Students, teachers and parents of UNESCO’s associated schools share COVID-19 experiences


Over 620 members of UNESCO’s Associated Schools Network (ASPnet) from over 80 countries came together to share their experiences of learning and living in confinement, in a webinar organized on 12 May 2020, organized in collaboration with the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE).

Mirroring global educational disruption, 95% of schools belonging to this network of 12,000 member schools in 182 countries are closed. The webinar was the first of its kind for the ASPnet community, UNESCO’s largest network, in its 65 years of existence.

The gradual return to a “new normal” is giving rise to many questions: How effective has the experience of remote learning been? What opportunities and challenges does it bear? How has it shaped and possibly changed the learning community and relationships between students, teachers and parents? And how do we reimagine the organization of our schools and learning environments following this crisis?

While it is early to draw lessons, ASPnet members, National Coordinators, teachers, students and parents shared their observations feelings and hopes for the future during this webinar that focused on two topics: the experience of remote learning, and reimagining the future of education based on this experience.

Speakers in the two sessions included students, parents and teachers from Argentina, China, France, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Mongolia, Netherlands and Nigeria.

“The voices of teachers, students and parents made us aware of the reality on the ground and the challenges that we need to face in solidarity as the ASPnet community”, said Julie Saito, ASPnet International Coordinator.

Experiences of remote learning from the ground

Here is what speakers from the ASPnet community had to say about their experiences:

“The challenges is that in using e-learning, we really rely on the internet connection and electricity”
Nanda Vania Qurratu Aini, Student, 17 years old, Indonesia.

“Remote learning has affected the emotional side of learning. I miss the warm-hearted interaction with a teacher and free time with my friends and classmates”, 
Nevenka Fadin, Student, 14 years old, Argentina.

“Based on the experience of TV lessons, I think we should consider looking at a model of flipped classrooms (where students could watch TV lessons at home and then at school we can focus on complementing the TV lessons and on discussing the topics addressed to focus on strengthening students’s skills”
Ms Ganchimeg Jamba, English Teacher, Mongolia. 

“I find that, as a mom, online education has allowed me to support my children and as a teacher, constitutes an opportunity to be explored in depth in the future. Its integration into the world of traditional schooling has become necessary”,
Ghinwa Maassarani, Chemistry Teacher & Parent of two, Lebanon.

“The government has to strengthen media literacy and civic education at all levels of education, so that we are prepared to deal with these issues. In Kenya, it has been a big challenge to parents. Most Kenyans living in towns … live in very poor conditions and the situation is now getting worse during this time”,
Richard Iyaya, Teacher Educator and Parent, Kenya.

How do we reimagine education and learning following this crisis?

Speakers from the ASPnet community shared their ideas on the future of education:

“With 13 million children out of school in Nigeria before the pandemic we should not go back to normal”,
Aisha Bunu, Student, 14 years old, Nigeria. 

“I believe this [crisis] is an opportunity to think big, to be brave and to really make some bold decisions, when it comes to how we organize our education and learning”,
Anne-Fleur Lurvink, English Teacher, the Netherlands. 

“This crisis has truly shown me that the nature of learning is first and foremost rooted in social interaction and processes. That is why I believe social and emotional learning should be given a bigger emphasis in education”,
Si Gao, Chinese Literature Teacher, China.

“Isn’t the solution to put [students] at the heart of change? We could rely on this autonomy gained during this health crisis and their dynamism to build something different. I think that together we have become aware of the interactions between health, education, inequality and the environment”,
Jean-Marc Septsault, Technology Teacher & Parent of two, France. 

“For many countries that were already in conflict, this pandemic has just made a bad situation worse. We need to think about the society that we need to be and what kind of education that we should give our children to create that society”,
Ms Aseel Jasim, Parent of four, Iraq​.

What are the common themes emerging?

“Art is fundamental for me, it helps our mental health and allows us to reenergise ourselves”, said Nevenka, age 14, Argentina.

Experts at the meeting included Tigran Yepoyan, Chief of the unit on ICT in health Education at IITE, Sobhi Tawil, Chief of Education Research and Foresight at UNESCO and Xioxia Zhou, the Director of the International Centre for UNESCO ASPnet. Commenting on the sessions, they identified common themes, including the importance of addressing the socio-emotional dimension of learning, the impact of remote learning changing relationships between students, teacher and parents, as well as the importance of ensuring students’ and teachers’ well-being.

Prominent attention was also given to the role of arts education for the well-being of students, the need to equip teachers with skills, both in IT and media literacy, as well as psycho-social support to students.

For all participants, this was an experience of feeling connected across cultures and continents, as expressed by one ASPnet student from Greece: “It was amazing to hear students from the other side of the world and to feel like classmates. I was so glad to hear that we share the same thoughts about the role of teachers who are irreplaceable.”

The ASPnet Global Coordination team envisages to follow-up on this rich discussion by integrating perspectives expressed in the ongoing COVID-19 response and beyond this, in its activities. This will happen through continued collaboration with the Futures of Education Team, IITE and other relevant partners inside and external to UNESCO.