The COVID-19 crisis undoubtedly marks a critical moment in students’ education pathways, with varying implications for their emotional, social and economic well-being. At its peak during the first half of 2020, in an effort to contain the virus, around 91% of the world’s enrolled learners were shut out of their usual place of learning (UNESCO, 2020[1]). The OECD estimates that, by June 2020, 80% of member and partner countries had already employed some degree of school closure for more than three months, around one-third of the average academic year (OECD, 2020[2]). For the current student cohort, if education systems are unable to make up the equivalent learning loss, this could result in 3% lower career earnings; for the typical nation, this could result in around 1.5% lower Gross Domestic Product (GDP) throughout the remainder of the century (Hanushek and Woessmann, 2020[3]).

The world economy has also fallen into the deepest recession since the Second World War, with young workers predicted to be among those the hardest hit. Re-connecting young people with the labour market can be very challenging once they lose touch with it. Following the global financial crisis, it took a decade for youth unemployment rates to return to pre-crisis levels (OECD, 2020[4]). Therefore, today’s learners not only face tougher educational trajectories due to possible learning loss, but also potentially fewer opportunities in the labour market for many years to come.

At the same time, the COVID-19 crisis increasingly reveals itself to be not simply a pandemic, but rather a syndemic. This means that social factors play at least as strong a role in the spread and impact of the virus as biological factors; an integrated approach that reaches beyond clinical medicine and public health is therefore necessary. A broader vision encompassing, for example, education, employment, basic living conditions or environment is more likely to succeed in strengthening global resilience against this virus (Horton, 2020[5]).

All of this means that merely aiming to return education to the pre-COVID-19 status quo is not an option. The unprecedented challenges facing this generation and global society in general demand that education systems maintain the momentum of collective emergency action to leap forward into a better normal. Emergency measures imposed by the crisis have planted the seeds of such a transition; in order for the roots to take hold, new knowledge must now translate into action. This does not necessarily mean reinventing the wheel, but steering it in the direction of brighter destinations for societies. Looking forward, today’s learners deserve education systems that embrace student inclusion to ensure that all individuals thrive, that reconfigure curriculum and assessment to recognise the full complexities of thinking and doing, and that value and empower educators as advanced knowledge workers operating in collegial work structures, accountable to both their peers and key stakeholders. Policy makers must now act smartly, identifying the levers of change where quick wins today can translate into greater wins tomorrow.

Throughout 2020, the Education Policy Outlook (EPO) has been investigating what form such smart action could take. Since February, drawing on insights from a decade of policy analysis, as well as other relevant OECD work, the EPO has been developing a Framework for Responsiveness and Resilience in education based on analysis of international evidence and its knowledge base of education policy practices in over 40 education systems. Country-specific analysis undertaken for 12 EPO Country Policy Profiles published in 2020 also provided an overview of system preparedness for the COVID-19 crisis in individual education systems, and insight into initial responses. Complementing this, between July and September 2020, the EPO held bilateral exchanges with over 20 participating education systems to gain a deeper understanding of key challenges facing policy makers in the second half of 2020 and their policy priorities moving forward. An earlier version of this report also served as the main background document of the Education Policy Reform Dialogues 2020: Shifting education practices towards a more resilient new normal. This Handbook integrates highlights of these discussions.

Education systems operate in a world that is constantly evolving towards new equilibria, but short-term crises disrupt, accelerate or divert longer-term evolutions. Balancing the urgent and the important thus emerges as the key everyday task of education systems.

Today’s education systems — mostly designed for the industrial era — face the important challenge of transitioning to a post-industrial society. This demands greater responsiveness to increasingly diverse populations, changing labour markets, well-being aspects, and the breadth of skills and knowledge that individuals need to thrive. Education systems also face the urgent challenge of absorbing and adapting to the disruption of not just the COVID-19 crisis, but also other crises as they continue to emerge around the world (e.g. natural disasters, but also social, political or economic disruptions). This requires building resilience, seizing the opportunity to learn from this crisis, and future ones, in order to inform longer-term improvement (Hynes, Linkov and Trump, 2020[6]). To help education systems address the urgent and the important not as competing priorities but as a mutually reinforcing endeavour for the medium and longer term, during 2020-2021, the EPO is developing an actionable Framework for Responsiveness and Resilience (see below).

According to this framework under development, education systems need to develop into responsive eco-systems that promote resilience at different levels. These policy eco-systems facilitate greater coherence between policy priorities, systemic context and key actors. They bring together policies at different moments of their lifecycles (such as in their design, implementation, consolidation or evaluation), and with different scopes of action (such as education level, territorial coverage and target audience, among others), to increase synergies between them. The key elements of these eco-systems interact constantly, but can be conceptualised as follows:

  • Resilient learners adjust positively to change, manage uncertainty, and respond to shocks. This starts with the student’s internal world, including emotional well-being, self-efficacy, critical thinking and growth mind-set (Chernyshenko, Kankaraš and Drasgow, 2018[8]). Education systems must equip learners with such skills and adapt educational experiences to their individual interests, abilities, aspirations, and backgrounds through more personalised or targeted approaches. This is particularly important for those in adverse circumstances (Pigozzi, 2020[9]; Burde et al., 2016[10]).

  • A resilient broader learning environment drives learner and system resilience. Educational institutions contribute when they are at the centre of a network of co-ordinated supports that sustain well-being (Ungar, 2011[11]; Reyes, 2013[12]). Establishing a resilient broader learning environment implies bringing together a variety of actors within and between different learning environments, both inside and outside the education institution, for effective synergies. Such an approach can also empower all related actors to implement policies that respond to local contexts.

  • Resilient systems ‘bounce forward’ rather than simply ‘bounce back’ (Hynes, Linkov and Trump, 2020[6]). They are dynamic enough to fulfil every student’s needs- even in changing contexts- and so must learn with the learner, evolving in synchrony with societies’ future needs. The capacity to collect information about education contexts and learners, building a richer picture of their needs and progress, is therefore essential. Similarly, flexible and more permeable transitions and pathways through and beyond education enable the system to adapt to every learner and every situation without disruption.

This framework also contemplates other more transversal capacities for responsiveness. They further facilitate exchanges between levels, enhance processes and deliver new and meaningful learning experiences. Examples include digital capacities, the use of evidence, but also socio-emotional aspects, such as empathy and the ability to develop interconnections and shared understandings of processes and outcomes in a given education system.

Ultimately, resilience flows from the practices, people, processes and tools that shape learners’ education experiences. These components are in turn catalysed by the design, implementation and alignment of policies. Through this Framework, the Education Policy Outlook supports policy makers at this over-arching level, offering a coherent approach to policy work that fosters greater responsiveness and resilience.

This Handbook is a product of the overall work undertaken by the EPO in 2020 on responsiveness and resilience to leverage that knowledge base to support policy makers in the context of the pandemic and beyond. This work also forms part of a longer iterative development process for the EPO’s actionable Framework of Responsiveness and Resilience, to be launched by the end of 2021.

The Handbook proposes three key lessons to guide policymakers’ efforts in the current academic year and beyond, in general and vocational education, from primary to tertiary level. The EPO is also undertaking analysis of early childhood education and care (ECEC) and adult learning systems which will be integrated into the final Framework. Lesson one (Education actors should nurture resilient mind-sets that value people and processes over classrooms and devices) is the over-arching lesson. It is supported by Lesson two (Educators need new skills and new knowledge to capitalise on new education priorities and means of delivery) and Lesson three (Addressing learning gaps now will minimise disruption in students’ educational journeys). Each lesson draws on recent OECD work and other international evidence, successful pre-crisis policies, and current promising policy efforts. This informs practical policy pointers for action


[8] Chernyshenko, O., M. Kankaraš and F. Drasgow (2018), “Social and emotional skills for student success and well-being: Conceptual framework for the OECD study on social and emotional skills”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 173, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[10] Elsevier (ed.) (2016), “Education in emergencies: A review of theory and research”, Review of Educational Research, Vol. 87/3, pp. 619-658, (accessed on 13 October 2020).

[3] Hanushek, E. and L. Woessmann (2020), “The economic impacts of learning losses”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 225, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[5] Horton, R. (2020), Offline: COVID-19 is not a pandemic, Elsevier, Amsterdam, p. 874,

[6] Hynes, W., I. Linkov and B. Trump (2020), “A Systemic Approach to Dealing with Covid-19 and Future Shocks”, New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC), OECD Publications, Paris, (accessed on 13 October 2020).

[7] OECD (2021), Education Policy Outlook 2021: Responsiveness and Resilience for a Brighter New Normal (working title).

[2] OECD (2020), Education at a Glance 2020: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[4] OECD (2020), OECD Employment Outlook 2020: Worker Security and the COVID-19 Crisis, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[9] Pigozzi, M. (2020), “Education in Emergencies and for Reconstruction: A Developmental Approach”, Education Working Papers, UNICEF Publications, New York, (accessed on 13 October 2020).

[12] Reyes, J. (2013), “What Matters Most for Education Resilience : A Framework Paper”, Education Working Paper (Numbered Series), No. 78811, World Bank Publications, Washington D.C., (accessed on 13 October 2020).

[1] UNESCO (2020), Global monitoring of school closures caused by COVID-19, (accessed on 13 October 2020).

[11] Ungar, M. (2011), Community resilience for youth and families: Facilitative physical and social capital in contexts of adversity, Elsevier, Amsterdam,

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