As the coronavirus pandemic continues to increase across the world and within every state in America, schools have been closing their doors. Today, the education sector has been finding different strategies to continue learning, and this includes interesting discussions on the job of education technology as compared to simply disseminating education information through paper packets. However, little has been said about how to make good on one’s knowledge of best practices created from years of work in the global development sectors.
Right now, as the world has never experienced a global health crisis such as this, education in emergencies has ideas that might help school systems everywhere. This particularly applies to public school districts in the United States, the majority of which have not tried to close for longer periods.
As educators and school administrators organize online learning programs, they must also find means that the immediate response activities can put up to achieve long-term goals.
The Ebola outbreak that shut down many schools in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone is a suitable comparison of today’s crisis. In the West African regions, schools were shut down not because they were damaged from disaster but because of the spread of the Ebola virus. Families were not relocated from their homes but restrained at home with proper social distancing and other guidelines recommended. To return to the previous schooling routines, the schools were disinfected thoroughly once the outbreak was under control. This was crucial in several schools that were utilized as quarantine centers for Ebola patients. School administrators, as well as teachers, were trained on how to prevent further spread of the virus, including how to take temperatures and proper hygiene.
Good intentions can go bad if the possible risks associated with the delivery of help are not carefully discussed and performed.
If done appropriately, educational activities can create a routine that provides students and adults the stability that they need despite the quick changes happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a vital part of assisting the kids in processing and adapting to their new environment, as well as developing new ways to cope. The public health information and other details disseminated through education activities can help increase people’s awareness and help them feel more confident that they are in control of their situation.
To get the benefits, education activities done to compensate for the school closures must be appropriate and safe. A crisis like this one may aggravate inequality and may cause other negative effects. In some cases, it is somehow comparable to emergency food aid distribution where women and girls are placed at a higher risk of exploitation and abuse. These are some examples of good intentions that can go bad if the risks are not meticulously discussed.
For this reason, schools affected by COVID-19 must utilize the ‘do not harm’ policy, meaning that one must always consider the potential consequences of the intended actions. One way to do this right is to involve the proposed recipients of the program. The educators and administrators should talk to the families and students about their plans and ask for feedback once the activity has started.
On the other hand, there are also predictable risks, one of which is aggravating existing inequities. For students who do not have books, food, technology, or even educated adults who can guide them at home, homeschooling poses a risk of significantly broadening the gap between students and these resources. In addition, child protection risks often happen in emergencies due to the existing strategies used for keeping children safe, which either breaks down or becomes unavailable. Will they also be at a higher risk of online sexual abuse? Will it be more difficult to shield them from these things? That remains to be seen.
As of today, we do not know how many more potential unplanned consequences there are, whether good or bad, as a result of these unexpected school shutdowns. Ultimately, the education community must genuinely think about these risks and strive to find more ways to minimize them.