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News
  • 30.08.2021

Supporting teachers in back-to-school efforts: A toolkit for school leaders

Many schools in the northern hemisphere will resume in-person classes in the coming weeks after over a year of intermittent closures - despite the continued presence and uncertain evolution of the COVID-19 virus. Other schools will opt for hybrid teaching and learning. Whichever modality they choose, the reopening of schools that had been closed because of COVID-19 continues to raise many questions for school leaders. They need to put the school community’s safety and health first. At the same time, they have to ensure that schools’ front-line workers – teachers and education support staff – have the help, protection and tools they need to resume work.  Teachers have played a key role during school closures by ensuring that learning can continue and by keeping in touch with students and their families. Their role during school reopening will be just as important.

Last year, UNESCO, the Teacher Task Force and the International Labour Organization released a toolkit to help school leaders support and protect teachers and education support staff in the return to school. The toolkit complements the joint Framework for Reopening Schools and the Task Force's policy guidance. It breaks down the seven dimensions in the policy guidance into a series of actionable guiding questions and tips. While many education systems have already been closed and reopened several times over the past year, the dimensions on supporting and protecting teachers and students remain relevant. These include how to support teachers’ health, safety and well-being, how to foster dialogue with teachers and the community, and how to ensure learning resumes.

Download the Toolkit in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

Seven dimensions to support teachers and staff as schools reopen:

Figure 1. Seven dimensions to support teachers and staff as schools reopen

The toolkit recognizes the importance of local context. In many countries the pandemic is still evolving daily. Local decisions about when to reopen schools will be determined by a broad range of considerations; what is right for one school may not be right for another. In all contexts, school leaders will need to set priorities  and recognize that  trade-offs may be needed.

The toolkit shows us that school leaders will need to think about key issues in relation to teachers and education support staff as they adapt national directives to plan to reopen their schools.

  • The importance of consultation and communication

Teachers, school staff and their representative organizations should be actively involved in setting out policies and plans for school reopening, including occupational safety and health measures to protect personnel. Communication with teachers, learners and education support staff about reopening can ensure clarity about expectations  and highlight their role in the success  of safe, inclusive return-to-school efforts, including overall well-being, and the teaching and learning recovery process.

As decisions to reopen schools are made by central authorities, it will be important to communicate early, clearly and regularly with parents and school communities to understand their concerns and build support for plans to reopen. Parents will want to know what safeguards have been put in place to minimize health risks. They will also need to hear about the school’s ongoing commitment to key educational principles and goals. As teachers are often the first point of contact with parents, they will need to be prepared to ensure everyone is informed continually.

  • Reassuring teachers and school staff about their health, safety and rights

Concern for the well-being of teachers, support staff and students is at the heart of decision-making. It is important to balance the desire to return to school with consideration of the risks to (and needs of) teachers, support staff and learners, so that the needs of the most vulnerable members of the school community are met.

School-level responses may include ongoing psychological and socio-emotional assessment, and support for teachers and learners. School leaders and teachers should be free to address their own needs, exercise self-care and manage their own stress. School leaders can help teachers develop stress management skills and coping mechanisms, so they can teach effectively and provide much-needed psychosocial support to learners. It is also critical to understand that schools are a workplace and that it is more vital than ever to respect the rights and conditions of the people who work there.

 “Before schools reopened, the teachers were worried about resuming work and contracting the virus, as were the parents. We had no WASH facilities, no masks and large classes. Discussions with health staff would have helped us a lot. It would also have been reassuring to have psychologists in schools for psychosocial care. In the end, we were able to obtain sufficient sanitation and masks from an international NGO, and only one grade returned to school to prepare for exams. The classes were split in two", stated a Primary school principal from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

  • Using teachers’ expertise in the new classroom environment

In most contexts, when children return to classrooms it will not be business as usual. In some cases, only some students will be present, or there will be double shifts. Lesson plans, assessment and overall curricula will be adapted, and remedial lessons will need to be developed and deployed.

School leaders need to ensure teachers are empowered to make decisions about teaching and learning. They can work with teachers to adjust curricula and assessment based on revised school calendars and instructions from central authorities. School leaders should also support teachers to reorganize classrooms to allow for accelerated learning and remedial responses, while adhering to regulations on physical distancing.

Teachers’ key role in recognizing learning gaps and formulating pedagogical responses remains critical. This is especially true for vulnerable groups, including low-income families, girls, those with special needs or disabilities, ethnic or cultural minorities and those living in remote rural areas with no access to distance education.

To manage the return to school, it is important for teachers and education support staff to receive adequate professional preparation to assume their responsibilities and meet expectations. Training, peer-to-peer learning and collaboration with other teachers, both within the school and more broadly, will be critical. Such support is particularly important where additional strain may be placed on teachers’ time if they are required to conduct both face-to-face and distance education.

Education recovery will require investments to ensure that a generation of learners is not lost. Which is why the Teacher Task Force is urgently calling for greater investment in teachers and teaching. Read the Call for Greater Investment

Download the Toolkit in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

See also the Guidelines for national authorities in Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

Photo credit: MIA Studio/Shutterstock.com

Blog
  • 22.03.2021

Enhancing teacher deployment in Sierra Leone: Using spatial analysis to address disparity

This blog has been written by Paul Atherton and Alasdair Mackintosh from Fab Inc.

Sierra Leone has made significant progress towards educational targets in recent years, but is still struggling to ensure equitable access to quality teachers for all its learners. The government is exploring innovative solutions to tackle this problem. In support of this, Fab Inc. has brought their expertise in data science and education systems, merging the two to use spatial analysis to unpack and explore this challenge.

Between 2018 and 2019, the Sierra Leone government’s Free Quality School Education (FQSE) initiative resulted in an additional 700,000 children enrolled – nearly 10% of the population. At the same time, there was a push from the Ministry and Teaching Service Commission to improve education quality and outcomes.

But, despite this recent expansion, many students in Sierra Leone still lack access to well-qualified, resourced and motivated teachers. Furthermore, disparities in pupils’ progression, completion and learning outcomes have been exacerbated by recent crises due to Ebola, economic downturn and COVID-19.

Education indicator averages do not tell the whole story about disparities in access to qualified teachers. For instance, while the national pupil-teacher ratio in Sierra Leone may seem manageable (below 40:1 in primary), the trained teacher ratio is much higher, at 58:1, and even higher outside Freetown and in remote locations. Clearly, finding ways to improve equitable deployment, or to support unqualified teachers already in these schools, is key to the country’s achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education.

Figure 1: Pupil-teacher ratio for primary education by district (left); and within Kailahun district, Sierra Leone, by chiefdom (right), 2020.

maps

Source: Mackintosh, A., A. Ramirez, P. Atherton, V. Collis, M. Mason-Sesay, & C. Bart-Williams. 2019. Education Workforce Spatial Analysis in Sierra Leone. Research and Policy Paper. Education Workforce Initiative. The Education Commission.

 

Spatial analysis

In a recent article, David Moinina Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, highlighted how spatial analysis can be used to better understand obstacles to educational access, and thus lead to solutions and improved educational outcomes.

Spatial analysis, also referred to as geospatial analysis, is a set of techniques to explain patterns and behaviours in terms of geography and locations. It uses geographical features, such as distances, travel times and school neighbourhoods, to identify relationships and patterns.

Our team, using its expertise in both data science and education systems, examined issues linked to remoteness to produce a clearer picture of Sierra Leone’s teacher shortage. To see how the current education workforce was distributed across the country, and how well it served local populations, we drew on geo-processed population data from the Grid-3 initiative and the Government of Sierra Leone’s Education Data Hub. The project benefited from close collaboration with the Ministry and Teaching Service Commission (TSC).

Our analysis focused on teacher development, training and the deployment of new teachers across regions, drawing on exam data. Surveys of teacher training colleges (TTCs) were conducted to assess how many future teachers will need to be trained to make up for shortages. Gender and subject speciality were analysed to better address local imbalances. The team developed a matching algorithm for teacher deployment, to illustrate how schools’ needs, including aspects of qualifications and subject specialisms, can be matched to teachers’ preferences, including aspects of language and family connections, to improve allocation of both current and future teachers. 

 

Key findings

Results show the workforce is very unevenly distributed around the country, with problems in all districts. On the surface, there appears a key distinction between the Western Area (Freetown and its surrounding area) and the rest of the country. However, this is skewed by the greater prevalence of private schools in the Western Area. Looking at non-private schools only, the differences are less pronounced across districts, showing instead much greater variation within districts. For instance, in urban centres across each district, education indicators can closely resemble those within the Western Area, but outside of urban centres disparities widen dramatically. This is especially the case for access to qualified teachers and the share of female teachers and specialists in subjects such as mathematics and science.

To understand more about the urban/rural disparities, we developed a method to analyse the distance from schools to the nearest urban centre, using “as the crow flies” distance but also exploring distances along roads, which can take into account rivers and hills. Results show a drastic widening in disparities for schools that are more than 5 km (an hour’s walk) away from urban centres. It was most notable in their inability to attract qualified teachers, as these schools usually filled existing gaps with local ‘volunteer’ teachers. This was particularly the case for scarce subject specialists, who were seldom found in the most remote schools. 

Based on the analysis, costed solutions were identified, building on the wider work of the Education Workforce Initiative (EWI). For example, it was possible to identify schools where subject specialists have enough time in their schedule to support other schools within walking distance that lack their specialized knowledge. Through collaborative work and shared expertise, teacher shortages can be alleviated at lower costs. In addition, there are initiatives underway, such as the Open University’s programme to support local women in remote areas to become teachers through coaching and distance learning, which can help untrained unqualified teachers to improve their skills while gaining their teaching qualifications.

Alongside current efforts to eliminate existing gaps, problems must be prevented from reoccurring. Examining the pipeline of teachers from TTCs, we note a shortage of mathematics and science specialists and a surplus of social studies teachers, both in the system and in training. Female trainees enrolled in TTCs are also scarce. At present rates of training, the supply of subject specialists will never meet the needs without intervention.

Working with the TSC, our team’s work on spatial analysis can help mitigate some of the widest disparities, while discussions as part of a new working group can continue about how to improve the long run teacher supply.

 

Conclusions and policy recommendations

Education systems need to strengthen both equitable deployment strategies and support to local volunteer teachers to ensure rural and remote schools have more access to trained teachers.  As such we conclude and recommend the following:

  • There is significant potential to incorporate spatial analysis and workforce needs (particularly for subject specialists) into system planning. The Ministry is taking this forward to develop a school infrastructure and catchment area planning policy that takes workforce needs into account.
  • Improving collaboration with teacher training colleges (TTCs), and including them in wider sector discussions, can enable authorities to take a proactive approach to matching prospective teachers to local shortages.
  • Teacher incentives, including non-financial options, to increase teachers’ motivation to work in remote schools can be developed, for instance including teacher preferences in deployment decisions, or giving priority for new payroll places and promotion to teachers at remote schools. Learning teams can also be explored, to make the best use of the available resources.
  • Spatial analysis can be used not only for system level planning but also at local levels for such tasks as optimizing inspection routes and identifying teachers who can fill existing gaps by walking to neighbouring schools.
  • Investing in data and conducting geo-mapping of schools with GIS coordinates, and making this data more open, is valuable in enabling deeper analysis and improved system planning.  

 

Further Reading

Innovative analysis for the education workforce: Sierra Leone research and policy papers

*

The Education Workforce Initiative (EWI), funded by UK Aid, partnered with Fab Inc. and Sierra Leone’s Teaching Service Commission (TSC) to produce a series of policy papers to develop ideas to help ensure all children, especially those in poorer, more remote areas, can get access to a quality education workforce.

The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO and the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The ideas and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors; they are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization.

Cover photo credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
Caption: 
School children in Sierra Leone

Event
  • 03.11.2020

Webcast series - Teacher hiring: the subject we failed

November 3, 2020, 16:00pm-17:00pm EST

A conversation moderated by:

Carola Fuentes, Periodista y CEO La Ventana Cine

Guests:

Lorena Meckes,Researcher, PUC of Chile and Ex-Director of Evaluation, Ministry of Education of Chile

Giuliana Espinosa, Ex-Director of Teacher Evaluation, Ministry of Education of Peru

With the participation of:

Eleonora Bertoni, Consultant, Education Division, IDB

Diana Hincapié, Economist, Education Division, IDB

Related Publications:

Hiring and assigning teachers in Latin America and the Caribbean: a path towards quality and equity in education

Testing our Teachers: Keys to a successful teacher evaluation system

You can register and find more information about the webcast series in this link: https://www.iadb.org/en/education/webcast-series-teacher-hiring-and-assignment

Meeting document
  • pdf
  • 28.07.2020
  • FR

Teacher allocation and utilization in Africa

The aim of this working paper is to outline the current situation with regard to teacher allocation and utilization in the education systems of African countries. It examines current teacher...
Book
  • pdf
  • 17.06.2020

Teachers in Asia Pacific: status and rights

In 2006, a regional seminar was held in Bangkok that focused on examining the status of teachers in the Asia-Pacific region. Subsequently, in 2014, UNESCO Bangkok proposed a study to review the...
News
  • 17.06.2020

Supporting teachers in back-to-school efforts: A toolkit for school leaders

The reopening of schools that had been closed because of COVID-19 is raising many questions for school leaders. They need to put the school community’s safety and health first. At the same time, they have to ensure that schools’ front-line workers – teachers and education support staff – have the help, protection and tools they need to resume work.  Teachers have played a key role during school closures by ensuring that learning can continue and by keeping in touch with students and their families. Their role during school reopening will be just as important.

UNESCO, the Teacher Task Force and the International Labour Organization have released a toolkit to help school leaders support and protect teachers and education support staff in the return to school. The toolkit complements the joint Framework for Reopening Schools and the Task Force's policy guidance released last month. It breaks down the seven dimensions identified in the policy guidance into a series of actionable guiding questions and tips.

As schools reopen, we are learning more and more about the challenges and opportunities faced by school leaders and the whole school community. In the coming months, we look forward to hearing from those on the front line and sharing these stories and lessons learnt with you.

 

Figure 1. Seven dimensions to support teachers and staff as schools reopen

Figure 1. Seven dimensions to support teachers and staff as schools reopen

The toolkit recognizes the importance of local context. In many countries the pandemic is evolving daily. Local decisions about when to reopen schools will be determined by a broad range of considerations; what is right for one school may not be right for another. In all contexts, school leaders will need to set priorities and recognize that trade-offs may be needed. To facilitate physical distancing, for example, schools may have to reduce the number of teachers and students on site by reopening selectively and staggering the return by grade and/or level. They may also have to privilege certain population segments or learner groups, such as vulnerable and at-risk learners and the children of essential workers. In some cases, closing schools again may have to be considered. Alternatively, available resources may be reallocated to ensure the readiness of school buildings and safety equipment, or to better prepare teachers and education support staff.

The toolkit shows us that school leaders will need to think about key issues in relation to teachers and education support staff as they adapt national directives to plan to reopen their schools.

 

  • The importance of consultation and communication

Teachers, school staff and their representative organizations should be actively involved in setting out policies and plans for school reopening, including occupational safety and health measures to protect personnel. Communication with teachers, learners and education support staff about reopening can ensure clarity about expectations and highlight their role in the success of safe, inclusive return-to-school efforts, including overall well-being, and the teaching and learning recovery process.

As decisions to reopen schools are made by central authorities, it will be important to communicate early, clearly and regularly with parents and school communities to understand their concerns and build support for plans to reopen. Parents will want to know what safeguards have been put in place to minimize health risks. They will also need to hear about the school’s ongoing commitment to key educational principles and goals. As teachers are often the first point of contact with parents, they will need to be prepared to ensure everyone is informed continually.

 

  • Reassuring teachers and school staff about their health, safety and rights

Concern for the well-being of teachers, support staff and students is at the heart of decision-making. It is important to balance the desire to return to school with consideration of the risks to (and needs of) teachers, support staff and learners, so that the needs of the most vulnerable members of the school community are met.

School-level responses may include ongoing psychological and socio-emotional assessment, and support for teachers and learners. School leaders and teachers should be free to address their own needs, exercise self-care and manage their own stress. School leaders can help teachers develop stress management skills and coping mechanisms, so they can teach effectively and provide much-needed psychosocial support to learners. It is also critical to understand that schools are a workplace and that it is more vital than ever to respect the rights and conditions of the people who work there.

 “Before schools reopened, the teachers were worried about resuming work and contracting the virus, as were the parents. We had no WASH facilities, no masks and large classes. Discussions with health staff would have helped us a lot. It would also have been reassuring to have psychologists in schools for psychosocial care. In the end, we were able to obtain sufficient sanitation and masks from an international NGO, and only one grade returned to school to prepare for exams. The classes were split in two", stated a Primary school principal from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

 

  • Using teachers’ expertise in the new classroom environment

In most contexts, when children return to classrooms it will not be business as usual. In some cases, only some students will be present, or there will be double shifts. Lesson plans, assessment and overall curricula will be adapted, and remedial lessons will need to be developed and deployed.

School leaders need to ensure teachers are empowered to make decisions about teaching and learning. They can work with teachers to adjust curricula and assessment based on revised school calendars and instructions from central authorities. School leaders should also support teachers to reorganize classrooms to allow for accelerated learning and remedial responses, while adhering to regulations on physical distancing.

Teachers’ key role in recognizing learning gaps and formulating pedagogical responses remains critical. This is especially true for vulnerable groups, including low-income families, girls, those with special needs or disabilities, ethnic or cultural minorities and those living in remote rural areas with no access to distance education.

To manage the return to school, it is important for teachers and education support staff to receive adequate professional preparation to assume their responsibilities and meet expectations. Training, peer-to-peer learning and collaboration with other teachers, both within the school and more broadly, will be critical. Such support is particularly important where additional strain may be placed on teachers’ time if they are required to conduct both face-to-face and distance education.

This is the first edition of the toolkit for school leaders to support teachers and other education personnel in back-to-school efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. This toolkit has been drafted as a living document. It will be updated in late July 2020 with new information and lessons learned as the crisis and response continue to evolve.

Download the Toolkit