Hola! This morning, I was among 214 educators from several countries around the world on a teleconference discussing how education unions are helping schools to cope with COVID-19. How do we protect school employees and learners? How do we deal with changes implemented in job descriptions? How do we deal with inequities? What should international organizations such as UNESCO do during this pandemic? What about rural schools?
Every speaker agreed that all educators (teachers and education support professionals) need to be involved in decision-making and must be consulted. Guidance of reopening of schools is based on five principles: engage in policy dialogue, ensure health and safety of education communities, make equity a top priority, support the physical and emotional wellbeing and recovery of all concerned, and trust the professionalism of educators.
Education leaders from Australia, South Africa, Singapore, France, Brazil and Canada spoke about how their countries were dealing with this crisis. Common issues arose:
- Sanitation procedures and infrastructure vary depending on where you are.
- Fear of returning to classes by school employees, students and parents. Some countries such as Singapore are returning but apply social distancing, which is easier for them since their classroom facilities are very large.
- Fear of hunger: Are children going hungry when schools are closed? Are employees losing pay/jobs?
- Actual learning taking place vs. safety of children and employees.
- More custodial employees and ESPs are needed: Who will take everyone’s temperature every day? Who will call homes when students don’t attend? What is the sanitation protocol?
- Some governments are suggesting hybrid teaching (a combination of remote teaching using technology and physical teaching).
- School is a place to interact; socialization is important for students and adults.
- Additional funding is required for schools to be better equipped, to recruit more teachers, counselors, nurses and education support personnel, in general.
- Some countries have seen “cosmetic measures” instead of preparation of a long-term structural plan.
- Social/educational inequities have been exacerbated; schools ranging from very well equipped to some operating in rural and remote regions without Internet access, underfunding in indigenous schools, etc. As the Canadian leader said, “If people pretended that social inequality did not exist before, now they cannot deny it!”
- Teacher preparation time has increased.
- Since the majority of education personnel is made up of women, the overwhelming layering of responsibilities on them is massive. Besides different work preparation, they have to take care of their own children at home and help with their daily schoolwork, be caregivers to their own adult parents who may be quarantined and not have any other connection for groceries, etc. to the outside world, and so on.
As a result, they recommended that there should be no rush to new solutions proposed, that there needs to be further investment in education resources, that more videoconferencing could be used (something we have been doing in rural North Dakota for the past 30 years; as an ITV teacher I can testify to that!), and that unions need to continue to be the leading force in this difficult time.
Once again in history, a crisis has demonstrated to the world how essential educators and educational institutions are.
ND United Vice President for Education