Unequal access to digital tools, connectivity and lack of training has imposed unseen challenges for governments, schools and teachers to engage students in long distance education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such abrupt change affects all actors in the education systems, but low socioeconomic students may be hit critically: governments are concerning about the risk of deepening the already large learning gaps between socioeconomic groups an d the rate of dropout rates. To discuss these challenges, the World Bank’s Brazil Education team partnered with the nongovernmental organization Todos Pela Educação (TPE) and the National Council of Education to hold the “Education in the Face of a Pandemic” webinar.
In Brazil, more than 180,000 schools are currently closed and 47 million students are trying to adapt to a new routine of distance education because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, unequal access to computers and digital tools has made it hard for teachers to enroll and teach low-income students, who are already the most likely to drop out of school. To discuss these challenges, the World Bank’s Brazil Education team partnered with Todos Pela Educação (TPE), one of Brazil’s most influential education foundations, and the National Council of Education (CNE) to hold the “Education in the Face of a Pandemic” webinar.
“The main attention is on the challenges imposed on health systems, of course, but education systems are also directly affected. In less than a month, about 1.5 billion students in at least 174 countries were out of school across the world. Our goal was to debate how the Brazilian education system can respond to this unprecedented crisis and how the World Bank can contribute to that,” said Human Development Program Leader Pablo Acosta.
More than 4,000 people from all the country’s states registered for the three-hour event, including secretaries of education, principals, and teachers. To include as many people as possible in the discussion, the webinar was broadcast on WebEx and World Bank Brazil's YouTube channel.
After Acosta, TPE Executive Director Priscila Cruz and CNE President Luiz Roberto Curi’s opening remarks, the World Bank economist Ildo Lautharte presented the World Bank note “Educational Policies during the COVID-19 Pandemic: What Can Brazil Learn from the Rest of the World?" . The note analyzes initiatives from different countries to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the educational system and how they could be relevant for Brazil.
“School closure is a global reality today that affects over 90% of students around the world. Some countries are using television, radio, and mobile devices to provide virtual classes. Most combine these strategies. However, given that this change upsurge as abruptly as the COVID pandemic, many teachers are still not familiar with the use of technology for pedagogical purposes and are learning as they try to teach remotely. Studying at home also requires a lot of engagement from students’ families and this has been a challenge everywhere,” said Lautharte.
Following Lautharte’s presentation, Luiz Miguel Martins Garcia, a director of the National Union of Municipal Education Directors (Undime), and Cecília Motta, president of the National Council of Education Secretaries (Consed), discussed the challenges faced by school districts in Brazil and the new reality imposed by the pandemic.
“The schools have to do their best to build a close relationship with the students and their families so that we can guarantee that providing education is a common goal. Schools should also offer activities no matter their context. It is essential to keep students involved in order to mitigate the learning losses and distancing of education activities caused by the pandemic,” said Motta.
The reopening of schools was also discussed by the participants. A shared concern was how to prevent dropouts and provide additional support to students with less opportunities for virtual learning.
“Brazil is facing is this unprecedented situation in an area that traditionally does not have a culture of digital, remote work, or distance education. This is new and complex for those who are working with basic education in public and private schools," said CNE advisor Maria Helena Guimarães de Castro.
The webinar was the first of a series to discuss education issues associated with the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.