The COVID-19 outbreak has translated into a major education crisis. Nearly 190 countries have imposed school closures, affecting 1.5 billion children and young people, according to a UN report launched by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. While many countries, including in the Arab region, switched to distance teaching and learning to mitigate the effects of such disruption, challenges related to preparedness, infrastructure and capacity, as well as the digital gaps, have put additional strains on students, parents, teachers, principals and the educational authorities.
Against this backdrop, UNESCO Beirut joined efforts with UNESCO HQ to organize on 5 May 2020 a regional webinar on the establishment of a Global Teacher Community of Practice (CoP). The webinar, attended by 40 participants, aimed to reflect on the challenges faced by teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Arab countries, and the support Arab Member States need in dealing with the negative impact of the crisis on the Education sector.
In his welcome words, UNESCO Beirut Director, Dr Hamed Alhammami, said: “As a consequence of school closure and the adoption by States of remote learning, teachers had to quickly adapt their practices and methods to new learning environments. It is therefore extremely important that we support teachers and equip them to fully exploit the possibilities of distance teaching and learning, including online learning, based on sound pedagogical principles that include a focus on learning to learn”. He added: “Our office, with other offices in the region, has worked intensely and in close cooperation with Ministries of Education, UN partners and UNESCO HQ and other UNESCO offices/entities, to provide proactive responses to the crisis”. He concluded: “It is relevant to think of an initiative like the establishment of a Global Teacher Community of Practice (CoP) dedicated to the Covid-19 crisis. Such initiative can be and will be relevant in the future and beyond the current crisis”.
In her turn, UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Specialist for Teachers and Curriculum, Dr. Dakmara Georgescu, highlighted the need to provide teachers with support and training, and to share best practices at the regional level, in order to fully take advantage of remote learning opportunities.
As to Dr. Borhene Chakroun, Director of the Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems (PLS) at UNESCO HQ, he spoke of the Global Education Coalition launched by UNESCO as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, and the opportunities offered by the Coalition at different levels.
Ms. Valerie Djioze, UNESCO HE Education Programme Specialist, and her colleagues shared the concept of a Global Teacher Platform as a support tool to UNESCO Teacher Programmes and its connection with similar tools made available for Member States by the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 (TTF). The webinar included presentations on various topics, such as: Global Teacher CoP; Impact of Covid-19 crisis in the Arab Region and ways forward; and Teacher priorities in the context of the Covid-19 crisis and beyond (i.e. how to build on promising experiences and lessons learned).
The presentations highlighted the challenges faced by teachers in the current context, the repercussions of the crisis on national examinations and the strategies adopted by Member States to compensate for school closure, as well as possible ways of adaptation of ongoing UNESCO ED programmes to the crisis. They emphasized also the critical and proactive roles teachers took on in switching to remote learning creatively, while incessantly catering for quality and equity for all learners.