Coronavirus: Back to School Tracker to monitor reopening

By Anne-Marie Bissada
Posted on Wednesday, 15 July 2020 08:34

Virus Outbreak South Africa
Grade 7 pupils return to the Meldene Primary School in Johannesburg Monday, June 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

More than 90 per cent of the world’s student population, 1.57 billion children and youth across 190 countries,  have been impacted by school closures since March.

While school closures happened in quick succession (73% of school globally closed over ten days from 11 March) owing to rising infection rates, they  are reopening on a more gradual basis– depending on the impact of COVID-19 on a country’s health system and economy and its ability to manage infection rates.

READ MORE Coronavirus: South Africa to rev economy by easing lockdown

As many countries embark on a path towards reopening their societies, government decision makers are urgently seeking guidance on how best to reopen schools and to better understand the approaches, patterns and trends from education systems that have already reopened.

One tool that may help governments monitor progress is the Back to School Tracker.

It was created by Dr. Randa Grob-Zakhary, CEO and co-founder of a new foundation called Insights for Education.

Grob-Zakhary and her team created the realtime country tracker after analysing and tracking the experiences of 183 countries worldwide as schools began to reopen. To better understand how governments can make use of this tracker, The Africa Report put the following  questions to Dr. Grob-Zakhary.

TAR: What information does this tracker share and with who?

Grob-Zakhary : Our Back to School Tracker was created to meet specific requests of education leaders and ministerial reopening task forces who are faced with the complex challenge of how to allow children to learn while keeping them safe.

Insights for Education is a recently established, independent foundation building a global resource for evidence-led decision making and implementation in education.

For the tracker, we use data from UNESCO, the World Bank and Our World In Data, then synthesise that with qualitative information drawn from local media reports, social media and government announcements to give a comprehensive view.

On,  you will find:

  • Global tracking of school status and COVID-19 by country, including key features of how they are reopening (timing, staging according to year groups, policy responses, safety and hygiene requirements), updated daily.
  • An Interactive explorer that allows searching by region, case trends, etc.
  • Summaries and analyses of global experiences  and a special look at sub-Saharan Africa.

The tracker is for anyone involved in decisions around when and how-to reopen school systems. They recognise much can be learned from the many countries that have reopened schools already.

Our tracker was designed to answer their questions: When are schools opening? How are they opening? What are the preconditions being put in place? Which children are going back first? What are schools doing to stay open? Having access to the tracker means they can compare experiences with similar countries and keep up to date with emerging patterns regionally and globally.

What does the information provide in terms of data for analysis?

The information provided allows for the tracking of COVID-19 case trends and school status (open, partially open, closed).

It also allows for the robust exploration of features associated with school reopening, such as distancing, hygiene, safety measures, paedaogical and policy responses, along with a seven-day moving average of COVID-19 cases.

Is it aimed for rural schools or all schools across the continent?

The Insights for Education Back to School Tracker is targeted towards decision makers for all schools across the African continent and beyond. Through its searchable parameters, users can identify examples most similar to their own.

Have governments agreed to use it ahead of or while schools reopen?

We have experienced governments using it both ahead of reopening, in fact as part of their decision-making around reopening, and continuing to use it as they reopen, to monitor the situation in their own country and around the globe. We are working with a number across Africa who are using it to inform their – difficult – decisions.

Has the feedback from the data analysis brought about some change in policies by certain countries? If so, what?

Yes, absolutely. Our tracker has seen more than 7,000 requests from 70 countries.

Because internal ministry dialogues are confidential, we can share the following without naming specific countries involved:

  • One country in sub-Saharan Africa postponed its intended re-opening in June to September, after studying the experience of other countries in both Africa and Europe which reopened schools before reaching their peak in COVID-19 cases.
  • Another country decided to limit reopening only to exam students, so that all preconditions raised in our assessment (small groups, distancing, and hygiene) could be met to ensure safe reopening for both staff and students.
  • One ministry, after learning about other countries’ policy responses to permanently implement distance learning alongside in-person schooling,   launched their own national effort to do the same, recognising that the pandemic is likely to ebb and flow and that a total eradication of cases is unlikely.
  • We have also heard from non-governmental education leaders, such as the education chief of a major funding agency, who use it in advising governments and teams distributed around the world.

75 countries have reopened their schools so far. They are doing it in very many ways. The world learns more daily about how to reopen, and how to stay open – or not – as the pandemic unfolds.

Obvious assumptions aren’t always holding true. Officials don’t have to guess; critical lessons can be drawn from comparisons between states and countries with analogous conditions.

Choices and their consequences can be interrogated.

Children everywhere deserve to return to school in the safest and most effective way possible. Amplifying global experiences, good and bad, will ensure this happens

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