As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN Member States have seen school closures impacting more than 152 million children in the Southeast Asian region (Thomas, 2022). School closures and the sudden transition from face-to-face to digital modalities have resulted in significant learning loss and socio-emotional challenges for teachers and learners.
ASEAN Member States’ education systems have undertaken innovative ways of addressing the learning crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Schools adopted the use of radio, television and other learning platforms and deviated to a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning. However, the sudden shift required to address school closures left teachers unprepared, especially in ensuring the quality of teaching and learning in these new delivery mechanisms.
ASEAN’s commitment to the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which covers inclusive quality education for all, is clearly manifested in several key documents. These include, but are not limited to, the Bali Declaration on the Enhancement and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in ASEAN Community in 2011, the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Education for Out of School Youth and Children in 2016, and the ASEAN Enabling Masterplan 2025: Mainstreaming the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2018. Furthermore, inclusiveness and equity dimensions not limited to education are also reflected in most, if not all, ASEAN declarations and key policies, including the ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025, the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, and the ongoing development of the ASEAN Declaration on Digital Transformation of Education Systems in ASEAN.
ASEAN has taken steps to support ASEAN Member States in addressing safe school reopening and learning loss. These include developing the Reopen, Recover, and Resilience in Education: Guidelines for ASEAN Countries and organising a ministerial roundtable on Recover Learning and Rebuild Education in the ASEAN Region. The roundtable produced a policy brief with critical recommendations for the ASEAN Member States to consider in addressing challenges related to school reopening and the learning crisis.
Launched in Bangkok on 6 June 2022 at the 2nd Asia Pacific Regional Education Ministers Conference, the Reopen, Recover and Resilience in Education: Guidelines for ASEAN Countries, highlights the need to maintain children and adolescents’ learning process and ensure their right to education and recover learning losses, and contribute to strengthening the resilience of education systems including the need for cross-sectoral cooperation. The guidelines were developed by the ASEAN Secretariat under the leadership of Cambodia and with support from UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO).
The guidelines offer medium to long-term strategies to cope with future shocks and disruptions in education, immediate strategies to address the urgent need for safe school reopening, learning recovery and continuity in education, and proposed performance indicators to monitor and evaluate the progress and results of undertaken strategies and initiatives. Some of the key recommendations presented in the guidelines are: emphasise the equity principle and inclusion of the most vulnerable and marginalised populations in all strategies; prioritise pre-primary education and early learning with holistic support for young children; make learning recovery an urgent priority strategy; ensure the return to learning and well-being for all students; build capacity in teaching at all levels of education, and strengthen education systems resilience to cope with the current pandemic and future shocks and disruptions.
On 16 March 2022, under the leadership of Viet Nam, the ASEAN Chair for Education for 2022 and 2023, the ASEAN Secretariat in partnership with Cambridge Partnership for Education, took stock of the ASEAN Member States’ national initiatives on safe school reopening and learning recovery at the Ministerial Roundtable on Recover Learning and Rebuilt Education in the ASEAN Region. Inputs from the ASEAN Member States informed the development of a policy brief which put forward nine key recommendations (Thomas, 2022) including: address learning loss as a holistic challenge that goes beyond knowledge and skills loss; prioritise addressing learning loss for the groups most at risk; and take the opportunity to rethink national curricula.
Under the leadership of the Philippines and with support from UNICEF EAPRO, the ASEAN Secretariat is currently developing the ASEAN Declaration on Digital Transformation of Education Systems in ASEAN, which is expected to be adopted in November 2022 at the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia. It builds on the ASEAN Joint Statement on the Digital Transformation of Education Systems throughout ASEAN which includes the key focus on fostering digital literacy and developing transferable skills, promoting access to safe digital learning opportunities for all, engaging the private sector including in the provision of innovative digital learning solutions, and collaborating with stakeholders on open education resources and open access learning. The adoption and eventual implementation of the above-mentioned declaration will drive the comprehensive transformation of ASEAN Member States’ education systems and contribute to increasing access and inclusiveness to quality education, and enhance the resilience of ASEAN education systems to the future pandemics, shocks and disruptions.
Each ASEAN Member State has been addressing the challenges of safe school reopening and the need for learning recovery. With lessons learned from their challenges on a national level, ASEAN Member States, the ASEAN Secretariat and partners are building back better. The ASEAN community is committed to ensuring schools reopen and stay open, children recover learning loss and increase resilience to face future challenges.
Download the reference materials from the following links:
Reopen, Recover, and Resilience in Education: Guidelines for ASEAN Countries
ASEAN Policy Brief on Safe School Reopening, Learning Recovery, and Continuity