fundamental part of their safety and healthy participation in life. Girls are more likely to enrol, attend and complete school if they have access to single-sex facilities, which are essential, particularly for menstrual hygiene management. Yet, this is only the case in 54% of the least developed countries, compared to 72% in Eastern and South-eastern Asia, 79% in in Central and Southern Asia and 81% in Latin America and the Caribbean (UIS database). According to World Bank ranked income levels, only 73% of lower middle income countries provide single-sex basic sanitation facilities to their female students, compared to the World average of 78% and 97% of high income countries.
In addition to WASH concerns, schools needs to consider the existing physical learning environment to safeguard social distancing norms. Adapting school norms to larger classrooms as a long-term response to the COVID-19 situation can also help establish quality learning environments in the long-term. There are no set international standards for classroom sizes or ratios, although norms and guidelines exist to provide guidance on better quality learning environments. In 2005, UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Schools Manual recommended a minimum 3.8 metres squared per child in early learning centres. Setting minimum spaces for children in higher education levels is more complex, however, and depends on the conditions of the local community (including projected population growth) as well as environmental and climatic conditions. In Rwanda, a minimum of one squared meter per pupil is considered adequate. One can also establish a basis for the overall classroom size, whereby child-friendly classrooms could reach a minimum of 100 square meters if playing areas and multi-activity classrooms are included. For example, the preschool square footage per student ratio is usually higher than for primary schools as younger children are less frequently required to sit still at their desks.
Global Education Coalition initiatives provides guidance
Ensuring classrooms and materials are accessible and inclusive has been the cornerstone of quality learning environments, and such standards are well aligned with needs during the COVID-19 reopenings. For example, modular classrooms – where furniture can be moved, collapsed or put away – is already a recommendation in some national guidelines for classrooms. As children and projects evolve and change during the school year, spaces that are adaptive can reduce the density of students in the classroom as required by social distancing norms.
Some adopted measures can be detrimental to effective learning
Adaptations to small classroom spaces has been shown to provide less than ideal reopening environments in some countries. To maintain WHO-recommended distancing measures among students and teachers (minimum of 1 meter squared), many schools have limited the number of students returning to classrooms at the same time, thereby reducing effective classroom time for all students. In addition, WHO guidelines recommend several decision points with regards to school reopenings, with specific attention paid to local trends on COVID-19 cases. The guidelines in France, for example, adapted an approach that prioritised certain students (i.e. those of medical workers), followed by children from vulnerable families. Thus, the total amount of time returning to the classroom is a function of the strict social distancing requirements, the school’s physical infrastructure, teacher availability and children’s background.
As effective learning time is reduced for all students, a temporary response is to prioritise learning according to student needs. Limited time in the classroom can make teachers face more time-stress to meet the needs of national curricula and high-stakes examinations for certification or selection to the next education level. As part of the crisis-sensitive approach, education planners can reassess curricular objectives and transitions to upper education levels.
In 2015, the global community validated the importance of infrastructure to deliver quality education for all learners and teachers, regardless of background or disability status. The international standard noted in the Education 2030 Framework states that “Every learning environment should be accessible to all and have adequate resources and infrastructure to ensure reasonable class sizes and provide sanitation facilities.” Sanitation crises such as COVID-19 mark the urgency in reaching these goals and highlight existing concerns around poor learning environments. However, this moment can also serve as a catalyst to improve learning conditions and outcomes for all children.
By the Pansophia Project: María Eugenia Arias, Mayra Botta, Delfina Campetella, María Laura Carrasco, Cristina Carriego, Agustina Lenzi, Mariano Narodowski, Emiliano Pereiro and Gustavo Romero
In these confusing and uncertain times due to forced homeschooling, authors from the Pansophia Project propose that we pause and reflect on this new reality before deciding on the best way to move forward to preserve key educational gains. Eleven theses on pedagogy are presented here to provide food for thought as we navigate the current COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Digital culture can breed a false sense of security If COVID-19 had been unleashed just 20 years ago, even the most fortunate of us would have had to rely on radios, cable TV, dial-up internet access and flip cell phones. No digital platforms, social networks, video calls and no streaming services were yet available.
What would have happened to schooling? We would have had to accept that months of education would be lost, while we planned for the return of children to their classrooms.
Today’s digital culture could lull us into thinking that we are going to lose less or lose nothing at all. After all, we have mobilized technology to keep schooling going, right? But in fact, maybe we need to pause and reflect as we design a counter-isolation pedagogy for today and for similar shocks in the future.
2. Pedagogy is the opposite of isolation Modern pedagogy aims to educate as many children and young people in the best possible way: in school. Pedagogy is, therefore, the opposite of isolation. Its tools rely on an encounter between teacher and student in a school – a non-transferable and unique encounter that is structured around knowledge.
3. A house is not a school Houses are nothing like schools. A school is a complex organization led by specialized teachers who earn their wages from their work. Schools are spaces where students must go to learn a body of knowledge common to them all. They are state-regulated and, mostly, state-funded. Schools are part of the public sphere, and an integral part of what unites us as a community.
Schools may even provide the care, control and affection that may be missing at home. Even so, nobody is paid to be part of a household, and households themselves are only ‘regulated’ in extreme circumstances, such as during quarantine.
4. Confinement isn’t ‘normal’ Learning at home does not mirror learning in a classroom. Faced with a lockdown, our initial response was focused on performance and efficiency. Initial bewilderment became hyperactivity and then exhaustion as we tried to impose a sense of ‘normalcy’ on a situation that was anything but.
No one was prepared for such an abrupt change: most schools lacked the technological capacity and few parents were prepared to teach their children fulltime, in a formal manner and by themselves. The image of a home equipped with the materials and resources of a school has been accurate for only a tiny fraction of the world’s households – if that.
5. Lockdown deepens inequalities that schools have not been able to resolve Schools provide the greatest potential for equity in human history: populations that were excluded from knowledge for millennia now have access to learning. Yet schools have failed to reach everyone and the access to knowledge they provide is not immune to broader processes of segregation and inequality.
While some resources for distance learning are available for free, socioeconomic conditions reinforce existing disparities – for many, even free resources are unattainable. And of course, the economic impact of lockdown harms children and teenagers from the most vulnerable groups, whose health and food deficits have increased, reducing their chances of continuing their education.
These inequalities are not erased by lockdown: they just become deeper. Available data shows that a lack of internet connection and technology leaves most students worldwide unable to ‘virtualize.’ And those who have connectivity may find it hard to interact with their teachers via cell phone.
The social distribution of technology will remain unfair as long as network access remains limited to teach and learn. And something that has been denied will become only too clear: students do not abandon schools but schools abandon students when we do not give them a realistic alternative.
6. Remote teaching is not equal to moving the school to the teacher’s house. Remote teaching means relying on information and communication technologies (ICTs), and adapting the teacher’s work implies a profound transformation. The means change, but so does the nature of the education itself, which abandons face-to-face interaction, is provided remotely and requires major modifications.
Structured and planned remote teaching usually requires changes in content and even the actors involved, with greater reliance on the support of tutors or counselors to monitor each student. In theory, it demands careful, systematic and predictable design and planning. That, in turn, typically entails time-consuming preparation of specific materials from didactic guides to evaluation tools and the division of teaching functions into different roles, such as content specialists and virtual design experts who are paid specifically for the design of remote classrooms and lessons.
In lockdown, however, the opposite is happening: teachers add all the different roles required for remote teaching to their school responsibilities – and all for the same price. The rapid and immediate virtualization of teaching carries a high cost, and teachers, parents and learners pay for it.
Rather than a systematic approach to remote learning, what we have is a kind of emergency remote schooling. That is not enough.
7. Technology is an aid, not a solution There is a belief that for every problem there is probably a technological solution. This technological solutionism is foolish when it fails to answer the biggest question: can technology solve the educational issues posed by lockdown? It is clear that the technology at home is no substitute for the technology that is available in some schools. But just as important as the technical limitations are the didactic limitations: re-opening the debate between the defenders of traditional schools and the ‘techno-fundamentalists’ who advocate for the replacement of school technology with artificial intelligence.
This fascination with technology is an obstacle if we expect it to achieve the same results as schools during lockdown. Better to move forward with tools that foster innovation, making sure that all teachers and families have devices and connectivity.
8. Create educational continuity in other ways It is time to adapt our expectations to the new reality, allowing ourselves more flexibility, and selecting content, activities, care, quantities and qualities in a smart and measured way. Schools resolved the challenges of catering for students of different ages and educational levels two centuries ago. But without schools, the solutions – classrooms, breaks, timetables and tests – become illusions. And the younger the student, the greater their reliance on adults and the lower their chances of learning without depending on a school. Trying to replicate a school schedule during lockdown is also unlikely to succeed.
Some teachers use more complex platforms and could impose a schedule similar to the one in school if families have the economic, housing, technological and cultural conditions to go along with it – i.e. the smallest and richest sector of the population. Perhaps lockdown entails testing options that will enhance the educational experience once it ends. But even in the best-case scenario, there is no certainty that the digital model will work as well as the school model.
9. Go back to basics – time to prioritize Social isolation forces us to detach ourselves from the school timetable and re-think teaching: what are we going to do and how are we going to do it once we reject the idea of doing for the sake of doing?
Prioritizing content and experience seems less ambitious, yet more realistic than trying to force continuity for something that is no longer there. Prioritizing means building relevant criteria for disciplines, contents and knowledge, but also for the bond with and among students. Prioritization criteria should be the foundation for every decision and should be filtered by the question: why? The schoolteacher is only one type of teacher, and maybe this forced exile encourages us to question the meaning of what we do.
Perhaps the first priority should be dealing with the socio-emotional situation of our students and of ourselves: the context cannot be ignored, and pedagogical continuity requires ongoing reflection from teachers that cannot be paused due to confinement.
Prioritizing is the bedrock of building a counter-isolation pedagogy. It means establishing deep feelings that connect us through knowledge and encounters that, while remote and mediated, allow us to reconstruct the pedagogical relationship that is missing.
10. Build a flexible, realistic and pansophic project Perceiving the sound of a person’s voice, their writing and even their image on a screen, but without experiencing the actual presence and gaze of the other is a challenge. This pretense that things are somehow the same must give way to a realistic approach that allows the continuation of educating in the context of lockdown.
We lack a play book for this – not because governments, international organizations, and specialists have become silent, but because nobody has instructions to give. Once again, no one taught the teachers, and teachers themselves are having to figure it out. Acknowledging uncertainty is the first step to avoid hyperactivity that rings hollow or the anguished “nothing can be done” paralysis.
Moving forward, it is essential to map out the situation, creating a realistic diagram of the contingency of social isolation conditions that can adapt to the variations that we are facing. It needs to be pansophic enough – in other words, an approach that ensures that all human knowledge is equally accessible to all human beings, despite socio-economic and other such barriers – to enable a counter-isolation pedagogy through which we can maintain opening the paths of education for ourselves and others, even during lockdown.
11. When experience is not enough, we need to draw on the present There are no magic recipes for the new. Counter-isolation pedagogy needs to consider everything that needs to be thought about and done, but not just anything. Having no prior experience with confinement and school closures on this massive global scale, we need to draw and reflect on the lessons we are learning now as we navigate the challenges in the present. After all, education itself is the possibility of thought. And thought is the virus we all need to catch.