Learning in the time of the Coronavirus crisis

The workshop for teachers which are usually held in person at the UN in Vienna, has been moved online, due to the COVID-19 measures in Austrian and at the Vienna International Centre. On May 12, 2020, UNIS Vienna, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Austria, and the University College of Teacher Education in Vienna (PH Wien) held the online workshop on Teaching the UN and Sustainable Development, briefing the teachers on different pedagogical methods and tools to engage children with the work of the United Nations and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The past few months have been extraordinarily challenging for all teachers. All Austrian schools have been closed since the middle of March and will only gradually re-open in the months of May and June. During this time, teachers have been asked to give children tasks they can cope with at home on their own. In some cases, especially for those in the upper grades, the assignments are accompanied with online teaching. This digital exchange, however, becomes difficult when teaching the younger children. "The majority of my students does not have a digital device on their own, in some families there is no computer available at home," says a primary school teacher from Vienna whose students are between 6 and 10 years old. So this is the challenge for teachers to ensure that critical classroom content is still being delivered to the children.

"It is corona. The children have to stayathome [sic]. There is a big confusion," writes the teacher's second-grade student in his exercise book. For children, it is not easy to understand the abrupt break in their daily routine. So how best to explain COVID-19 to children? Even if the epidemiological background is complex, the young schoolchildren do understand that a virus that started to spread in far-away China, now has an impact on their own lives in Austria. They also grasp that everyone can help to stop the virus from spreading further, through their own behavior. These observations show that on the one hand, people worldwide are strongly interconnected and on the other hand, that we all need to cooperate because every single contribution counts.

To strengthen this insight and build on it, teachers can see themselves as a positive amplifier. The socio-political issues that have arisen from the pandemic can serve as a source of reflection and discussion. "It is not necessarily negative that the content of what is being taught has changed, due to the current situation. As teacher I consider it as part of my job to address the needs of my students in a flexible way and touch upon the current topics in society," says the teacher.

To do so, she asked the children to draw the world as they would wish it to be and think about their own sense of responsibility for the future of our world. Her students drew happy animals in a healthy environment, beautiful landscapes, people walking hand in hand as well as recycling bins and robots that fight against evil forces to save the planet. In the children's artwork, many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as Climate Action, Life on Land and Partnerships for the Goals, were reflected.

To learn more about the SDGs, they also played the board-game called 'Go Goals!, developed by the United Nations Regional Information Centre (UNRIC) in Brussels. The goal of the game is to correctly answer as many questions as possible about the goals, encouraging children to become responsible world citizens. The game is available for free and can be downloaded at More teaching resources are available here.

Another way for the children to reflect on the future of our world is through taking part in the global conversation, launched by the United Nations to mark its 75th anniversary in 2020. Everyone is encouraged to take part in a one-minute online survey or in an online dialogue to share their thoughts on questions such as: What kind of future do we want to create? Are we on track? What action is needed to bridge the gap? The survey is available in more than 50 languages. There is more information on the online dialogues and how to submit the outcome can be found on All submissions will be gathered and presented to world leaders and senior UN officials at the official commemoration of the 75th Anniversary by the UN General Assembly in September 2020. You can find more information here.

When Austrian primary school children eventually start going back to classes from mid-May onwards, they will have been away from school for over two months but it does not mean they have learned less. They have learned different things and in different ways. In their classrooms they will meet their schoolmates again and talk about their experience including how they imagine the future of the world to be.