Resilience and Self-reliance: Early Lessons from the Education Response to COVID-19
This blog post was originally published by FHI 360 in August 2020.
The global education community has had to respond very quickly to the COVID-19 crisis that is not only destabilizing school systems but also threatens to lose the progress made in improving access to school and learning outcomes. In most countries affected by the virus, education ministries and service providers have turned to technology, working with radio and television stations, telecommunication companies, and web-based learning platforms to mitigate the impact of loss on students. While data and information on these new education channels are still becoming available, different strategies and outcomes used in two USAID-funded programs implemented by FHI 360 are also emerging: embedding resilience and self-reliance as winning strategies.
In Guatemala, Jamaica, and Honduras the Advance program quickly pivoted to help vulnerable youth who were enrolled in technical degree programs at universities to continue their studies remotely, finish their course of studies and/or internships, and to graduate. Advance helped with connectivity, topped up the students’ phone cards, and provided virtual follow-up sessions and support to ensure that students would not drop out. In some cases, Advance worked with university staff to keep providing career services and job preparation sessions virtually, so that students could still enter the job market as planned. As a result, the teaching, coaching and support by university and technical training staff continued despite the COVID-19 crisis and most students continued their course of studies. Resilience was immediately built into the programmatic response, helping youth, educators, and education services rebound from the shock of the disruption and mitigating the fears of a years’ education lost. The next challenge was to ensure that students could graduate on time. Advance worked with universities to host virtual and small in-person ceremonies in June, respecting social distancing guidelines per government regulations. Courses, training, coaching, and job preparation activities continue to this day.
In Ghana, the USAID Partnership for Education: Learning activity, designed to improve literacy and numeracy in early primary grades, worked with the Ghana Education Service and affiliated partners to quickly shift to radio instruction in English and the 11 official Ghanaian languages of instruction for kindergarten through fourth-grade students. The Ghana Education Service, in collaboration with the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, started airing interactive and easy-to-follow reading lessons in June of 2020. It soon became the Ghana National Radio Reading Program, offering nationwide coverage. The game changer came from education officials who treated the pandemic response as an opportunity to build resilience within the Ministry of Education. They developed new skillsets for planning and implementing distance education resulting in new teaching and learning modalities. The Ghana Education Service plans to strategically place all the radio lessons in the Ghana Digital Library for online access during COVID-19. Should another emergency come up that closes the 25,000 primary schools in the country again, the radio lessons will be immediately retrieved and used so that children may continue to learn how to read.
In both cases the pivoting process and the reallocation of resources were swift. Communication and collaboration with the host government entities occurred at the very beginning, laying the foundation for system’s resilience. The individual attention given to simple but real hurdles like topping up a phone card meant that youth were immediately able to rebound and build resiliency to continue their education. As more lessons are learned from the education response to COVID-19, the principles of resilience and self-reliance may well be the starting points that can help challenge future disruptions.