On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, to be a pandemic. It was expected that a considerable proportion of the world population would be infected. Various countries around the world declared a state of emergency and announced guidelines and restrictions to ensure social distancing aimed at limiting the spread of the disease. According to UNESCO at the time of writing, over 130 countries around the world had closed down their entire education system and over 1.37 billion schoolchildren were not in any educational institution. The closure of these education systems has significant implications for the lives of all students and their parents, but it is particularly difficult for children with disabilities and their families.
The current report is a review of the education system in the context of children with disabilities and the support that they and their families have been receiving during the pandemic, focusing on several key countries and states (Argentina, the United States [New York and California], England, Germany, Spain and Australia [New South Wales]). We selected countries and states where we were able to find significant information about children with disabilities (either on the internet or through personal contacts), with an emphasis on countries where the incidence of the pandemic was more widespread than in Israel (Spain, England, the USA and Germany), but also including examples of countries where there were fewer infections and deaths. (In Australia, the absolute number of infections and deaths was very similar to that in Israel, but the per capita rate was lower. In Argentina, the numbers were considerably lower.)
The review was based largely on open sources (websites, official documents, and media reports). The main findings are detailed below and in a table in the appendix of the Hebrew report. The detailed findings for each country and state also appear in the Hebrew report.
- The countries in the review have guidelines specifically for children with disabilities.
- In all of the countries, the education system has switched to teaching on various digital platforms (some of them even use public television in order to reach children who do not have a computer or internet access). Some children with disabilities have technical and objective difficulties with this type of learning.
- The use of digital platforms is intended primarily for study, but also for socioemotional support.
- In some of the countries, the special education system is continuing to operate on a limited basis for certain groups, such as children with complex needs and children with disabilities whose parents have been defined as essential workers.
- Some of the countries addressed parents of children with disabilities and ways that they can help their children.
- In some countries children with disabilities continue to receive treatment and support in their homes or remotely.
- In addition to school closures, all the countries recommended that grandparents should not help care for children, as older people are at particularly high risk of developing the disease severely. This reduces the family support network, making it difficult for parents of children with disabilities to cope with the care of their children and the emotional burden.
 Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse (March 25, 2020)
 Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/news/137-billion-students-now-home-covid-19-school-closures-expand-ministers-scale-multimedia (March 25, 2020)
For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in English, press here.
For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in Hebrew, press here.