“It is corona. The children have to stay at home. There is a big confusion,” writes a second-grade (seven-year old) student in Vienna. For children, parents and teachers around the world, it’s been an extraordinarily challenging time as many schools have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the last week or so, as some children in Austria start returning to school, albeit in a rather different way than before, they are reflecting on their new experience of learning at home.

During the school closures, teachers were asked to give children tasks they can cope with at home on their own. The UN Information Service (UNIS Vienna) has been helping out with advice and ideas for teachers and students alike. For older children in the upper grades, the assignments have been accompanied by online teaching. This kind of digital exchange has been more difficult when teaching younger children. “The majority of my students do not have a digital device of their own. In some families there is no computer available at home at all,” says Elcin Kilic, a primary school teacher from Vienna whose students are between 6 and 10 years old. So, the challenge for primary teachers like Kilic has been to try and deliver what they normally would in the classrooms to the children at home as some of them struggle to understand the abrupt break in their normal daily routine.

The children have discussed how a virus that started to spread in far-away China is now having an impact on their own lives in Europe. They also grasp that everyone can help to stop the virus from spreading further, through their own behavior. Kilic emphasized to the children that this shows how people globally are interconnected and that together we can all make a difference because everyone’s contribution counts.

The teacher asked the children to draw the world as they would wish it to be and think about their own sense of responsibility for the future of our world. The students drew happy animals in a healthy environment, beautiful landscapes, people walking hand in hand as well as recycling bins and robots that fight against evil forces to save the planet. The children’s artwork reflected many aspects of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as climate zction, life on land and partnerships for the goals.

Children play The Go Goals! to learn about the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. United Nations photo: UNIS Vienna

To learn more about the SDGs, they also played the board-game called Go Goals!, developed by the United Nations Regional Information Centre (UNRIC) in Brussels. The game encourages children to become responsible world citizens.

The many resources on teaching about the United Nations were brought to the attention of a group of teachers in Austria at an online workshop conducted in May. Workshops for teachers are usually held in person at the UN Headquarters in Vienna but the online workshop conducted by UNIS Vienna, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Austria, and the University College of Teacher Education in Vienna (PH Wien) briefed the teachers on different methods and tools to engage children with the work of the United Nations and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Austrian children may have been away from school for more than two months, but it does not mean they have learnt less, just different things in different ways. “It is not necessarily negative that the content of what is being taught has changed, due to the current situation. As a teacher I consider it as part of my job to address the needs of my students in a flexible way and touch upon the current topics in society,” says Kilic. On their return to school, the children will share their experiences including what they imagine the future of the world will look like.