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Researching the Impact of School Closures on Children in Humanitarian Settings: A Multi-Country Study

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Participatory Research in Three Countries: Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Lebanon 

This is a collaborative research project led by Proteknôn on behalf of the Alliance in partnership with the INEE. National implementing partners include BIFERD (DRC), CINDE (Colombia) and Dr. Bassel Akar (Lebanon). The project is generously funded by Porticus and UNICEF

Goal: To better ensure that children are at the centre of planning processes during infectious disease outbreaks.


Key Research Questions: In humanitarian and crisis contexts, how have school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic affected:

  • education inequalities? 

  • child protection risk and protective factors?

  • adverse outcomes for children?

The research methods are qualitative and participatory to ensure that the findings are informed by the experiences and perspectives of children, their families, educators, and the social service workforce. They include: key informant interviews (global, national); workshops with children; focus groups with caregivers, educators, and members of the social service workforce; and semi-structured interviews with children.

The methodology is inclusive and rights based:

  • active inclusion of voices of those at the margins of society

  • gendered, intergeneration, child rights-based analysis 

  • target of15% of research sample to be children/adults with range of disabilities

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DRC (UNICEF//UN0421476/Wenga)

Project Timeline

Explore the Project Timeline by hovering over each coloured segment and find out more about each phase of the project! 

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Lebanon (UNICEF/UNI317998/Choufany)

Phase 2: Primary Research and Analysis

  • ​Key Informant Interviews (global and national)

  • Primary research in 2 sites per country

  • Translation and data analysis

  • Data validation and advocacy planning workshops with children and adult participants

  • Validation workshops with decision-makers

Phase 1:  Research Planning

  • Identify research countries and partners

  • Inception report/methodology

  • Carry out research ethics and permit process processes

  • Co-develop, translate & pilot research tools

  • Identify research sites / participants

  • Train national teams on ethics, methods

Phase 3: Writing, dissemination and advocacy

  • Report writing, country-level summary writing

  • Finalize reports, country-level summaries, and advocacy briefs 

  • Support local advocacy strategy

  • Create joint dissemination plan

  • Dissemination activities (i.e., report launch, webinars)

January - April 2021

May - December 2021

November 2021 - April 2022


Progress Dashboard

This dashboard will be updated as the research phases continue. Last updated on 09/03/2022.

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Colombia (UNICEF/UN0413021/Romero)

Explore the 90 documents consulted for the Annotated Bibliography

Research Updates

Last updated on 09/02/2022.


  • In  December  2021, all primary schools reopened in DRC following a discussion between education and government stakeholders. 

  • Validation workshops have been conducted with research participants in the two sites where primary data collection took place. 

  • Additional survey questionnaires were administered using Kobo, including with displacement children and parents, as well as educators. 


  • The pandemic has revealed historical and structural inequalities in the educational system that negatively affect access to quality education for a significant proportion of children. 

  • School closures have negatively affected the mental health of children, youth, and their families, in particular because it put the responsibility on children to keep up by learning remotely (with or without access to technology) or fail the year. 

  • Child and youth protection risk factors and adverse outcomes increased as a result of school closures. Specifically, domestic violence, school dropout, and child and youth labour increased, and support networks weakened. 

  • There has been a lack of coordination between government, schools, and civil society that has hindered the design and successful implementation of strategies aimed at mitigating the negative effects of the pandemic and school closures. 

Lebanon: ​

  • The COVID-19 pandemic was compounded with the economic crash and political collapse that has pushed nearly 80% of the people under the poverty line. 

  • School closures in Lebanon have lasted nearly two years, leaving nearly a two-year learning loss of basic concepts.

  • The compounded crises in Lebanon has also amplified existing injustices such as having even less affordable transportation needed to go to school and other social services. 

  • Formal schooling has become less available, where the youngest students have been the most marginalized as they were given last priority to use digital tools to access learning at home. 

  • Children and their caregivers have therefore shifted into survival mode and are turning to paid work opportunities (child labor) and marriage (early marriage). Any return to learning is likely to be seen as a financial cost for many.

  • Provisions of non-formal education have emerged as the only available form of education, especially for children from forcibly displaced families (e.g. Syrian and Palestinian).  


Timeline of School Closures

Academic Break: Schools across the country are on scheduled academic breaks for most or all the student population. All instructional activities are suspended during this period.

Fully Open: Schools are open and deliver classes exclusively face-to-face for most or all of the student population. 

Partially Open: Schools are: (a) open in certain regions and closed in others; and/or (b) open for some grades, levels, or age groups and closed for others; and/or (c) open with reduced in-person class time, combined with distance learning (hybrid approach).

Closed due to COVID-19: Government-mandated closures of educational institutions affecting most or all of the student population. 

Source: UNESCO's global monitoring of school closures due to COVID-19, Updated on 17 June 2021

Special thanks to Thu Truong and UNESCO for providing the above Timeline of School Closures, to find out more about UNESCO's global monitoring of school closures, click here.


Emerging Findings: 

  • In humanitarian spaces, COVID-19 and school closures have had serious impacts on children’s wellbeing. But in settings where there are compounding crises (conflict, natural disasters, poverty, etc.), COVID-related school closures have not necessarily had a defining influence on children’s wellbeing; rather, closures have been an additional risk factor, exacerbating other stressors with negative impacts on both the immediate and longer term.


  • COVID-19 is often defined exclusively as a health emergency, so school closures happen swiftly to prevent transmission. In this process, there has been a limited awareness of the child protection risks that arise and are made worse by lockdowns and school closures. There has also been a limited focus on how to prevent and mitigate risks, which have been evident in the increase in violence and other protection issues that have affected young people since the beginning of the pandemic. 

  • School closures have deprived children of more than their right to learn and a ‘safe space’; they have also cut off vital services, including referral pathways that provide children with protection services (including mental health and psychosocial support) and nutritional support, such as school feeding programs. Home confinement due to school closures also negatively impacts the mental health of children and their families.

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Special thanks to Hannah Huber, Lotte Kallio and Sara Argyriadis with the Living Labs programme at the University of Groningen for their efforts to develop this website. 

The themes reported here are based upon preliminary analysis and should not be quoted or cited. For more information about this project, please contact: