Education systems around the world continue to grapple with the complex decisions of when and how to reopen schools for in-person learning following widespread closures due to the COVID 19 pandemic.1 Many countries closed schools along with other widespread restrictions as an immediate response to the increased spread of COVD-19. But school closures have had increasingly clear negative impacts on child health, education and development, family income and the overall economy.
Experiences in most high-income countries show no measurable impact of school reopening on increasing community transmission rates, while within primary school settings in particular there has been limited transmission among children or between children and adults. However, these experiences have primarily been in high-income countries with relatively low community transmission rates and basic safety measures implemented. Overall, the global evidence suggests that young children have lower susceptibility to infection compared to adults, with susceptibility generally increasing with age, and that children are less likely to be main transmitters of infection.
Emerging evidence drawn from Eastern and Southern Africa also suggests that schools have not been associated with significant increases in community transmission. However, where the virus local transmission rate is more prevalent or where safety measures cannot be universally implemented - because of crowded classrooms, lack of WASH facilities, crowded school transportation services, or insufficient and therefore shared teaching and learning materials – decision-making becomes more complex. In addition, different conditions in low and middle-income countries, such as the prevalence of households that include elderly people as well children, need to be considered.
The Framework for reopening schools, was originally published jointly by UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank, the World Food Programme, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)in June, and it provides practical, high-level guidance on how to reopen. As more countries move in that direction, lessons are beginning to emerge on what is working.
These emerging lessons are summarized below, following the four main dimensions of the Framework (safe operations, focus on learning, wellbeing & protection, and reaching the most marginalized) and highlighting country examples.2 Sharing these lessons as they develop can help countries strengthen their reopening plans, and ultimately improve the chances of a successful and safer return to in-person learning for all children.