4 Ways to “Build Back Better” for a Quality Education
COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in how we organize education. When the pandemic hit, 1.6 billion students were suddenly unable to go to school. For many children and adolescents, this meant no learning at all. For others, remote instruction, either online or by radio or television, has helped them keep up with the curriculum.
The effectiveness of remote learning varies widely across countries and education districts, and we won’t know until school resumes what children actually learned during homeschooling. What’s certain is that learners from the poorest families in both developed and developing countries are getting the least amount of remote instruction. (Read our previous blog on this topic.)
It’s unclear what the new normal will be when COVID-19 recedes. There are many questions: How can schools – in many cases already overcrowded – ensure physical distancing? Will there be a second wave of COVID-19? And if so, will schools have to shut down again? How many children will not return to school at all, even when it is safe to do so? Will remote instruction become more commonplace? If so, how can we make it more widely available and more effective, and how can education systems support teachers who are navigating this new reality?
Looking to the future, 60 million girls is assessing how to best address the needs of learners who have fallen behind. On a larger scale, part of the solution will be for education systems to “build back better” so that they can more effectively address the needs of children who were not learning even before the pandemic.
Equity and equality in education
Equity is a key consideration. Children in the most vulnerable situations will need extra help. This includes children from poor families living in rural areas, children with a handicap as well as migrant and refugee children.
There is also the issue of equality of opportunity. Even before COVID-19, 258 million children and adolescents were out of school. Millions more who were in school were not learning the basics. Estimates from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics suggest that around 90% of second graders in sub-Saharan Africa cannot read, write or complete a simple math problem. Schools are failing them.
And, while much progress has been made on gender equality in school enrollment, girls are still more likely to drop out during the transition years from primary to secondary school. This is now truer than ever.
The Malala Fund estimates that 10 million girls won’t go back to the classroom once schools re-open. At the same time, Girls not Brides estimates that the current crisis will lead to an increase in child marriage. Communities and families will need extra support so their daughters can stay in school.
A Framework for Reopening Schools, compiled by UNICEF, UNESCO the World Bank and the World Food Programme, looks at what it will take to get to a new normal is both more equal and equitable.
We have isolated 4 issues from this Framework that we think are crucial to building back better.
1. Community outreach
Reopening Framework: “Education authorities should strengthen communication and coordination mechanisms that promote local dialogue and engagement with communities, parents, and children on education matters.”
Ensuring that girls and women are consulted and part of the decision-making process for education is crucial. Community support for girls’ clubs can strengthen family resolve to keep daughters in school, and provide girls with learning resources after school, or during a crisis. For example, our project with Crossroads International put in place Mobile Learning Labs (MLLs) in girls’ clubs in Togo to provide adolescents with information on sexual and reproductive health along with academic subjects.
2. Remedial education and accelerated programs
Reopening Framework: “Consider universal promotion wherever possible and assess students’ level of learning following school closures to inform remedial efforts.”
When children do return to school, many will be behind academically. Remedial and accelerated learning programs will be critical to getting children – especially girls – back on track and learning at grade level. In 2018, we worked with CODE on remedial education for teenage girls in Liberia. Due to the success of the program, we are are funding them again this year. Now, this work is more important than ever.
3. Remote learning capacity
Re-opening Framework: “increase investments in remote learning (1) to prepare for future rounds of school closings (2) to strengthen teaching and learning where closers remain in effect and (3) to supplement instructional hours with a blended model where schools may be operating on partial or otherwise adapted schedules.”
Children need to have access to quality learning materials. A number of our partners have recently set up MLLs and we have advised others on how to implement this technology.
The MLL is based on a RACHEL, a small server – fitting into the palm of your hand – that holds data and can connect up to 50 tablets or laptops. The content is available offline so there is no need for an Internet connection.
4. Teacher training and support
Re-opening Framework: “Implement innovative teacher support methods, such as online professional development coaching, or use of tutors to help bring capacity development efforts to scale more rapidly.”
When online teacher training is not available, the MLL can host offline tutorials. World Possible Guatemala has created a 5-hour course in Spanish to train teachers in up-to-date pedagogical techniques. 60 million girls’ president and founder, Wanda Bedard, got to see the impact firsthand when she visited Guatemala in September last year.
Re-opening schools in a way that meets students at their individual learning levels, and that provides extra resources to teachers who may have to deal with children at different stages of learning, will be crucial to ensuring that all students are able to advance and succeed in school.
Deploying technology so that it reaches all learners is ultimately the way forward. All children must have the ability to keep learning and teachers need the training to make it possible.