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Source: Save The Children

A young student practises pre-school maths

Over the past six months or so, coronavirus has forced children’s learning to migrate from schools to households, including my own children to my own home. I’ve been wondering how much upheaval my life would have experienced if a similar global health emergency had occurred 13 years ago.

Then, as a youthful teacher in a Ugandan public school, how would I have adaptedto this disruption to conventional teaching while managing my emotional health?

TEACHERS HAVE HAD TO ADAPT

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed public attention to the essential role of teachers.

Our frontline workers in the education sector have shown extraordinary resilience: from script writing, modifying curriculum content and recording content for interactive radio instruction, visiting households to monitor usage and support with take-home learning packages.

Teachers, including a growing group of paraprofessionals or community volunteers, have expanded their repertoire of skills and adapted to new ways working.

For the female teaching workforce, who often bear a disproportionate share of family responsibilities, the unprecedented change in working environment often coincides with increased care needs, resulting in increased feelings of stress.

A class being taught outside in the open air in Uganda (before COVID-19)

Job insecurity was another source of worry. Okema Geofry, a teacher in Uganda, shared with us:

“Most of us, the teachers, thought there was no job. Because when the school is not going on, why should you go on as a teacher? That one brought a lot of stress.”

I am anxious about losing salaries and benefits,” another teacher told us.

In a survey we conducted in Zimbabwe, teachers expressed fears about their health:

“My health and that of my students is at stake. None of us was tested when schools reopened. If I got sick, I am not sure how I would pay for health treatment,” said Ronny Moyo*, a primary school teacher in Zimbabwe.

TIME TO FOCUS ON TEACHERS’ WELLBEING

This year’s World Teachers’ Day finds all educators on the threshold of a new era. Where school gates are reopening after nearly six months, teachers find themselves in changed school environments, with increased workloads owing to the condensed curriculum and educating children with new needs and concerns of their own.

While most teachers are resilient, they may experience increased stress and anxiety during times of uncertainty and crisis such as this.

I feel drained and exhausted from juggling side-gigs to make ends meet. Working 15-hour days leaves me with too little time with my children and anxiety about lesson preparation,” said Joselyn, a teacher in Zimbabwe.

Pre-existing mental health concerns may be exacerbated, especially if support and interaction with peers is absent. It is therefore crucial that teachers are enabled to applystrategies for their own emotional wellbeing – and the wellbeing of children, who need to feel safe, happy and protected to develop and learn.

Kabukabu, 9, with her teacher at her local primary school, Zambia (before COVID-19)

WE ARE SUPPORTING TEACHERS IN EAST AND SOUTHERN AFRICA

At Save the Children, we recognise that multiple factors contribute to teachers’ wellbeing. The holistic interventions below are examples of actions we’ve undertaken, together with our partners, in East and Southern Africa:

1. Start with teachers’ professional and wellbeing needs

In South Sudan, together with the Ministry of General Education and Instruction (MOGEI), we conducted an assessment[1] on teachers’ wellbeing, motivation, professional needs and competencies, which revealed that more than 88% teachers felt that they needed support in stress management.

We are providing tailored professional support and development for the many new changes and challenges they face in delivering teaching and learning opportunities for all children

2. Keep up with Teacher Professional Development and peer networks

Continuity of teacher professional development has been essential during this period.

In Somalia, for example, where severe flooding[2] now threatens school reopening plans in some regions, we have connected teachers by WhatsApp messenger. Through the WhatsApp groups, teachers discuss challenges and successes, sharing with each other information and encouragement.

Teacher Mohammed helps children during science class in Somalia (before COVID-19)

3. Don’t forget emotional skills development & psycho-social support

In Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Malawi and Rwanda, we have plans to include mental health and psycho-social support (MHPSS) for teachers in trainings scheduled to coincide with school re-openings. Our COVID-19 contextualised training content builds on the best evidence we have on how to support teacher professional development and emerging evidence on teacher wellbeing.

In Somalia, the national education cluster co-led by Save the Children developed sector-wide guidelines for the provision of remote psycho-social support for teachers by peers.

4. Uphold working conditions

According to a recent survey, nearly two thirds[3] of teachers’ unions report deteriorating working conditions. We have ensured that incentives provided in our programmes continue during school closures, and we have joined forces within the sector to advocate for the same.

“Incentives keep me motivated and have helped me get some otherwise difficult items like sanitary pad and washing soap,” saidYar Makuei Malek, a volunteer teacher in South Sudan.

In Zimbabwe, where a teachers’ strike in public schools now threatens school reopening plans, we provide in-kind assistance in the form of reward hampers to teachers in supported school districts.

Students concentrating hard in rural Uganda (before COVID-19)

TEACHERS ARE ESSENTIAL TO A COUNTRY’S FUTURE

As the world looks to teachers to continue bringing the magic of school and learning to children in this COVID-19 era, teachers’ wellbeing needs – and their ability to positively influence the wellbeing of children – must be at the heart of all efforts.

Teachers must be treated as essential frontline workers, with priority access to health care, including virus testing and vaccinations when they are available.

We are calling on leaders and decision-makers in the education sector to increase their commitment to improving teacher wellbeing by providing comprehensive, contextualised support to teachers.

Without holistic interventions at all levels, teachers risk experiencing burnout, resulting in absenteeism and potentially leaving their jobs[4] – all of which would have a devastating effect on the children who depend on them. Children who are already at risk of being denied an education.

 

*Names changed to protect identities

Learn more about our work and campaign to Save Our Education.



[1] Teacher Well-Being, Motivation, Professional Needs & Competences Assessment, NORAD Framework Agreement, South Sudan June 2020

[3] Education International, “COVID-19 and Education: How Education Unions are Responding, Survey Report”, available at https://issuu. com/educationinternational/docs/2020_covid19_survey_report_eng_final.

[4] 8 UNESCO, “Supporting teachers and education personnel during times of crisis”, available at https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/ pf0000373338.

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