Skip to main content
Blog
  • 23.03.2021

Vaccinating teachers is crucial for returning to school

This blog was first published on March 15, 2021, on the Global Partnership for Education website.

As countries roll out plans to inoculate their populations against COVID-19, the urgent need to vaccinate teachers is an increasingly pressing concern. But are teachers prioritized in national plans? Here’s an overview of what some countries are currently doing for teachers, and recommendations on why teachers must be considered as a priority group.

As countries proceed with rollout plans to inoculate their populations against COVID-19, the urgent need to vaccinate teachers is an increasingly pressing concern. The pandemic crippled education systems across the world.

By April 2020, most of the world’s schools were closed. To expedite their reopening, countries must act to protect teachers’ health, safety and wellbeing. This is a critical precursor to the renormalization of in-person teaching and learning and to the much-needed return of the socialization function of education.

In December 2020, UNESCO and Education International (EI), the global federation of education unions, issued a call to governments and the international community to consider the vital importance of vaccinating teachers and school personnel.

As UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay and EI’s General Secretary David Edwards say in their joint video message,

 

Reopening schools and education institutions safely and keeping them open as long as possible is an imperative. In this context, as we see positive developments regarding vaccination, we believe that teachers and education support personnel must be considered as a priority group.”

 

As early as March 2020, the Teacher Task Force had launched an international Call for Action on Teachers to highlight critical measures that countries should take regarding teachers in the global pandemic, including the “protection of teachers’ and students’ health, safety and well-being”.

This was reaffirmed during the Extraordinary session of the Global Education Meeting (2020 GEM), convened by UNESCO in October 2020, where heads of state and ministers committed to support all teachers and education personnel as frontline workers and to prioritize their health and safety.

 

What countries are vaccinating teachers?

The Teacher Task Force notes that despite the urgency of protecting teachers and other education personnel, and the international community’s attempts to promote their priority for vaccination, they are not consistently prioritized in national plans, which is partly due to a slow global rollout.

Where well-defined rollout plans exist, most countries tend to give priority to health care workers, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions putting them at high risk.

One exception is the jurisdiction of New Delhi in India, where all personnel, including teachers, who were actively involved in the city’s COVID-19 management efforts will be vaccinated on a priority basis as front line workers.

Chile has been relatively successful in its program to vaccinate teachers. To prepare for the return to classes, the Chilean government included teachers and education workers early on in the country’s massive vaccination drive. In just the previous two weeks, more than half of the country’s 513,000 teachers and education workers received shots in time for the start of the school year.

UNICEF/ Raphael Puget/UNI342143
During the pandemic, a teacher is teaching Arabic at a center for girls who are victims of gender-based violence in Nouakchott, Mauritania.
Credit: UNICEF/ Raphael Puget/UNI342143

 

Teachers in the second wave

In other countries, teachers are included in the second priority group for vaccination. This is true in ArgentinaColombia and Turkey. In Vietnam, teachers are given higher priority as they will be vaccinated in the same group as senior citizens and people with chronic illnesses, along with other workers providing essential services and diplomats.

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, teachers are listed in the second priority group along with first responders, the military, those working in the justice system, transport workers and public servants essential to the pandemic response. Some who question this ranking have launched an online petition to Parliament to prioritize teachers and school/child care staff.

In a three-phase plan, teachers in South Africa are listed in a very large second-level priority group comprising around 17 million people, which includes essential workers such as police officers, persons in congregate settings such as prisons and shelters, people aged 60 and over, and people with various comorbidities.

Some countries have indirectly given precedence to teachers by taking the approach of prioritizing workers writ large, in order to spur stalled economies. In Indonesia, teachers along with the elderly form a second priority group in the national rollout plan. The country aims to vaccinate 5 million teachers by June.

Similarly, in Bangladesh, it was announced in early February that all primary teachers would be vaccinated, and by the end of the month teachers under the age of 40 registered on the health directorate’s list could sign up online to receive the vaccine.

With an increasing global rollout, some major commitments have been made. In the United States, all states have been asked to give priority to teachers in vaccination efforts, in accordance with a goal to have all pre-primary to secondary teachers and child care workers receiving their first shots by the end of March.

Similarly, the Ministry of Education in Singapore announced that it would begin vaccinating 150,000 teachers and other staff in educational institutions from as of early March.

Little information is available from African countries. Rwanda, however, which received 347,000 doses of vaccine from the UN-backed COVAX initiative in early March, has emphasized the vaccination of teachers, with the Ministry of Health stating that “teachers and lecturers are among the frontline workers being vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Elsewhere on the continent, teachers in Uganda will be included in the second priority group after health care workers and security personnel, while Kenya has also put teachers in a high priority group, after health care workers and security personnel but before those with possible comorbidities and over 58 years old.

 

Teachers still missing out

In other countries such as Italy and Brazil, teachers are relegated to a lower position in national plans for vaccine prioritization. Brazil has grouped teachers with security workers and prison staff, which has led to strikes in Sao Paulo to protest, among other issues, the health concerns that teachers face in schools.

In the Russian Federation, a certain mistrust of the vaccine may hamper efforts to vaccinate teachers, despite their high priority along with medical staff and social workers, in initial stages of mass vaccination.

Recently, new statistics reveal that two-thirds of poorer countries will face education budget cuts. This is problematic for numerous reasons, two of the main ones being the need to vaccinate teachers and recruit staff to meet the challenges of increased workload, teacher attrition and illness.

 

Many low-income countries are unlikely to obtain enough doses to vaccinate their teachers for some time. This puts massive pressure on teachers to teach in-person while unvaccinated putting theirs and others’ health at risk.

 

A recent study suggests that without greater international cooperation, more than 85 poor countries will not have widespread access to coronavirus vaccines before 2023.

 

Recommendations

In view of the global situation outlined above, the Teacher Task Force makes the following recommendations:

  • As called for by UNESCO and Education International, teachers should be considered frontline workers and a high-priority group to be vaccinated early to ensure that schools can reopen safely for in-person education.

  • Governments should work with teacher unions to ensure that all schools continue to adhere strictly to rules of safe operation, and that unvaccinated teachers have access to psychological and socio-emotional care, sick leave and support from school leaders and district/central level authorities.

  • Where high-priority groups require identification for access to vaccination, ministries should ensure that teacher lists are accurate and that teachers have adequate identification.

  • Lessons learned from previous pandemics should inform vaccine distribution plans to ensure that dissemination mechanisms are effectively put in place and run efficiently so that all teachers have access, including those in remote regions.

  • Governments should ensure adequate funds are available to support vaccination roll out to guarantee the safety of teachers and education support staff and the safe reopening of schools.

***

Cover photo credit: Bret Bostock/Flickr
Caption: A medical syringe with a vaccine

 

Blog
  • 22.02.2021

A reflection on teachers’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic: Where do we go from here?

This blog has been written by Lisa E. Kim & Kathryn Asbury from the Department of Education, University of York, UK.

As schools around the world continue to adapt to and move on from COVID-19 we consider how teachers can best be supported.

The content of this blog is based a series of interviews we conducted with 24 primary and secondary teachers in England as part of a longitudinal research project “Being a teacher in England during the COVID-19 pandemic” funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. 

“Like a rug had been pulled from under you”.

Several of the teachers in our study used this analogy to describe their experience of an initial shock, and of being thrown into disarray, when the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly and unforeseeably affected their lives as teachers.

In England, teachers have worked through partial school closures in March 2020, re-openings for some year groups by mid-June 2020, full re-openings in September 2020, partial closures in January 2021, and are now preparing for possible phased re-openings in March 2021. We share some reflections on the stories teachers have told us about their experiences of being a teacher during the pandemic.

 

Teachers are overloaded and exhausted

Working under increased demands and with limited resources during the pandemic has taken a toll on the teachers in our study. One secondary teacher said to us in November:

“I feel like I'm on overload. My brain feels like a browser with 100 tabs open. There is so much to think about all the time.”

Part of this overload seemed to be associated with not knowing what lies ahead and how to prepare students for an uncertain future, including the handling of high-stakes national assessments.

Moreover, many teachers reported being physically and emotionally exhausted, which are well-known symptoms of burnout. Burnout is a consequence of prolonged experience of stress, and can have negative consequences for teachers, students, and educational systems, such as greater intention to quit the profession and poorer student outcomes. It is noteworthy that school leaders have reported more anxiety during 2020 than class teachers, which raises particular concern for this group and for the potential effects on leadership it could have.

 

Teachers are concerned for their pupils

The teaching profession is inherently a social one, involving interacting with pupils and their families. However, the pandemic has caused communication barriers, especially with some pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who may have limited access to technology and broadband. As one primary teacher described:

...some of those families, they're just incredibly hard to get hold of”.

Teachers told us that this lack of access to some pupils, especially those known to be vulnerable in some way, caused them significant concern for their pupils’ learning and wellbeing.

That said, teachers have shown themselves to be resilient and adaptive. To ensure pupils’ immediate learning and nutrition needs are addressed, some teachers reported delivering work packs, laptops, and food packs, where financially and logistically possible. They also told us that they called pupils and their families regularly, and created new communication channels through which they were most likely to engage with families, such as Facebook. As one primary school leader said: “As teachers we want to connect and we want to be there for the kids that we teach. And we want to keep those relationships going even when that's really tricky.”

 

Policy and practice recommendations

A recurring theme that emerged from the interviews was a need for clear direction on how to move forward. In light of all that has occurred in the last year, policy-makers, schools, and teachers are called to work together to collaboratively pave a path forward from the COVID-19 experience. These recommendations are in line with the Teacher Task Force’s Call for Action to support teachers.

 

  1. Government and the teaching community will both benefit from collaborative dialogues

    With a pressing need to respond rapidly to the ever-changing pandemic, governments have had to make difficult decisions quickly. However, participants told us that teachers have often felt excluded from contributing to decisions that directly affect them, making them feel less valued as a profession than before the pandemic. Creating channels whereby representative members of the teaching community can contribute to decision-making processes will be beneficial both for policy-makers — ensuring plans are practically feasible on the ground — and teachers — ensuring that their views are considered in decisions that affect them.
     
  2. Schools and parents will benefit from working together

    The importance of working together with families has been particularly highlighted in this pandemic. As one secondary school leader put it: “It's got to be... a partnership where you're in communication with parents on a regular basis. The parents know what you're trying to do, [but] they know their kids better than you do, and they can support you in trying to get the best for the children”. In the early months of the pandemic, we saw evidence of increased effort and success in establishing and strengthening school–parent relationships, and a feeling among teachers that parents appreciated them, even when they felt that the wider society didn’t. Schools and parents can benefit from sustaining this relationship to achieve the common goal of healthy development and wellbeing for their pupils and children.
     
  3. Teachers must support one another

    Social support is an important job resource that can buffer the effects of job demands, and providing this for one another can be beneficial. Teachers told us that it has been difficult not being able to meet each other, such as through corridor conversations and lunchtime breaks in staff rooms. In light of this, some teachers seemed to be finding alternative ways to connect with colleagues, such as via departmental virtual platforms and social media channels. Finding and using adaptive ways to receive social support, while still protecting work–life boundaries, is likely to help teachers manage stress.
     
  4. The general public needs to recognise teachers’ contributions

    In England, teachers are classed as critical workers and have worked throughout the pandemic. However, a common media portrayal of teachers has been that they are lazy and not working. Images and beliefs such as this must be corrected, as there is evidence that they can negatively affect teachers’ quality of instruction. As a society we must fully appreciate teachers, as they continue work to support the learning and welfare of pupils in their country during the pandemic.

    Teachers are foundational to our educational systems and it is vital that we listen to their experiences and support them as we move forward.

 

Here are some extra resources for policy-makers and school leaders supporting hybrid learning and the return to school:

NB.: The content of this blog does not reflect the views of the University of York or the ESRC but only that of the authors. Most project findings are currently published as preprints and may therefore change during the peer review process.

The authors thank the participants who generously shared their stories with them and the research assistants (Suzanna Dundas, Diana Fields, Rowena Leary, and Laura Oxley) for their contributions to the project.

Photo credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

 

    Article
    • pdf
    • 12.02.2021

    Roles of Teachers in the SDG4 Age: An Introductory Note

    This note reviews how teacher-related issues are addressed in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) on education, and at each of the key steps since the preparation for the post 2015 education agenda...
    Blog
    • 03.02.2021

    Teachers as Tutors: Evidence from Africa

    This blog was written by Mark BrayUNESCO Chair Professor in Comparative Education at the University of Hong Kong, and Director of the Centre for International Research in Supplementary Tutoring (CIRIST) at East China Normal University (ECNU). It reflects the author's opinions, which are not necessarily those of the TTF.

     

    Shadow education and implications for policy

    The theme of non-state actors in education, which has huge importance throughout the world, will be the focus for the 2021 edition of UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report. A key dimension includes the private supplementary tutoring undertaken by public school teachers. In the literature, private supplementary tutoring is commonly called shadow education. The metaphor is used because as the curriculum changes in schools, so it changes in the shadow; and as the school system expands, so does the shadow.

    Shadow education has long been visible in East Asia, and is now a global phenomenon. While shadow education has received much attention in Egypt and some other parts of North Africa, it is neglected in Sub-Saharan Africa. This article draws on a book entitled Shadow Education in Africa (available in English and in French), the genesis of which was a background paper for UNESCO’s GEM Report.

     

    How widespread is shadow education?

    Reliable statistics are scarce, and one message of the book is that better data are urgently needed. Nevertheless, the following statistics shed some light on the prevalence of shadow education.

    • In Angola 94% of surveyed students in Grades 11 and 12 (2015) were receiving or had received tutoring at some time.
    • In Burkina Faso, 46% of surveyed upper primary students (2014/15) were receiving tutoring at the time of the study.
    • In Egypt, 91% of Grade 12 respondents (2014) indicated that they were either currently receiving tutoring or, if they had graduated, had done so before completion.

    Other sources show trends over time (Table 1), with significant growth that has likely continued. Some of this tutoring is provided by commercial entrepreneurs who operate tutorial centres, and some is provided by university students and others who operate informally. In Africa, most tutoring is provided by in-service teachers taking additional employment as part-time occupations.

    Table 1: Enrolment Rates in Private Tutoring, Grade 6, 2007 and 2013 (%)

    Table 1

     Source: SACMEQ National Reports. 

     

    What issues arise when teachers are also tutors?

    Private supplementary tutoring can be beneficial. It can help slow learners to catch up with their peers, and can strengthen countries’ overall human capital. It also provides extra income for teachers, perhaps helping to retain them in the profession. In many African countries, high proportions of school personnel are contract teachers who commonly have relatively low salaries. Even teachers forming part of the civil service may feel that their salaries are inadequate to meet all family needs.

    visual 2

    Source: http://gem-report-2017.unesco.org/en/countonme

    Yet when teachers are also tutors, several problematic issues arise. One is that the teachers may neglect their regular teaching duties in order to devote time and energy to their private lessons. Especially problematic situations arise when teachers tutor the students for whom they are already responsible in mainstream schooling. For example, the danger arises of deliberate reduction of attention during regular lessons in order to promote demand for private tutoring. Dangers also arise of discrimination in the classroom, when teachers openly or covertly favour the students receiving supplementary lessons from them.

     

    What are the policy implications?

    The first need is for the topic to be taken out of the shadows – to be discussed not only by Ministry of Education personnel but also by professional bodies at sub-national, school and community levels. Some governments, e.g. in Egypt, Eritrea, The Gambia and Kenya, explicitly prohibit private tutoring by serving teachers. Other governments, for example in Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, permit such tutoring but prohibit it on school premises. Another category, exemplified by Mozambique, permits private tutoring with official permission but explicitly forbids teachers from tutoring their existing students.

    Yet many of these policies exist more on paper than in practice. Governments do not have strong machinery to enforce prohibitions, especially when many actors are sympathetic to the status quo. Thus, even parents may exert pressures on teachers and schools since they want their children to perform well in a competitive environment. Parents frequently feel their children’s teachers know the children best and can therefore provide better support than tutorial centres or other providers.

    This situation underlines the need to accompany policies with practical measures to ensure better regulation. Yet sometimes governments feel that the mechanisms to monitor and regulate the practice are inadequate, leading to the development of laissez-faire policies that do little to regulate the problem.

     

    What about the school level?

    Even if governments turn a blind eye to the problem, schools can issue their own policies and monitor patterns to avoid ethical malpractice. Schools can help explain the issues to parents, and support finding alternatives to support their children’s needs. School-level policies may be especially effective, since teachers and parents are well known to one another resulting in that guidelines and sanctions are more likely to be meaningful and effective. Nevertheless, it must be recognised that sometimes schools are complicit in encouraging tutoring in order to generate extra revenue for institutional and/or personal uses.

     

    Learning from each other

    Some people assume that if the quality of schooling is improved, then shadow education will disappear by itself. Global trends however show the opposite. The East Asian countries that have much shadow education also have strong education systems. Rather, globalisation has increased pressures on families to compete resulting in that shadow education is on the rise in many European and high-income countries. Thus also in Denmark and Finland, which are renowned for the quality of their schooling, the expansion of shadow education is visible. This trend suggests that shadow education is a concern not only in countries where it is already strong but also in those where it is not so strong. In the latter case, policy-makers have the opportunity to shape the sector before it becomes engrained in cultures.. 

    visual 3

    Further, the fact that large-scale shadow education has been evident for a longer time in  Asia, may bring insights for other parts of the world. One regional study on this theme is  entitled Regulating private tutoring for public good.