“When will schools reopen in-person classes?”
“Will parents send children back to school?”
“How will learners catch up after so much lost time?”
“Will all students have a school to return to?”
The questions are known and have been echoed around the world, as countries have wrestled with balancing student and educator safety amidst an ongoing pandemic against the massive risks of learning loss. The answers are more complex, shift on a sometimes daily basis, and are often controversial, as stakeholders approach the common goal of mitigating learning loss from many varied perspectives.
Starting in September 2020, schools began limited reopening in some countries EduFinance works in leading up to year-end. However, even limited reopening plans often faced challenges. For example, schools in Pakistan were briefly allowed to reopen before having to close again due to rising cases of Covid 19. Similarly, in Colombia the government allowed a small trial with some students returning on an alternating schedule. However, after several positive Covid cases were identified, parents were afraid to continue and the government ended the trial.
Many countries have had to postpone reopening several times and where schools have opened it has primarily been for exam classes only. Now with a trend in global increase in cases and a new variant of the virus, the decisions around reopening have only become harder.
4 Key Challenges facing Affordable Non-State Schools
As affordable non-state schools work to prepare for reopening their doors to students, most face similar key challenges.
1. Schools must ensure a safe and effective reopening to keep students and their communities safe. There is a lack of information from many governments about what is required to safely reopen – especially for affordable schools. Others have created extensive, highly technical standard operating procedures for reopening that are overwhelming for many school leaders to understand and implement.
2. Many parents want to send their children back to school, but remain concerned about whether it is safe to do so. As parents make the difficult decisions around what they believe is best for their children in the current situation, schools are likely to see only a portion of students initially return, with potential fluctuations in enrolment linked to any increases in Covid cases. This will make it difficult for school leaders to plan effectively as they work to balance enrolment and capacity with compliance on safety protocols.
3. Most affordable non-state schools, which depend on school fees to pay staff and remain open, have lost significant income. Unfortunately, some affordable schools have already had to close permanently because of lack in school fee payments during temporary closures. Some could not continue to pay rent for the school premises, teacher and staff salaries, and other fixed costs. In Pakistan, over 10,000 non-state schools have already reported permanent closure. As schools reopen, they will need to be confident that students will return and that their families can resume paying school fees, as many households have also lost significant income during the pandemic.
4. Most students are currently behind in their academic studies after a year without in-person learning and only limited or no access to remote learning. School leaders and teachers will be challenged to find ways to restructure the curriculum, catch students up and keep moving forward. There is a real risk that for many students the gap in learning will continue to increase, falling even further behind despite return to the classroom.
Difficult decisions for School Reopening
Countries are making the best decisions they can with very limited information, having never experienced something like this pandemic before. With the number of cases rising since the end of 2020 in many areas, the decisions around schools reopening and termly schedules have become even more complex.
In Ghana, the academic school year normally begins in September, but the decision was recently made to move the new school year start to January 2021.
In Uganda, some classes are going to return to complete the previous year.
Many countries are planning an alternative schedule approach, with students alternating days they attend in-person classes. Other are planning to stagger school dates with different streams and groups to reduce the number of students present at any one time.
The following is the latest on plans for reopening in the countries our EduQuality programme works in:*
- Kenya to fully reopened schools on the 4th January
- Tanzania fully reopened for the new academic year on the 11th January.
- Pakistan is planning to fully reopen schools on the 25th January.
- Colombia, Uganda and India’s full school reopening dates are to be confirmed. In Uganda, this has been delayed because of the elections. India has reopened schools but not in all states.
- Ghana, Zambia and Rwanda’s schools are all reopening on the 18th January. In Zambia this was recently postponed by two weeks to give schools more time to prepare to open.
* This information is correct as of 13th January 2021, but is subject to very quick changes and postponements.
Resuming in-person EduQuality Programming with Schools
Through our EduQuality programme, we have continued to deliver remote support for school leaders and teachers throughout this period. Some in-person school visits by our Education Specialists and school cluster meetings have already been possible, as schools have begun to reopen. The EduQuality team is eager to resume full in-person delivery of our program, engaging directly with school leaders and teachers again, currently planned for March/April 2021 after the majority of schools have had time to reopen. Following the success of our online delivery of resources during school closures, the team is preparing an increased range of digital support for schools this year.
For more information on the strategies and resources the EduQuality team used to support our school leaders and teachers during school closures, see our recent blogs on EduQuality staff reflections and Pathways to Reopening.