New data from UNESCO and IEA’s study compares school-level responses to COVID-19 educational disruptions around the world

New data from REDS study

To commemorate the International Day of Education on January 24th, UNESCO and IEA hosted a Zoom event to release the results of a 18 month-long study on the effects of educational disruptions caused by COVID-19 on teaching and learning: Responses to Educational Disruption Survey or REDS . With over 800 registrations, 400 attendees, and a diverse group of speakers from countries and international organizations, the launch event captured the interest of many who sought answers to the study’s critical questions: How did teachers and students around the world deal with COVID-19 induced educational disruptions? Which measures were important for mitigating the negative effects of school closures on teaching and learning?  

A fresh source of evidence for education recovery

Understanding the concerns and thoughts of those directly affected by school closures is crucial for educational recovery. REDS provides data that would not be possible via rapid surveys at both international and national levels on what were perceived important for ensuring learning continuity and the well-being of students and teachers during the pandemic and subsequent education recovery phases. The REDS data is open source allowing anyone around the world access, share, or use to further deep dive into analyses for a REDS participating country or across these countries. Data was collected from 21,063 students, 15,004 teachers and 1,581 school principals from eleven countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Gulf and Europe using large scale probability samples as used in important studies such as TIMSS and PIRLS.  

Key takeaways from the report launch discussion

The specific focus on eighth grade students, teachers, and school leaders in eleven countries around the world allows comparative analyses of pandemic challenges and responses. In a panel discussion during the launch event, the discussion of the REDS findings was deepened with reflections from representatives from Denmark, UNESCO, the UAE, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, IEA, Uzbekistan, and the Joint Research Center at the European Commission (see full list of speaker biographies). Although REDS showcases countries’ adaptability through measures implemented to maintain learning throughout the pandemic, the findings made clear the unevenly implemented measures and disproportionate impact of disruptions along socioeconomic lines and groups of respondents. Some of the key takeaways point to the gaps that existed before the pandemic, notably the need for ensuring the emotional well-being of the educational community. Five key takeaways discussed are as follows:

  1. All eleven countries reported at least one period of school closure, but the duration and frequency of closures varied greatly within and across countries, requiring instant and context specific response measures.
  2. Although student achievement was not directly measured in the survey, school principals, teachers, and students perceived a decline in learning progress, with more than 50% of teachers in all countries stating that students had not progressed to the extent that they would have normally expected at that time of year. 
  3. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are especially concerned about their education in the future, and teachers reported reduced capacity to respond to the needs of vulnerable learners, such as those with special needs or with a migration background.
  4. Schools recognized the negative effects of the pandemic on teacher and student well-being and placed considerable priority and effort into supporting staff and students. This is important as perceived by both students and teachers for maintaining the feeling of school belonging.
  5. Perceptions of students, teachers and school principals about school preparedness for future disruptions vary substantially across countries, but all agreed that change would be needed not just for immediately addressing educational emergency but also for rebuilding stronger education systems.

Moving forward, preparing for educational recovery and transformation will require rethinking the current education system and build one that closes existing inequalities and ensures that all children and adolescents do not only learn, but also feel safe, happy and supported to reach their full potential.  

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