Catching Up After COVID-19
Elementary students in Makassar catch up on learning and routine vaccinations through the Safe Return to Learning programme.
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- Bahasa Indonesia
It’s late March, and in the outskirts of Makassar City, Karunrung and Mangasa Inpress elementary schools are preparing to welcome students back for face-to-face learning after nearly two years. Banners neatly plaster the walls with messages on preventing the spread of COVID-19 while dozens of handwashing stations have been installed in almost every corner. Reading spots are available in each class, some of which are decorated with brightly coloured curtains.
There is an air of optimism at the school after the teachers and students had to face the difficulties of online learning during the pandemic. Limited internet access, inadequate devices, the digital divide as well as teachers’ struggles to adapt to a new way of learning all presented challenges and resulted in significant learning losses among students.
“We were pleased when we learned that some of the students' grades increased during remote learning until we found out that the tasks were being done by their parents,” recalled Erna, a teacher at Mangasa Elementary School.
A 2021 UNICEF assessment in intervention schools in Makassar found that students’ literacy and numeracy skills declined during the pandemic, with the percentage of non-readers increasing from 7 to 11 per cent while reading comprehension dropped from 59 per cent to 46 per cent.
Along with the decline in literacy, routine immunization coverage also stagnated as a result of school closures as schools had helped to deliver and promote vaccinations. According to a 2022 UNICEF study, as much as 6 per cent of parents and caregivers in Makassar rejected immunization for their children due to worries about vaccine safety and fears that too many vaccines could weaken their children’s immune system.
“The school was closed, and parents were reluctant to immunize their children,” recalled Adriyani. “The local authorities were focused on the COVID-19 response, which made it more difficult to prioritize the children.”
A Safe Return to Learning
When UNICEF launched the Safe Return to Learning programme in November 2021 with funding from the Government of Japan – and support from partners Lemina and Yayasan Gaya Celebes (YGC) in Makassar – Adriyani and many school staff felt relieved.
“I am glad that our school was included in the training,” she said with a spark in her eyes.
The objective of the programme is to enable students to safely return to school while addressing COVID-19 related learning, health, and psychosocial vulnerabilities.
To improve children’s learning, the programme implemented a series of activities to build the capacity of 525 teachers and principals. As part of this support, teachers were trained to use the ‘Active, Joyful and Effective Learning’ teaching approach to create more engaging activities for both online and offline learning during the pandemic and beyond.
“At first, the teaching was boring. But one day, I felt like it changed and became more appealing and engaging,” said Naila, 9, a second-grade student at Mangasa Elementary School about the new interactive lessons started by her teacher.
Through the programme, UNICEF’s partners also assisted health authorities to reach out to families to explain the benefits of routine immunization and supported health centres to organize vaccinations at schools. As a result, routine immunization coverage increased by 80-90 per cent in 2021 compared to the previous year.
“I am not afraid of a needle because one day I want to be a doctor,” declared Ayatul Husna Aziz, 9, a student at Karunrung Elementary School who said she felt more confident going back to school after receiving all her routine vaccinations. In 2021, 70 per cent of students Karunrung Elementary School were fully immunized.
Given the struggles that many teachers and families experienced during the pandemic, many are relieved that students can finally resume in-person learning safely and focus on catching up on what they missed over the past two years.
“When I heard that limited face-to-face learning would start, I invited all parents to collaborate and welcome our students back to school, and as you can see our school has become very lively,”
UNICEF wishes to express its sincere gratitude to the Government of Japan for its support to the COVID-19 response in Indonesia.