Supporting teachers in emergencies through crisis-sensitive policies

By Karen Mundy, Director of UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning and Carlos Vargas-Tamez, Head of the Secretariat of the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 and Chief of Section for Teacher Development, UNESCO

The unfolding events in Ukraine are a stark reminder that crises can strike anytime, anywhere. In addition, other ongoing crises such as COVID-19, various conflicts and disasters across the globe, including those due to climate change, are all threatening education continuity and quality – especially for those displaced. In 2021, the UN Refugee Agency reported that more than 84 million people were forcibly displaced globally. In 2022, this figure is set to rise, as more than 1.5 million children have already fled Ukraine.

Are education systems ready to respond?

Education systems are often underprepared in the face of crises – whether in terms of welcoming the sudden arrival of refugee children, protecting the safety of learners and teachers, or having to quickly shift to remote learning. In many countries, plans to prepare for, respond to, and recover from crises are lacking, which makes already chaotic situations more complicated and leaves frontline actors with limited guidance and tools to respond effectively.

Schools and their communities are too often the direct target of attacks. Between 2015 and 2019, more than 8,000 students, teachers, and other school personnel in 37 conflict-affected countries were killed, injured, abducted, threatened, arrested, or detained, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. Various reports point to schools being attacked in Ukraine.

As illustrated by COVID-19, teachers – who are themselves affected by crisis – often act as critical agents of support to colleagues and students alike. They can foster a sense of safety and normalcy, while supporting families and communities with important information. Their support to learners is essential – but teachers can only tap into this role if their needs are first addressed.

For example, teachers need to be equipped to teach in increasingly challenging conditions, such as damaged facilities or overcrowded classrooms, and to be able to differentiate pedagogy to adapt to learners from education systems that use other curricula and languages. Since teachers are impacted by crises in various ways, they also need to receive adequate psychosocial, material, and financial support to play the supportive role that learners need.

Image credit: Sacha Myers / Save the Children

Supporting education systems to build crisis-sensitive teacher policies

Applying an emergency and crisis-sensitive lens in the development and implementation of national teacher policies is essential to ensure that teachers can act as critical agents of support and protection to ensure that quality, inclusive education continues and to promote social cohesion and resilience. This involves anticipating and addressing challenges of recruitment, deployment, retention, and training, while also ensuring teacher well-being, job security, and safe and enabling working conditions.

In 2021, the conveners of the Norwegian Teacher Initiative joined forces with the Teacher Task Force and UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) to develop a new module to inform the development and implementation of emergency and crisis-sensitive national teacher policies, in recognition of the important role played by teachers in preparing for and responding to crisis and emergency situations.

This new module complements the 2019 Teacher Policy Development Guide (TPDG). It highlights the importance of crisis-sensitive teacher policies to increase the resilience of education systems by ensuring that education stakeholders are able to prepare for and respond to crises. It addresses the various dimensions of teacher policy and puts forward new measures to support teachers as they work to prevent, mitigate, and recover from conflicts and disasters. The module also includes country examples, highlighting effective policies and practices for teacher management in crisis settings.

Teacher policies that consider the implications of crisis on the profession can contribute to a motivated, quality workforce. Such policies are key to ensure that teachers are not just supported and protected but are also prepared to provide vulnerable children with safe learning spaces and quality education, and thus protecting this fundamental right for all.

The new module on Crisis-sensitive teacher policy develop is available for download on the Teacher Task Force’s website.

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The 2019 GEM Report recommends that teachers are not counsellors. They need training and support so they can recognise stress and trauma and refer children in need to specialists.


About the TPDG

The Teacher Policy Development Guide was designed as a dynamic tool to address emerging teacher policy challenges. It is built on the premise that a holistic teacher policy is needed to improve the quantity and quality of teachers. To be effective in enabling inclusive, quality education, teacher policies must be comprehensive and integrate different interrelated aspects of the profession, such as, recruitment and retention, teacher education, deployment, career structure, teachers’ working conditions, rewards and remuneration, standards, accountability, and school governance. In addition, teacher policies need to be well planned, resourced and aligned with other educational and non-educational policies to ensure effective implementation.


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