Heading back to school in the pandemic

As school doors reopen in some countries, what does it look like for students?

Back to school in Côte d'Ivoire: A student with a UNICEF bag heads to her classroom
01 October 2020

An entire generation has seen its education interrupted.

At the height of nation-wide lockdowns in April, approximately 91 per cent of the world's students in more than 194 countries were out of school. This has caused immeasurable disruption to the lives, learning and wellbeing of children around the world.  

UNICEF is working together with governments and schools to keep children, particularly the most marginalized, learning and to not just reopen schools, but reopen better schools. 

As school doors reopen in some countries, measures like handwashing stations, physical distancing, mask wearing and temperature checks are being integrated into school life. Here’s a glimpse of what a return to school looks like for students in the following countries.

Above: Marie Kouadio Aya, 9, is happy she can return to school in Côte d'Ivoire on 28 May.



Back to school in Cambodia: A student reads an open book on her class desk

A student at Preah Norodom Primary School in Phnom Penh. Children started returning to schools on 7 September with both teachers and students wearing masks, observing physical distancing and following safe practices.

UNICEF has been working with Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to enable schools to open safely. This began with the development of re-opening guidelines drawing on global best practices and the provision of basic hygiene supplies. 

Following schools’ reopening, UNICEF has distributed 6,195 hand sanitizers, 72,725 bars of soap and 801 thermometers among 417 schools and 290,772 students in six provinces.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

Back to school in DRC: A student wearing a face mask writes her exam in class.

Elodie, a final year secondary school student in Kinshasa, takes her exam while wearing a mask. On 10 August, schools across the Democratic Republic of the Congo reopened to allow final year students to take their exams.

Through the “Masks made in DRC” initiative, UNICEF commissioned partner organizations to locally manufacture reusable protective masks. As of 12 August, 950,455 masks had been produced and 760,766 masks distributed to the most disadvantaged communities in the provinces most affected by COVID-19. Another 423,000 masks were to be distributed to primary and secondary school teachers.



Back to school in Georgia: a teacher faces a student in a sparse classroom.

Despite physical distancing and regular temperature-checks, there is a mood of celebration and relief among children, teachers and parents alike on the first day of school in the town of Sagarejo.

The new academic year began on 15 September in Georgia. UNICEF and other partners are supporting the Ministry of Education in the safer reopening of schools, including the development of child-friendly posters on COVID-19 preventive measures, for use in preschools and primary schools.



Back to school in Ghana: school students wearing face masks cycling to school

Students in Ghana wearing face masks on their way to school on 22 July.

UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education to develop safety precautions for the reopening of schools. As part of the Government’s efforts to ensure that education continues, final-year students were allowed to return to school to write their exams.

Students have been provided with masks to help curb the spread of the virus and practice physical distancing while in class. Schools across the country have been equipped with hand washing facilities and contactless thermometers.



Back to school in Jordan: students stand around a flag during morning assembly

Girls on their first day back to school at Aisha bent Al Mo’meneen school in Amman. Schools reopened in Jordan from 31 August for the first time since closing in March due to COVID-19 prevention measures.

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education’s Safely Back to School campaign, under which schools ensure all necessary safety measures are taken, including physical distancing and increased hygiene measures and awareness. Students are also returning to school on a rotational basis – spending half the week at school and the rest at home using distance learning.


Lao People's Democratic Republic

Students entering the gates of their school
UNICEF Laos/2020/AKarki

On 18 May, Lycée de Vientiane, a public school in Vientiane, Lao PDR’s capital, welcomed back over 900 of its students.

After a two-month-long school closure in Lao PDR and with no new cases reported in over a month, the Ministry of Education issued Safe Schools guidance for schools to reopen in phases.

UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education to develop a COVID-19 response plan and participated in a back-to-school campaign aimed at parents, teachers and students. As part of the campaign, posters were distributed to all schools in the country, as well as messages in digital and traditional media.



Back to school in Mauritania: students raising their hands in a classroom

Students attend classes at the Bekar O Soueid Ahmed school, south of the capital Nouakchott. After several months of school closures, students in Mauritania returned to classrooms at the beginning of September.

Among the precautions put in place by the Ministry of Health are systematic handwashing and the wearing of masks by teachers and children over 11 years of age. Teachers are also encouraged to limit the number of students per table.

UNICEF is supporting schools by providing handwashing stations situated at entrances. As of 19 August, UNICEF has helped equip 563 hand washing stations and has supplied soap and bleach for 205 schools.



Back to school in Mongolia: a girl getting her temperature checked at school

A student gets her temperature checked before the start of class.

Schools and kindergartens in Mongolia reopened on 1 September with prevention and precautionary measures including restrictions on the number of children in each classroom to no more than 20 pupils and blended (both online and classroom) learning for schools in certain areas. 

As of 14 September, UNICEF has supplied infrared thermometers to all public schools and kindergartens in the Bayanzurkh district of the capital Ulaanbaatar and is planning to cover schools and kindergartens in the Bayankhongor, Gobi-Altai and Zavkhan provinces.


Sri Lanka

Back to school in Sri Lanka: students washing their hands at the school taps

Students wearing facemasks wash their hands at their school in Sri Lanka. Schools reopened on 6 July for certain grades after being closed since March.

As part of our going ongoing COVID-19 response work for schools in Sri Lanka, UNICEF supports the Government in developing safe school operations, promoting hygiene practices, and by providing expertise in the areas of health, nutrition, education, child protection, social policy and communications.

On 19 August, UNICEF became part of a new national media campaign asking children and parents to follow seven new and essential ‘lessons’ to limit the risk and spread of the coronavirus.


>> Read about UNICEF's work in education

>> Get the data on education and COVID-19

>> GIGA - connecting every school to the Internet

This article was originally published on 24 August 2020. It was updated on 1 October 2020.