Children need predictability to feel safe and to plan for the future
Children need new routines that enable predictability, which allow for children to feel safe, provide the scaffolding to think beyond the current moment, and enable children to feel hopeful about the future. In conflict settings such as Afghanistan, the daily routines of lessons and interacting with peers and teachers provide predictability for children amid broader crises. As Covid-19 forces children to leave behind the predictability of their school routines, families need to create new, stable routines for children.
These new routines do not need to be created in isolation. Providing education is often the first way refugee communities come together after fleeing from war or disaster, whether historically among Congolese refugees in Uganda in the 2000s or Syrian refugees in Lebanon in the current time. Teachers are typically the front line, pooling skills and resources to work with families toward shared goals of creating predictability, belonging, and hope for the future.
Teachers need large-scale supports and autonomy for individual efforts
We need our teachers more than ever. Each day when children are in school, teachers answer children’s how and why questions, they provide them with predictability, and help them build relationships and a sense of belonging. When schools are closed, children need to know that their teachers are still their teachers, that they still love them, that they are still committed to their learning, and that they will work together with their families in new ways. Yet teachers cannot do this alone, and there are many ways to support them.
In times of crisis, standardized and widely-accessible approaches are essential to help combat existing inequalities and avoid exacerbating them, even in typically decentralized education systems like the United States. During the Ebola crisis in West Africa in 2014, teachers recorded lessons on radio providing a trusted voice directly into the homes of millions of children. Over the past several months, primary school students across China learned via lessons broadcast on public television. Globally, online learning providers are making materials available for free and museums and libraries are expanding their virtual reach. Building on these models, governments, foundations, and corporations must join forces to mobilize large-scale collective efforts that can reach all children and keep them learning.
In addition to standardized approaches, individual efforts by teachers and families are key. When schools have closed in Palestinian territories, teachers distributed home-learning packets. Somali refugee teachers use social media to provide feedback on assignments to their students even when they are living at great distances from each other. Simple text messages or short videos can enable teachers and students to remain connected and build shared senses of stability and belonging that will take us through this uncertain time.
Crisis creates openings for new possibilities and transformation
Covid-19 has prompted unpredicted and undesired shifts in education almost all of the world’s children and young people. In similar settings, we also see that disruption creates openings for inspiring and transformative new practices. Teachers and families come together to reimagine education and, with the supports of governments, foundations, and corporations, create opportunities for continued and new learning.
Similarly now, we need each other more not less. Let that be our collective responsibility: to work in solidarity so that all children can continue learning, through a focus on predictability, relationship-building, and the skills and knowledge to address uncertainty.