In response to a surge in school and university closures to contain the spread
of COVID-19, UNESCO on Tuesday convened a global videoconference of high education
officials to step up the emergency response and share strategies to minimize learning
disruption worldwide. Seventy-three countries were represented including 24 education
ministers and 15 vice ministers.
According to data released today by UNESCO, the crisis is now impacting close to 363
million learners worldwide, from the pre-primary to tertiary level, including 57.8 million
students in higher education. One in five students worldwide is staying away from school
due to the COVID-19 crisis and an additional one in four is being kept out of higher
Fifteen countries have ordered nationwide school closures and 14 have implemented
localized closures, spanning Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.
“We are entering uncharted territory and working with countries to find hi-tech, low-tech
and no-tech solutions to assure the continuity of learning,” said UNESCO Director-General
Audrey Azoulay. “As countries try to prepare their response, international cooperation is
vital to share the most effective approaches and support students, teachers and families.
UNESCO is stepping up its support to ensure this crisis promotes innovation and inclusion
and does not exacerbate learning inequalities.”
To steer the global response, UNESCO announced the creation of a UNESCO-COVID19 Emergency
Task Force that will support national responses and share effective policy responses with
a focus on the most vulnerable countries. A wider community of practice will be established
to enhance knowledge sharing, peer learning and capacity building on distance and open learning.
UNESCO aims to mobilize all actors involved, including the private sector. Partners such as
Microsoft have already lent technical support to the Task Force.
Government representatives shared approaches and best practices during their exchange to
ensure continuity of learning during school closures, the duration of which is unpredictable
at this stage. The videoconference included ministers and representatives from China, Croatia,
Egypt, France, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Islamic
Republic of Iran.
In addition to monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on education, UNESCO has published a curated
list of freely accessible learning applications and platforms for use by parents, teachers and
learners, as well as school systems. It is urging countries to use inclusion and equity as guiding
principles when planning responses, recognizing that school closures hit vulnerable learners the hardest.
UNESCO’s expertise in open and distance learning spans teacher training platforms, the design
of e-learning school models, online communities of practice and the development of national ICT
in education policies, with a priority focus on Africa.
“We are facing an unusual situation with a large number of countries affected by the same issue
at the same time. We need to come together not only to address the immediate educational consequences
of this unprecedented crisis, but to build up the longer-term resilience of education systems,”
said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education.
Tarek Galal Shawki, Minister of Education of Egypt, for his part, thanked UNESCO for taking this
initiative and providing real-time examples of how other countries are handling a fast-changing situation.