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Background Paper: Distance Education in Emergencies

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This Background Paper covers specific challenges, lessons learned, practices, and actions to consider when aiming to provide quality, principles-based distance education (DE) in emergencies. The paper considers inclusion and equity to be key guiding principles for education in general and calls for their application across all education modalities, including DE.

This paper presents

• useful ideas and actions for planning, offering, or monitoring and evaluating DE in emergencies, accompanied by examples of possible adaptations of key actions in various situations to account for the wide range of contexts in which emergencies occur

• background information and definitions to enhance clarity for all readers; and

• advice on three focus areas: Teacher Professional Development in DE, technology for education, and enabling policies for DE in emergencies; this advice is complemented by evidence-based recommendations for tackling practical difficulties


Altamont Group, working in consultation with the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) Distance Education Reference Group (DERG), adopted a participatory and collaborative process that allowed, to the extent possible, DERG members’ involvement in collecting resources in the development phases of the paper. The Altamont Group team used multiple qualitative methods: an initial reflection workshop with DERG members; a mapping of nearly 341 resources; a literature review of 70 documents; and 20 semi-structured interviews with key experts, including several DERG members.


The objectives of this paper are as follows:

• Identify major challenges, opportunities, lessons learned, and the most frequently applied DE practices

• Present quick guidance tips on three focus areas of DE strategies: Teacher Professional Development, technology for education, and enabling policies for DE in emergencies

• Present a mapping of existing resources on DE in emergencies


The audience of this paper is all stakeholders of DE in emergencies, including:

• Education authorities at the national and local levels

• National and local NGOs

• Community-based organizations, including parent-teacher associations and school-based management committees, which are also called school management committees

• Formally employed teachers and volunteers

• Education institution administrators and staff members

• Education in emergencies practitioners, such as INGOs that provide DE in emergencies and their staff members

• Researchers

• Donors

• Engineers of education technology

• The private sector


This paper is composed of an overview, followed by strategies to ensure that quality, safe, relevant, and equitable DE is provided as required to all individuals affected by emergencies. These strategies are in keeping with the three focus areas: Teacher Professional Development, technology for education, and enabling policies for DE in emergencies.
Each focus area is addressed in a separate section.

The section for each focus area concludes with a checklist of key things to consider in the five-phase process cycle: (1) readiness, (2) planning, (3) implementation, (4) the transition to blended or face-to-face learning, and (5) monitoring and evaluation. This paper recommends that readers take time to reflect on all five phases, from the readiness of all actors involved in the planning to the implementation, including an integrated transitional phase, and on to incorporating monitoring and evaluation into the other phases mentioned. Taking time to reflect increases the ability to ensure that quality DE in emergencies is provided to all who are affected by emergencies, especially the most vulnerable learners.

This paper is accompanied by annexes which provide definitions of key terms used in DE; resources to help structure a DE intervention and tips specifically for DE teachers.