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Teaching on the front line

The International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 has released a new Fact Sheet on how teachers have been affected by COVID-19, which draws on recent survey data. The data points to significant challenges to teachers in most countries in the world, but also sheds light on the resources made available to the teaching profession and the huge divide between the world’s richest and poorest regions.  While many countries are still struggling with full or partial school closures, the experience of the past year shows us that, in most of them, governments will need to introduce effective responses to support teachers and ensure no learners are left behind.

With the rapid closure of schools, different forms of remote/distance education including high-, low- and no-tech solutions became the main vehicle for teachers to deliver or support instruction. The majority of countries reported the inclusion of remote learning in their education responses, but due to the digital divide and lack of household devices and internet, different approaches emerged. In Europe, 92% of countries asked teachers to conduct online learning, whereas teachers were encouraged to support radio- and television-based learning in 91% of countries in Central and Southern Asia and 73% in sub-Saharan Africa.  With the reopening of schools, marking a second significant shift in teaching within months, regional approaches continued to diverge as half of European countries introduced hybrid instruction with teachers juggling between online and offline components, compared to 58% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa that offered fully in-person classes with its own set of challenges.


How were teachers supported to cope with new learning modalities?

For most teachers the move to distance teaching resulted in heavier workloads, having to learn to deliver lessons remotely, adapt content, train themselves in new technologies and establish new working routines. To support teachers, 62% of countries globally provided teachers with instructions on distance teaching and learning and 55% provided content adapted for remote teaching such as open educational resources (OERs) and sample lesson plans (55%). While teachers can also play a greater role in the co-creation of online content, just 44% of countries, however, offered specialised training focusing in particular on the use of remote learning platforms and information and communication technology (ICT) tools.

It is also urgent to reduce the digital divide unveiled by school closures. Countries can support teachers by providing them with computers, mobile phones and free Internet. Yet globally, only 35% of countries provided teachers with devices and subsidized Internet access, and this decreased to just 12% in sub-Saharan Africa.  


Were teachers’ salaries protected and how were they impacted?

Protecting employment and wages and providing benefits are key to the recognition of the essential role that teachers have played to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on learning. This is critical to mitigate teacher attrition and ensure their engagement for sustaining quality education. School closures resulted in challenges for the payment of salaries in both the public and private sectors, particularly for ‘contract teachers. Yet whereas the majority of public sector teachers were not impacted during school closures, 10% of countries globally reported not paying or reducing payments to contract teachers, increasing to 20% in sub-Saharan Africa.


How have governments ensured teachers’ health, safety and well-being?

The protection of teachers’ and students’ health and safety remains the priority in the return to in-person teaching. Based on national requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19, countries have responded with a number of different measures such as the introduction of hybrid learning, imposing shift work and adding teachers to reduce class sizes. Hybrid teaching was introduced in 80% of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, while imposing teaching in shifts occurred in two thirds of countries in Central and Southern Asia. Lastly, the addition of teachers to reduce class size occurred in 14% of countries, globally, ranging from 26% in Europe and Northern America to 8% in Latin America, and none in Oceania. More broadly, about 1 in 4 countries have reported recruiting teachers beyond the normal recruitment cycle.

Governments have also had to ensure proper sanitation in schools, including providing soap, masks and personal protective equipment. Less than two-thirds (63%) of countries around the world reported having enough resources and school infrastructure to ensure proper sanitation in schools and protect teachers and learners. This varied from 89% of countries in Europe and Northern America to fewer than 50% in Central and Southern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa.

Moreover, a comprehensive strategy for socio-emotional monitoring and support is needed to ensure teacher well-being. Globally, just 40% of countries reported providing professional and psychosocial support for teachers, ranging from two-thirds of countries (67%) in Europe to just 14% in Oceania and 4% in sub-Saharan Africa.


What are the policy implications?

As teachers are at the heart of ensuring learning continuity, it is critical that policy-makers and education stakeholders implement measures to mitigate the disruptions to teachers’ work. This includes offering teachers specialized training and support, safeguarding their wages and benefits, and guaranteeing their return to a safe and healthy school environment. The global disparities in support and working conditions available to teachers mean that more targeted interventions are urgently needed to design locally suitable solutions and help level the playing field.


In 2020 UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank as part of the coordinated global education response to the COVID-19 pandemic, conducted a Survey on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures. The survey included two data collections during 2020: the first on school closures and the transition to remote education and the second that assessed the measures for reopening schools. This data collection was administered by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and cover government responses to school closures from pre-primary to secondary education.

The objective of this survey was to support regions and countries with data on teacher responses to the COVID-19 crisis to inform further decision-making that fosters the conditions for teaching and learning to continue successfully during further school closures and during the preparation and return to school. It also has implications for general education crisis management and for building more resilient education systems to mitigate learning loss and avoid a generational catastrophe in education.