“We need to come together and explore every avenue to keep children learning and help them through this difficult time” – UNICEF Executive Director

1 May 2020 — While schools are reopening in some corners of the world after pandemic-induced closures, the United Nations and its partners are helping children continue their learning through all possible means, including the Internet, radio and television.

For children like 10-year-old Tran, who has a hearing impairment, the lack of accessible information can feel particularly isolating during the COVID-19 crisis, which has kept nearly 1.3 billion children out of school.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is supporting Viet Nam’s Ministry of Education and Training in developing online and offline learning materials, including for physical exercise, to help improve children’s physical strength, health and mental wellbeing during school closures.

To help reach hearing-impaired children, UNICEF Viet Nam enlisted Tran to sign a video.

Mohammed Lutfi, 39, a father of four in the occupied Palestinian territory, says that being stuck at home has been a tough adjustment for his family.  “When you have four kids and your routine suddenly changes, it can be really difficult to adjust,” he said, particularly when it comes to studying and distance-learning. 

Lutfi’s two older children, 7-year-old Dalia and 6-year-old Ahmad, are enrolled at boys’ and girls’ schools in Aida camp, run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

If not for their UNRWA educators, Lutfi says, he would not know how to manage. “Their teachers have been amazing during this time… The teachers also send homework assignments and lessons to us over Facebook messenger, and are in constant communication in case the kids have any questions,” he said. 

A boy and a lady doing sign language

In Syria, even before COVID-19, millions of children were out of school or at risk of dropping out as the country entered its tenth year of conflict.  The suspension of classes in mid-March as a precautionary measure has created further uncertainty for millions more children.

“I was shocked when I heard that [school] would be suspended,” says 12-year-old Maram from her home in Raqqa.  Maram told UNICEF that she is using the self-learning programme books she received a few months ago to keep her education on track in core subjects, such as Arabic and English, math and science. 

In Rwanda, UNICEF utilised its network and expertise to leverage 144 radio scripts from other countries on primary level literacy and numeracy lessons. These lessons were then contextualised and adapted for Rwanda. UNICEF then built on its existing partnership with the national NGO Inspire, Educate, Empower (IEE) and Rwanda Broadcasting Agency to produce and air these scripts throughout the country.

Lessons are already on the air on Radio Rwanda. As more lessons become available, students will tune in every day at 8:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. for radio lessons based on Term 2 materials of the national competency-based curriculum.

In Kenya, the Ministry of Education has partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and others to come up with creative approaches to home study.

Amina, a Kenyan teacher, broadcasts to her 100 fifth-grade pupils over Radio Gargaar, a community station.  “I am happy to relate with most of my students over the radio. They sometimes call me at the studio to ask questions,” she says.  “I believe they are learning even though I can’t see them.”

A girl in front of a microphone.

Radio lessons help Amina and her fellow teachers in the Dadaab camp support more than 100,000 students in 22 primary and nine secondary schools.

“We are looking at ways to build up existing connected learning programmes in the camp,” says Alan Mwika, a UNHCR education officer in Dadaab, who stresses that conditions for education were difficult even before the pandemic.  “We must find innovative ways to ensure education continues despite the challenging situation.”

“Refugees are very respectful and very interested in education because they know it empowers them,” he emphasized.

Call for free access to education materials

As countries grapple with the massive disruption to education caused by COVID-19, UNESCO has issued a Call to support learning and knowledge-sharing through open educational resources – materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or under an open license that permits no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.

“The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a paradigm shift on how learners of all ages, worldwide, can access learning,” UNESCO says in its Call.  “It is therefore more than ever essential that the global community comes together now to foster universal access to information and knowledge through open educational resources.”

Earth School

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and TED-Ed have joined forces to launch “Earth School,” which provides free, high-quality educational content to help students, parents and teachers around the world who are currently at home. Earth School takes students on a 30-day “adventure” through the natural world, featuring videos, reading materials and activities to help students gain an understanding of the environment while considering their role within it.

A girl laying in front of books.

“COVID-19 has revealed how deeply interconnected all life on this planet is,” says UNEP Executive Director, Inger Andersen.

Meanwhile, UNICEF and Microsoft Corp. announced the expansion of a global learning platform to help children and youth affected by COVID-19 continue their education at home.

The Learning Passport, which provides education for displaced and refugee children through a digital remote learning platform, has undergone rapid expansion to facilitate country-level curricula for children and youth whose schools have been forced to close due to COVID-19.  The platform will also provide resources to teachers and educators.

“From school closures, to isolation, to a persistent sense of fear and anxiety, the effects of this pandemic are impacting childhoods worldwide,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.  “We need to come together and explore every avenue to keep children learning and help them through this difficult time.”

Peacekeeping radio

Radio Okapi, the station of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), has recently become the first media outlet to respond to a request from the Congolese Government to provide education via radio. The station’s urgently launched classes on air are aimed at roughly 22 million children struck at home because of COVID-19.

Radio Miraya, which is operated by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), has also begun broadcasting lessons in support of a remote learning initiative developed by the Ministry of General Education and UNICEF.