UNESCO Chair Global Health and Education Health Education, Prevention, Health Promotion, Children and Young People

The COVID-19 pandemic: better aligning education and health

Global Health & Education webinar series

13 July 2020

Nicola Gray, on behalf of UNESCO Chair Global Health & Education and International Association for Adolescent Health (IAAH)

Sean Slade, Senior Director of Global Outreach ASCD

Antonia Wulff, COVID 19 Policy Co-ordinator Education International (EI)

English, simultaneous translation in French (francais) and Spanish (español).

The journal Health Education is the official journal of our webinar series and aims to support UNESCO’s mission of sharing knowledge to support the global community.


Ninety percent of the world’s student population, i.e. 1.57 billion children and young people in 190 countries, were deprived of school. It is the dizzying impact of the closure due to the Covid-19 crisis. It was an unprepared decision, schools closed in haste. School teams were expected to create a virtual learning environment for their students while they waited to see when and how their schools might re-open.

The closure and re-opening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a sharp focus on inequalities, the resourcing of the education sector and the impact of this crisis on the physical and mental health of students and staff. It has also led to rapid innovation and development in remote teaching and learning methods.

Re-opening schools after a closure is a major challenge. Stefania Giannini, the UNESCO ADG, said mid-May 2020 « When and how to reopen schools is one of the toughest and most sensitive decisions on political agendas today. Is it safe to reopen schools or is there a risk of reigniting infections? What are the consequences to children’s mental health and to the social development of young children? Are students engaged in remote learning actually learning? And when the time comes, how will schools ensure students return and help learners who have fallen behind during school closures? » (Giannini et al., 2020).

United Nations organizations (UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP and World Bank) published guidelines on the safe reopening of schools (UNESCO, 2020b), many countries issued national guidelines. Because the pandemic evolves in an unpredictable manner and also because schools re-opening was part of a wider process of restart of the whole society, the instructions given to schools have varied over time, there’s been a lot of back and forth. These guidelines ranged from very detailed instructions that were difficult to implement (ref) to open documents that left most of the responsibility on the shoulders of local school officials (CDC, 2020).

But taking a political decision is one thing, reopening schools in the field, overcoming one’s own fears, welcoming children, dialoguing with parents, reassuring the community, settling all logistical and organizational issues is another. What do people in the field think and do, how to support them concretely are the key questions!

The community of the UNESCO chair and WHO collaborating centre “Global Health & Education” is made of people involved in the fields of education, social work and health and interested in health in schools. In May 2020, voices were raised within the community to highlight the difficulties encountered by students, families and professionals in the field. Rumours, fears, questions, technical challenges, at the local level, schools and communities appeared to be in trouble. It seemed that depending on the context, school staffs & local health authorities they cope with situation in different ways and have different understandings of the situation and guidelines. The implementation mechanism of the measures did not seem to be linear.

Disputes between national governments and education stakeholders highlight fundamental debates about the balance of risks to personal safety and the need to close widening educational gaps. Closer co-operation between health and education policymakers and practitioners, supported by evidence from multi-disciplinary research teams, can improve the conditions of closure and re-opening of schools. That’s why, together with ASCD and EI we organized the webinar in order to share what we know about the re-opening process, what we know about the challenges, obstacles, enablers, successes at the school level.

In this webinar, we will present the results of a global survey on the reopening of schools, as well as a new support tool for global guidance of schools called “FORWARD TO SCHOOL, Guidance, Considerations and Resources for and from Education Unions to Inform Decision-Making in Times of Covid-19”.

The following three questions will be answered:

  • What have we learned from the field about the successes and challenges of re-opening schools?
  • How is Covid-19 affecting or changing education?
  • What is the perspective of the teacher’s profession on the pandemic?

It is an interactive webinar; your point of view is precious because:

Women and men are the only form of wealth – Sixteenth-century writer Jean Bodin

Introduction by Prof. Didier Jourdan, Chair holder UNESCO Chair and WHO Collaborating Centre in Global Health & Education

Our speakers’ contributions

In this webinar, the results of a global survey on the reopening of schools, as well as the EI Guidance on Reopening Schools and Educational Institutions were presented. The following three questions were answered:

What have we learned from the field about the successes and challenges of re-opening schools?

La réouverture des écoles du point de vue du terrain : quel cadre, quels défis, quelles difficultés, quelles solutions ?

¿Qué hemos aprendido sobre el terreno acerca de los éxitos y desafíos de la reapertura de las escuelas?

The ppt from Nicola Gray

How is Covid-19 affecting or changing education?

En quoi l’éducation a-t-elle été impactée, modifiée et transformée par la pandémie de Covid-19 ?

¿ Cómo la Covid-19 está afectando o cambiando la educación ?

The ppt from Sean Slade

What is the perspective of the teacher’s profession on the pandemic?

Quel est le point de vue de la communauté des enseignants sur la pandémie?

¿Cuál es la perspectiva de la profesión de profesor/a sobre la pandemia?

The ppt from Antonia Wulff

Full video of the webinar

Full ppt of the webinar

Participants’ contributions

The questions

How do you rate the co-operation between health and education on the re-opening of schools?

The participants of the webinar rate the cooperation between health and education on the reopening of schools 5.9 on a scale from 0-10: the alignment between health and education can certainly be improved.

In 2 keywords: what are the best levers to improve cooperation between education and health?

Some of the keywords that stand out as levers to improve cooperation between health and education are dialogue, accountability, trust and local action.

How much attention did each of the 5 pillars in the Guidance on Reopening Schools and Education Institutions receive?

As you can see each of the 5 pillars of Ei/IE on guiding the reopening of schools received average attention. There is room for improvement here for the next period.

The participants’ comments

Let’s continue the discussion!

Send us your comments, suggestions and share your resources at webinar@unescochair-ghe.org. We will be happy to publish them on this webpage to continue the discussion together.



Jourdan, D., Gray, N., Slade, S. & Marmot, M. (2020). Reopening schools: What knowledge can we rely upon? UNESCO Chair Global Health & Education. English version: https://inservice.ascd.org/reopening-schools-what-knowledge-can-we-rely-upon/ French version: https://chaireunesco-es.org/2020/04/22/reouverture-des-ecoles-sur-quels-savoirs-sappuyer/ Dutch version: https://unescochair-ghe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/De-heropening-van-scholen-op-basis-van-welke-kennis-1.pdf

Merrill, S. & Gonser, S. (2020). Teachers Around the World Tell Us Reopening Is Tough, but Joyful. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-around-world-tell-us-reopening-tough-joyful

Slade, S. (2020). How Covid-19 will force education into the future. ASCD. https://inservice.ascd.org/how-covid-19-will-force-education-into-the-future/

Guidelines / recommendations

Education International (2020). EI Guidance on Reopening Schools and Education Institutions. EI-Guidance-on-Reopening-Schools-and-Education-Institutions.pdf

Education International (2020). Forward to school. Guidance, Considerations and Resources for and from Education Unions to Inform Decision-Making in Times of Covid-19. EI-Forward-To-School.pdf

Education International (2020). Education International’s response to the Covid-19 crisis in education. Overview-EI-response-to-Covid-19.pdf

Reimers, F.M., & Schleicher, A. (2020). A framework to guide an education response to the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. OECD. https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/view/?ref=126_126988-t63lxosohs&title=A-framework-to-guide-an-education-response-to-the-Covid-19-Pandemic-of-2020

WASH in Schools Network (2020). Knowledge Map: WASH in Schools and Coronavirus. https://www.susana.org/en/knowledge-hub/resources-and-publications/library/details/3831


Coronavirus Crisis and Schools – ASCD resources page: http://www.ascd.org/research-a-topic/coronavirus-crisis-resources.aspx

Education International information hub for educators and their unions during the COVID-19 crisis. https://www.ei-ie.org/en/dossierdetail/16670/covid-19-education-unions-stand-united-and-mobilise

Preliminary results of the survey on school reopening. English version: https://unescochair-ghe.org/resources/themes-covid-19/preview-survey-school-reopening/ French version: https://chaireunesco-es.org/ressources/theme-covid-19/rapport-preliminaire-sur-la-reouverture-des-ecoles/

Réussir, Etre bien, Etre ensemble (REBEE) (Succeed, Be Well, Be Together). Resources to ensure educational continuity. English version: https://unescochair-ghe.org/resources/themes-covid-19/ensuring-educational-continuity-during-school-closures/ French version: https://covid19.rebee.chaireunesco-es.org/  

UNESCO COVID-19 Education issue notes. https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse/issuenotes

This webinar is supported by the International Association for Adolescent Health (IAAH), ASCD, Education International (EI), Emerald Publishing, and the University of Clermont Auvergne (UCA).