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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


How do we make sure the most disadvantaged children get a good education during public health emergencies?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 7 February 2022

Kendra Pyne, Yi Shi and Mukdarut Bangpan.

School support to build children’s resilience and boost their analytical skills could help to mitigate the inequalities that have increased during the pandemic. This is one of the broad range of interventions highlighted by our analysis of 52 research projects from around the world published in the International Journal of Educational Research.

As schools shut their doors during the Covid-19 pandemic, educational systems around the world have been struggling to provide continuity of teaching and uphold the quality and inclusiveness of education. While school disruption has affected all communities in terms of livelihoods, learning and economic opportunities, and psychological health, people living in disadvantaged situations are more likely to suffer from the most detrimental consequences.

Such disparity has led to a series of unanswered questions in the context of public health emergencies: what action has been taken to ensure the educational provision for disadvantaged groups? How have education interventions affected participants with different characteristics? Which responses are effective in providing inclusive education for all? It is, therefore, important to understand precisely how the pandemic has exposed the cracks in our education system, and how we can understand and adopt the lessons learned for future global public health emergencies.

Our study reviewed 52 international research publications to explore the education interventions that prepare for, respond to, and help with recovery from public health emergencies in relation to inequalities in primary and secondary education. We produced a narrative account of a) the scope and quality of existing literature; b) key characteristics and outcomes of included interventions; c) lessons learned and intervention impacts through an equity lens. The review also provides a framework for school decision-makers to proactively design and implement effective education policies to better support staff and students throughout Covid-19 and beyond.

Our review found that students of all backgrounds were forced to adapt to uncertain circumstances regardless of resources available to aid in the transition. However, these alternative methods of education posed distinct challenges to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The inadequacies ranged from access to technology, to the support in place for each student’s unique learning needs, to the support that students may or may not have received at home. Students in the most marginalised communities, who lack the engagement to self-learn or do not have access to digital learning resources, are most at risk of falling behind.

Despite the quick and innovative response, disadvantaged groups, who tend to have poor digital skills, less parental support and limited access to hardware and internet are less likely to benefit from interventions. Additionally, educators have had to adapt to new methods of teaching with little or no training, and with no known timeline of when in-person schooling could resume, or how to manage the uncertain future of primary education.

Based on the review findings, we propose a practical recommendation for providing equitable and inclusive education during public health emergencies. This class of equality-based reasoning, strategising, and implementing suggests a flexible and long-term solution to better understanding the preparations needed to ensure equitable, accessible, and sustainable education systems.  Schools should take actions to provide targeted support to parents and children who have limited home schooling capabilities, diversify remote learning channels such as online learning with radio and in-person mentoring, and build effective communication strategies between teachers, parents and students for sharing information and feedback. To cope with prolonged school disruption, education systems around the world must implement a broad scope of interventions including: teacher training support, school meal initiatives, distance learning, technology implementation, and mental health counselling.


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