School Reopening in Africa during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Highlights series #AfricaCovidBack2SchoolReport

At the École du Centre in Conakry, the teacher points the thermometer at the forehead of a young school girl to take her temperature. Photo: GPE/Tabassy Baro

GPE partner countries in Africa have endured successive waves of COVID-19. After a first round of reopenings in 2020, several countries subsequently closed some or all schools for a second or third time, owing to a rapid rise in the number of cases. Full reopening of schools did not take place in most GPE countries until the first quarter of 2021.


This report is an output of the Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) COVID-19 Observatory and aims to provide policymakers in GPE partner countries with actionable evidence to inform their decisions about school reopenings. It synthesizes available policy and practice evidence on school reopening in 40 African partner countries of the Global Partnership for Education. It also addresses how the education needs of vulnerable and marginalized children – especially girls, displaced children, and those living in poverty – are being addressed in reopening strategies. It identifies common challenges facing educators as they try to safely reopen and address the learning needs of all children. The report highlights emerging evidence on reopening in the context COVID-19, and it concludes with six recommendations for GPE partner countries and development actors.

School Reopening Measures during COVID-19 

Synthesis results show that school reopening policies and practices in the 40 GPE partner countries in Africa have focused mainly on four key interrelated areas: 

  • Frameworks for decision-making regarding the reopening; 
  • Back-to-school campaigns to encourage all learners to return; 
  • Health-related responses for school reopening; and 
  • Adaptations to learning after school reopening. 

Challenges in School Reopening

Countries have faced numerous challenges as they approach the reopening of their education systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. Key challenges include:

  • Fears regarding the safety of children and their teachers;
  • Inadequate financing to facilitate compliance with Ministry of Health protocols, and a growing financial burden on parents facing additional fees;
  • Infrastructure unsuited to ensuring social distancing and hygiene in schools already overcrowded;
  • Pre-existing policies that prevent the smooth reintegration of pregnant school girls and other vulnerable learner groups; and
  • A lack of adequate data (including gender-disaggregated data) and tracking of student progress.


To mitigate the challenges brought on by the pandemic, strengthen education system resilience, and support greater inclusion of vulnerable populations during school reopening, we recommend GPE partner countries and development actors consider the following measures: 

  1. Contingency planning needs to be strengthened to better respond to future education disruptions and ensure that response plans reflect the most current research evidence and best practices. 
  2. School reopening strategies and practices in GPE partner countries must take into account the particular needs of the most vulnerable learners, who face extra barriers in returning to school. School policies and support systems should be flexible enough to welcome the return of pregnant teen girls and young mothers and mitigate against future disruptions of their learning. 
  3. Sub-national authorities in GPE partner countries should consider fostering collaboration among schools so they can learn from each other’s experiences in adapting learning strategies and protocols. 
  4. GPE partner countries should do what they can to ensure that low-fee private schools do not go under. Expanding or opening new public schools would also help to meet the escalating demand for schools and help address the issue of overcrowding. 
  5. Infrastructure support to schools is needed to enable them to adhere to public health protocols and meet distancing requirements as learners return to school. 
  6. Teachers need a range of additional support to ensure their health and safety and guide them through the many teaching and learning adaptations being put in place. This may include additional professional development opportunities, psychosocial support and prioritizing teachers for vaccination.