The 63 million teachers affected by school closures during the COVID-19 crisis are playing a crucial role in ensuring that learning continues, often in difficult circumstances. Now the same teachers are on the front line of a new challenge: making sure that the reopening of schools goes smoothly.
Giving teachers the best chance of succeeding as they return to school means listening to their needs, protecting their safety and well-being, and helping them adapt their approaches to teaching and learning. These are the themes of new guidelines about school reopening by UNESCO, the International Labor Organization and the Teacher Task Force.
For many countries whose education systems already struggle with teacher shortages or a lack of infrastructure, reopening schools is especially challenging. The guidelines recognize the necessity to identify priorities and make informed decisions through dialogue among all stakeholders, including teachers and their representative organizations.
The authors have identified seven ways to support teachers and education support staff during school reopening:
- Ensure that teachers’ voices are heard in policy and planning
Dialogue is essential to develop effective strategies for school reopening at national, district and school levels. Such dialogue should include competent authorities, teachers’ representative organizations, parents, local communities and students. It ensures that all needs are considered – including those of vulnerable and marginalized learners – when planning for school safety and developing teaching practices to resume classroom learning.
- Guarantee that the school environment is safe for the whole school community
As schools reopen, the safety and well-being of learners and school staff is of paramount concern. Safe and healthy working conditions in schools are fundamental to decent work and critical for ensuring teachers and education support staff are motivated and effective during and after the pandemic. Measures to ensure safety and health in schools should be adapted to local contexts, following available guidelines and standards (such as the WHO considerations for school-related public health measures).