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Developing crisis-sensitive teacher policy: Webinar and international consultation

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In the face of increasing global disruptions and crises, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030 (SDG 4) will not be possible unless education planning is crisis-sensitive. Teachers, who are the most important in-school factor influencing student achievement, are often at the frontline in situations of crisis. For this reason, it is imperative to prioritize, support and protect teachers through adequate education policy and planning.

Building on the Guidance Note on Developing a Crisis-Sensitive Teacher Policy, jointly developed by UNESCO, UNHCR, ILO, and UNICEF in 2020 under the Norwegian Teacher Initiative (NTI), the webinar on Crisis-Sensitive Teacher Policy and Planning in Emergency and Displacement Situations on 16 September brought together policy experts, country representatives and teachers to shed a light on what is needed to ensure that teacher policy is crisis-sensitive.

In a discussion that touched upon the key policy areas of the guide, participants shared lessons learned during previous and ongoing crises, expanded on the role of teachers in emergency and displacement contexts and advocated for increased support for teachers in such contexts.

Displacement creates challenges for teacher recruitment, training and deployment  

If Covid-19 highlighted at a global level the hardships educators confront when schooling is disrupted, this pandemic is only one among many situations of crisis that challenge the continuity and quality of education worldwide. According to UNHCR (2021), at the end of 2020, 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced due to violent conflict, persecution and natural disasters.

Uganda, which has experienced several displacement crises, is currently one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in Africa. It hosts over 1.4 million refugees, making up 3.6 % of the country's total population. During the webinar, Ms. Constance Alezuyo, Coordinator of the National Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities, explained that one of the biggest challenges her country faced in providing quality education for refugee children and youth has been recruiting teachers to live and work in the remote places where refugees are located. Furthermore, even when qualified teachers willing to relocate are found, it is difficult to provide them with adequate housing.

Ms. Angéline Neya Donbwa, Technical Secretary for Education in Emergencies in Burkina Faso, echoed Ms. Alezuyo’s assessment. She added that with over of 1.4 million internally displaced persons and 2,444 schools closed in her country, redeployment of teachers from conflict-ridden areas to overcrowded host villages in safer zones has been a major challenge. Grace*, an internally displaced teacher also from Burkina Faso, expanded on the challenges of teaching children who have been traumatized. She explained that some of her students had trouble concentrating in class, were afraid or reacted in aggressive or violent ways. She also noted that in her classroom she had to address the needs of internally displaced children as well as be responsive to the needs of the children of the host community.

Psychosocial and financial support are essential for both students and teachers

Psychosocial support stands out as an important dimension of crisis-sensitive planning. Ms. Neya Donbwa explained that the need for this type of support has clearly been expressed by communities affected by insecurity and violence in her country. In addition to needing support to cope with traumatic situations themselves, teachers need to be able to deal with the physical and emotional impact of the crisis on their students. This has led Ms. Neya Donbwa’s team to develop a module for dealing with traumatic situations to supplement their “Safe School” trainings designed to prepare teachers for crisis situations.   

Moreover, teachers’ financial stability is often impacted during crisis and emergency situations. Ms. Neya Donbwa explained that continuing to pay teachers’ salaries when they had to flee unsafe areas is one of the provisions in their crisis teacher management strategy. Similarly, Ms. Alezuyo explained that during times of crisis in Uganda, government school teachers kept receiving their salaries until they were redeployed. However, this was not the case for private school teachers during the Covid-19 crisis, as Ms. Stella Turehe, a teacher from Uganda explained. Ms. Turehe shared that the financial pressures private schools faced during this crisis led to many school closures and teachers losing their jobs.

Complying with sanitary measures demands flexibility and innovation

Complying with Covid-19 sanitary measures was also difficult for schools and at times, led to their complete closure. In Uganda, the measures issued by the Ministry of Health capped student-teacher ratios at 20 students per teacher. According to Ms. Turehe, refugee settlement schools - which have high enrolment numbers – have struggled to reopen. However, in response to this, teachers have initiated a number of actions with the support of NGOs, such as devising a double shift system to allow schools to re-open, and promoting e-learning through tablets and group-learning in refugee students’ communities.

Moreover, teachers also innovated to support the whole school community during the COVID-19 crisis in Uganda. This involved organizing back-to-school campaigns, setting up committees to connect with learners and parents, forming student clubs, and offering guidance to teens.

The importance of communication and consultation mechanisms

Teacher communication and feedback mechanisms are essential to ensuring that policy-makers are adequately informed about the rapidly changing conditions that characterize crisis situations. Ms. Alezuyo explained that there are different levels of communication between policy-makers, teachers and communities in Uganda and how they are adapted to crisis-sensitive education planning. The teacher management information system tracks teachers’ levels of training and experience which facilitates teacher deployment and efficient planning during crises. Communication at school and community level has adapted, including through mobile phones, radios and social media platforms.

Consultation for new module on Crisis-Sensitive Teacher Policy

The webinar also launched an international consultation to develop a new module on Crisis-Sensitive Teacher Policy and Planning which will complement the Teacher Policy Development Guide developed by the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030The module has been developed with the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP).

The draft module is available for comments and suggested case studies at the link below:

English: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NC8h2fNfjYj3CxSI2jkQWOYjy2v5Zz1N/edit

French: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1E6WlaCuoeDGyi6WHTZPaUUAcHntbB97t/edit?rtpof=true&sd=true

Please submit your comments and suggestions by 1 October to sm.richter@unesco.org.


*Name has been changed for security reasons 

Photo credit: UNHCR/Eduardo Soteras