On 22 October, over 70 Member States adopted a Declaration in an online extraordinary session of the UNESCO 2020 Global Education Meeting expressing their commitment to protect national education financing and to implement measures to mitigate the devastating impact of the pandemic on students, families and school staff. As part of the technical discussion underpinning the adoption of the global Declaration, the UNESCO Chair in Global Health and Education was asked to participate in Breakout Session Theme 2 on re-opening schools safely.
In recent months, Professor Didier Jourdan, Dr Nicola Gray and Chair community members have written evidence- and practice-informed perspectives about safe school re-opening with partners including Sir Michael Marmot (UCL Institute of Health Equity), Mr Sean Slade (ASCD), and Dr Janet McDonagh (University of Manchester). The Chair also conducted a survey of professionals to explore their experience of providing education during the pandemic and of implementing school re-opening guidance issued by national or regional authorities.
Dr Gray, on behalf of the Chair, described the compelling evidence base supporting the ‘triple dividend’ of inclusive, equitable and sustainable secondary education – health for adolescents now, as future adults, and for their children – as the best investment that any government can make in its youth. We reported survey findings regarding the need for close collaboration between school teams, local authorities and families. We supported empowering adults in schools – to secure their rights to a safe workplace and, in turn, their responsibility to protect the setting from outside infection.
Dr Gray was specifically asked to respond to questions about supporting mental health as schools re-open, and optimising the return for children and youth with disabilities. Both issues demand effective inter-sectoral working between education and health, a view strongly shared by the contributors from Member States, reported back to the main session, and confirmed as a priority action in the Declaration (point 8).