Few groups are less vulnerable to COVID-19 than school children, but few groups have been more affected by the policy responses to contain this virus: 1.5 billion students around the world were locked out of their schools, some for more than half a school year. Some of them were able to find their way around closed school doors through alternative learning opportunities, well-supported by their parents and teachers. But many remained shut out when their school shut down, particularly those from the most marginalised groups, who did not have access to digital learning resources, or lacked the support, resilience and engagement to learn on their own.

If anything, this period has made publicly and widely visible the many benefits that students draw from being able to learn in close contact with their teachers and their peers, and with access to the variety of services which schools offer. This public awareness of the importance of schools and of teachers can help promote further engagement and support from communities and parents for schools and for teachers. This is important, as a likely result of the pandemic will be greater financial austerity resulting from the economic adjustment that the health and economic costs of the pandemic will bring about.

But the crisis has also resulted in unprecedented technological and social innovation in education, as learners, parents, educators, the technology sector, and policy makers came together to solve new problems. Perhaps there was less reform in these months, but there has certainly been more change. The crisis has also accelerated policy thinking, changing mind-sets on topics for which there has historically been much resistance to change. The crisis experience has highlighted the role of technology in the future of education, neither to conserve nor simply replace existing practices, but to transform them. It has brought new appreciation for the multi-dimensional function of formal education and reinforced the notion that learning is an activity and not a place. It has refocused attention to the core purpose of assessment as the driver of student and system improvement rather than just a necessary hoop to jump through along a standardised learning pathway. These changing attitudes are the silver linings of a very difficult year; herein we begin to chart our route to a brighter new normal.

However, to transform schooling at scale, we need not just a vision of what is possible, but also smart strategies that help make change. The road of educational reform is littered with good ideas that were poorly implemented. And the laws, regulations, structures and institutions on which educational leaders tend to focus are just like the small visible tip of an iceberg. The reason why it is so hard to move school systems is that there is a much larger invisible part beneath the surface. This invisible part is about the interests, beliefs, motivations and fears of the people who are involved in education, parents and teachers included. This is where unexpected collisions occur, because this part of educational reform tends to evade the radar screen of public policy. That is why educational leaders are rarely successful with reform unless they build a shared understanding and collective ownership for change, and unless they build capacity and create the right policy climate, with accountability measures designed to encourage innovation, rather than compliance.

This handbook explores how policy makers can use the moment of the crisis to leverage change in education as a whole-of-society project. Expecting that the future will continue to surprise us, it discusses how we can make education systems more resilient, helping learners and educators not just to keep the world in balance, but also to live and thrive in an imbalanced world. It examines what policy makers can do to help educators and leaders develop the knowledge and skills to get ready for this. And last but not least it looks at ways in which we can close learning gaps to help everyone realise their potential.

The method of the handbook is simple: it leverages the experience of education systems from around the world. In these times, educators and policy makers need not just look forward, but also outward. The difference between education systems that are open to the world and ready to learn from and with other experiences, and those that feel threatened by being exposed to alternative ways of thinking and working is likely to be a key differentiator in the educational progress that we will see around the world. The world is indifferent to tradition and past reputations, unforgiving of frailty, and ignorant of custom or practice. Success will go to those individuals and nations that are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. The task of governments is to help citizens rise to the challenges.

Andreas Schleicher

Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General

Director for Education and Skills


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