Educational challenges in San Marino: COVID’s Impact

Written by Eliana Riggi

Background: COVID-19 pandemic impact on school systems around the world

The coronavirus, emerging in the first months of 2020, spread rapidly across countries, and it constituted an unprecedented challenge with which the entire world had to grapple. The pandemic had all-encompassing consequences for societies and states. Not only did it put a strain on national healthcare systems, but it also affected vital policy areas such as education.

Policies and frameworks were adapted to the new reality for national educational systems to be resilient. Governments devised and implemented ad hoc measures to hamper the transmission of the virus and guarantee the right to education simultaneously. School closures soon became a standard practice among countries, and they peaked in April 2020, affecting over 1.6 billion learners worldwide.

To ensure educational continuity, states transitioned from in-person instruction towards distance teaching and learning, extensively using tools such as broadcast media (radio, TV), take-home material packages and online learning platforms. Due to the emergency context, the transition was swift in many cases, but it did require tailored and adequate support to teachers, students and families. Furthermore, quarantines and virus containment measures led to reformed learning assessment methods and high-stakes examinations.

When a lessening of COVID-19 allowed for school reopening, the Ministry of Education coordinated with the rest of government representatives to make that safe. By and large, schools began to reopen in September 2020. Despite this, countries decided on criteria governing future school closures.

Inevitably, the pandemic had adverse effects on learning opportunities and effectiveness. Not every student accessed remote learning because of child labour, connectivity gaps and gender inequality. Thereby, minimum learning losses were unavoidable. In an attempt to mitigate these losses, funds were provided to boost internet access and, at a later time, remedial programmes were introduced. Even after school reopening, an increase in dropout and disengagement rates was observed, especially for students belonging to low-income or rural households. [[i]]

Mental issues affecting learners:  a call to action

Therefore, it seems evident that returning to in-person instruction is not enough to make COVID-19 consequences disappear. What is more, school is not only about learning, but it is also where personal development takes place. Schooling helps children and youth forge their values, ideas, interests, social skills and career aspirations, to name but a few. For this reason, the well-being of learners is essential to safeguard their right to education.

Undoubtedly, the mental health of students, teachers, parents and caregivers has been impacted by the pandemic.  Not only did the pandemic cause mental health issues, but it also exacerbated those already present.

School closures, social isolation, health risks and the death of loved ones have had severe psychological implications on learners. Indeed, children and youth were deprived of the interpersonal dimension of everyday life and could only enjoy face-to-face relationships with family members unless they were infected.  A screen became the only way to communicate and to see faces without masks. [[ii]] Moreover, the stress linked to economic instability and educational disruptions fostered a feeling of uncertainty about studies, aspirations, and school-to-work transition, creating the perception of a hopeless future. [[iii]]   

Critically, students were subjected to pandemic restrictions, but they did not engage in the decision-making processes. Even though they should have had a say in education policies, they could not easily make their voice heard, undermining their self-confidence. [[iv]]  

Extensive literature underlines the need to address learners’ mental issues and advocates the provision of support services to students. Since lockdowns, governments, especially in high-income countries, have acted by setting up hotlines, recruiting counsellors or launching projects facilitating students sharing feelings and concerns. [[v]]

As learning and personal development are strongly intertwined, the Council of Europe has promoted the historical study of crises in schools to help students understand how their peers reacted and felt in the past. Thus, studying history may create a sense of unity and empathy. [[vi]]

In the drawing, we read “Facciamoci contagiare… dai buoni sentimenti!” (Let good feelings contaminate us!). Lower-secondary school students made this and many more drawings during school closures. Picture by Scuola Media della Repubblica di San Marino via Facebook.

Education responses to the pandemic-resulted predicament in San Marino

The Republic of San Marino executed its plan to cope with the pandemic first and foremost by means of nationwide school closures from 23 February to 10 June 2020, but the closures continued until the end of August because of the usual summer academic break. [[vii]] In view of the unfolding pandemic, a mixed approach between in-person instruction and remote learning was adopted. Then, there were only partial school closures during the academic year 2020/2021. To sum up, from March 2020 to August 2021, 4,170 learners were affected by school closures, and most of them belonged to lower- and upper-secondary education levels.

As a result of school closures, authorities opted for a distance learning strategy employing online learning platforms for all education levels. Remote learning required the government to provide teachers with instructions on remote teaching, pedagogy workshops, ICT tools and free connectivity while enabling them to teach from school premises. The coverage of online learning platforms was crucial to safeguard the right to education and educational continuity for all learners. Hence, the distance learning strategy embraced policies that did pay attention to students with disabilities. The latter could attend courses on school premises and were supported with tailored materials. For instance, sign language was included in online learning programmes. Schools committed to offering vulnerable households internet subscriptions and devices at subsidised or zero costs to foster students’ access to connectivity.

A monitoring process was facilitated by observing students’ participation in online classes, their scheduled delivery of assignments, and their participation in written and oral tests. It is confirmed that more than 75 % of students attended distance learning during school closures. More importantly, the collaboration and mutual support between schools and families was enhanced through follow-up practices such as phone calls, instant messaging, emailing, videoconferencing and running household surveys on remote learning strategies.

As regards high-stake examinations for the secondary level, they were not cancelled or postponed, but they took place only via online-based oral tests, and they assessed reduced curriculum content.

As the academic year 2019/2020 was profoundly impacted by the coronavirus disease, the school calendar for the subsequent academic year 2020/2021 was adjusted with the start date on 1 September 2020, two weeks ahead of the previous schedule. The government preferred not to extend the duration of classes or the content of curricula. Learning assessments were organised at the classroom level to address learning losses, and authorities decided to launch remedial programmes in primary- and secondary-level schools as of September 2020.

After school reopening, students’ participation was monitored, and it showed that 100 % of students had attended school since September 2020, except for upper-secondary level schools where attendance share was more than 75% but not 100%. The return to in-person instruction was combined with health and hygiene precautionary measures. In the first place, hand-washing practice, using masks, temperature checks, equipment disinfection and the tracking of COVID-19-infected or exposed people were furthered and supervised by school committees. Moreover, adjustments to school and classroom physical arrangements, reducing or suspending extra-curricular activities, and combining remote and in-person learning were the most widely enforced measures. Teaching in schools’ outdoor places was encouraged in pre-primary and primary schools, whereas the progressive return of students divided into age-based cohorts concerned only pre-primary schools. Finally, classroom attendance scheduled in shifts was promoted exclusively in lower- and upper-secondary schools.

Since the pandemic had far-reaching consequences on education, the Republic of San Marino could rely on additional funds to recruit non-teaching safety personnel in all schools and teachers in pre-primary and primary schools in the academic year 2020/2021. However, only reallocations within the ordinary or even reduced education budget allowed the government to increase the education staff compensation, student loans and scholarships.

In addition to the policies implemented for school reopening, the government determined coronavirus national prevalence rates as the criterion for closing schools again. [[viii]]

The well-being of San Marino students: concerns and efforts

In San Marino’s statement, delivered during the 2022 Transforming Education Summit, the then-heads of State, the Captains Regent of the Republic of San Marino, Mr Oscar Mina II and Mr Paolo Rondelli I, recognised the two main functions of education: learning and personal development. In this respect, they declared the state’s willingness to continue abiding by the principles of equality and inclusiveness. Concerning COVID-19, they emphasise the pandemic consequences on students’ mental health and the educational system’s commitment to standing up to those. [[ix]]

Accordingly, San Marino authorities have been putting great effort into supporting students’ psychological well-being so far. During nationwide school closures, online counselling and teacher assistants lent learners a hand in facing pandemic hard times. In 2021, counselling points were arranged in secondary schools and the Centro di formazione professionale (vocational training centre).

The provision of assistance soon revealed the worrisome framework compounded by the pandemic. During the academic years 2020/2021 and 2021/2022, more than 130 students turned to the counselling services. Issues such as fear, anxiety, problematic anger management, eating and mood disorders, panic attacks, bullying and self-harm were detected. In some cases, they led to truancy and dropout. [[x]] As well, manifold addictions rose during the pandemic and after. Among them, social media, drug, and video game addictions have been widespread.The reason why COVID-19 has aggravated addictions lies in the fact that vulnerabilities consolidated while learners were suffering isolation. Consequently, youth specifically deemed social media, drugs or video games as an escape hatch from the gloomy reality. [[xi]]

Along with counselling services in secondary schools, authorities approved several projects for caring for children in pre-primary and primary schools. Both in 2021 and 2022, artists, teachers and doctors engaged together in school projects. The Giornata degli abbracci (Hugs Day) was outstanding among the initiatives. Considering that the pandemic had altered children’s emotional balance, the Giornata degli abbracci, which took place on 9 June 2022, aimed at restoring mutual trust, solidarity and good mood. [[xii]]  

In December 2022, the government went one step further. After that, citizens called for the direct democracy mechanism Istanza d’ Arengo, a new professional figure, was established. Doctor Rosita Guidi has been appointed as a school psychologist. The school psychologist services are aimed at students of every level, from pre-primary to secondary schools and the vocational training centre. Dr Rosita Guidi can handle counselling requests from students, parents/caregivers, teachers and school committees. If the request concerns a minor, parents’ consent is compulsory.

The school psychologist comes to the aid of learners, teachers and families to promote the well-being of children and youth. When necessary, the undertaking of therapy paths may be suggested. [[xiii]] Although the school psychologist can easily be contacted (directly and via email), schools endorse additional methods due to privacy considerations. For instance, lower-secondary school students can request by inserting a note filled with personal and contact information in a sealed box.

The psychological support service has been warmly welcomed, given that, from December 2022 to April 2023, 60 requests were sent. [[xiv]]   

With regard to students’ voice expression, San Marino has embarked on a renovation process planning to upgrade school curricula with interdisciplinarity, digital and citizenship competencies. The latter is meant to enhance the culture of peace, the education for sustainable development, human rights and gender education. Through this enrichment, students are on the right path to taking responsibility, raising their self-confidence and becoming active citizens in the democratic framework. [[xv]]


Two years after the pandemic outbreak, during the 2022 Transforming Education Summit, 57 % of governments stated the need to support the psycho-social well-being of students and teachers. Along the same line, international organisations and experts have incited states to invest steadily significant and adequate resources in supporting learners’ mental health. [[xvi]] Schools play a crucial role in this sensitive domain, and their role is all the more important if families do not notice psychological distress or underestimate it. San Marino has endeavoured to make the national educational system resilient to the pandemic, and its achievements have been relevant. Specifically, new counselling services have contributed to the country’s journey towards transformed education. It would be worthwhile to fund these services to a greater extent. Also, psychology training for all education staff has been proposed. [[xvii]] For all these reasons, even if San Marino’s educational transformation process is relatively recent, it is promising.

Cover Image via Wikimedia Commons


[[i]] Soroptimist International (2021, March). Solidarity of NGOs facing the pandemic: education ; UNESCO, UNICEF, The World Bank (2020, October). What have we learnt? Overview of findings from a survey of ministries of education on national responses to COVID-19,by%20teachers%20and%20were%20more; UNESCO, UNICEF, The World Bank and OECD (2021, June). What’s next? Lessons on Education Recovery: Findings from a Survey of Ministries of Education amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

[[ii]] Giannini, S. (2020, April). Prioritise health and well-being now and when schools reopen. UNESCO; World Health Organization (2022, June). The impact of COVID-19 on mental health cannot be made light of

[[iii]] International Labour Organization, AIESEC, European Union, European Youth Forum, UN Major Group for Children and Youth, UN OHCHR (2020, August). Youth & COVID-19: Impacts on jobs, education, rights and mental well-being—ed_emp/documents/publication/wcms_753026.pdf 

[[iv]] UNESCO, Council of Europe (2021, November). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student voice, Findings and recommendations

[[v]] UNESCO (2021, March). One year into COVID: Prioritising education recovery to avoid a generational catastrophe, Report of UNESCO Online Conference ; UNESCO, Council of Europe (2021, November). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student voice, Findings and recommendations; UNESCO, UNICEF, The World Bank and OECD (2021, June). What’s next? Lessons on Education Recovery: Findings from a Survey of Ministries of Education amid the COVID-19 Pandemic 

[[vi]] Council of Europe (2020, October). Making the right to education a reality in times of COVID-19, A Roadmap for Action on the Council of Europe education response to COVID-19

[[vii]] Pre-primary school closures lasted until 7 June 2020, and the academic year 2019/2020 was extended just for them. School closures-related data can be visualised in interactive maps in the UNESCO Web Archive at the following address:

[[viii]] The information given in this section is contained in San Marino’s responses to the first and third rounds of the four-round Surveyon national Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures. The first and third rounds of the survey were conducted respectively from May to June 2020 and from February to April 2021. The reader may find more detailed information about the four-round Surveyon national Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures at the following address:

[[ix]] San Marino (2022, September). National Declaration of Commitment at the 2022 Transforming Education Summit . More about governments’ declarations of commitment at the 2022 Transforming Education Summit can be read at the following address:

[[x]] Salvatori, L. (2022, April). Disagio giovanile: con la pandemia, quasi quadruplicati i nuovi casi. San Marino RTV

[[xi]] Camparsi, M. L. (2023, February). Disagio giovanile e dipendenze preadolescenziali: una giornata di formazione a San Marino. San Marino RTV

[[xii]] Giornata degli Abbracci: importante momento di condivisione per la fine della scuola. (2022, June). San Marino RTV

[[xiii]] More details concerning the school psychologist services are available in the national education portal called Portale dell’ Educazione della Repubblica di San Marino at the following address:

[[xiv]] Giuccioli, A. (2023, April). Lo psicologo entra a scuola in aiuto di giovani e famiglie. In tre mesi oltre 60 richieste. San Marino RTV

[[xv]] San Marino (2022, September). National Declaration of Commitment at the 2022 Transforming Education Summit

[[xvi]] Giannini, S. (2020, April). Prioritise health and well-being now and when schools reopen. UNESCO; World Health Organization (2022, June). The impact of COVID-19 on mental health cannot be made light of ; United Nations (2023, January). Report on the 2022 Transforming Education Summit  ; World Health Organization (2022, March). Young people leading the way to a brighter post-COVID world

[[xvii]] Camparsi, M. L. (2023, February). Disagio giovanile e dipendenze preadolescenziali: una giornata di formazione a San Marino. San Marino RTV

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