Evidence on Efforts to Mitigate the Negative Educational Impact of Past Disease Outbreaks

This rapid review focusses on efforts to mitigate the educational impact of previous disease outbreaks, concentrating on school-age learners. It follows two companion papers that reviewed broader secondary effects and attempts to mitigate them (Rohwerder, 2020; Kelly, 2020). It aims to inform the education sector’s responses to the COVID-19 crisis, although there are important differences between previous disease outbreaks and the COVID-19 situation. For instance, unlike Ebola, transmission of COVID-19 is asymptomatic, and the outbreak is global.

This review finds a limited range of quantitative evidence on the educational impact of disease outbreaks, and minimal evidence on mitigation measures or their impact. Although several ‘lessons learned’ documents include guidelines and recommendations (and now complemented by many education-focused COVID-responsive blogs), this review finds that these are rarely based on evidence of impact of particular interventions, or on evidence of the impact of different approaches to action, co-ordinations, funding or prioritisation.

The review found four particular evidence gaps: First, how distance learning materials can support learners who do not have access to family members with the skills or time to help them. Second, a gap in the use of screen or internet-enabled technologies to support alternative education. Third (and related), a gap in remote teacher training and development during school closures. Finally, the review analysed gender and equity issues but did not find any literature that explored disability. The education in emergencies literature has an emerging evidence base across all four themes within refugee education contexts, but has not yet learnt from or applied this evidence to disease outbreak situations.

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