The world is not yet out of the COVID-19 pandemic , which continues to take a high toll on populations and economies. This unprecedented health crisis has also severely impacted the gains made in the education sector over the last few years. In India alone, 1.5 million schools shut down in 2020, affecting 320 million learners and impacting their education, protection and well-being.
Throughout this pandemic, the exceptional effort undertaken by teachers must be highlighted. Using the resources available to them, Indian teachers mobilised as one and have remained on the front-lines of education to ensure continuity of learning, often against formidable odds, even though the pandemic claimed the lives of many of them.
As the country steps up its efforts to tackle the devastating effects of the second wave of COVID-19, the national vaccination campaign has assumed greater importance than ever before, so that we can finally move to a ‘new normal’. There is an urgent need to better recognise teachers as front-line workers and prioritise them in the vaccination campaign.
While this has already been done by many State governments, the model should be replicated nationwide. This will not only speed up the reopening of schools so that students can get back to ‘in person’ learning, but will also provide safety.
Barriers to vaccination
Mass vaccination campaigns do not solely depend on the availability of vaccines. Such efforts are always hindered by a lack of suitable transport facilities, and difficult or prolonged travel time to the vaccination sites.
Teachers, like anyone else, may be worried about travelling long distances to the vaccination centres for fear of contracting the virus on public transport and may not be able to access other means of conveyance.
Keeping these limitations in mind and to support the process of swift vaccination for teachers initiated by the government, the ride-sharing company Uber and UNESCO are coming together to offer a ‘Free rides for teachers’ vaccination’ campaign to provide teachers with the means to travel to the vaccination centres in a safe manner while offsetting the costs of traveling long distances.
The initiative offers 1,00,000 rides to 25,000 teachers to and from vaccination centres to get the two vaccine doses. The offer will be implemented in Chennai, Coimbatore and Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu. The rides will be made available via a promotional code communicated to the teachers with a detailed pictorial brochure to help them download the application and use the code.
The impact of the pandemic across the globe necessitates a coordinated response. Last year, UNESCO launched the Global Education Coalition (GEC), a platform for collaboration to protect the right to education during the pandemic and beyond.
The coalition brings together more than 175 members from the UN family, civil society, academia, and the private sector focusing on three key issues, namely connectivity, teachers, and gender to ensure continuous access to education for all.
As we now begin to re-imagine education in a post-COVID-19 world, we must remember that renewed cooperation between governments and the private sector can go a long way in combating this crisis. Through our partnership with Uber, we wish to acknowledge the continued commitment of teachers to their students and their critical role in contributing to the achievement of the 2030 targets under Sustainable Development Goal 4.
In this crisis, teachers have shown great leadership and innovation in ensuring that #LearningNeverStops, and that no learner is left behind. They have also helped in communicating measures that prevent the spread of the virus and providing assistance to ensure the mental well-being of all children. An accelerated vaccination process will enable them to stand fully ready when schools reopen.
Eric Falt is the Director and Representativeof the UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office covering Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka