Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated the challenges faced everyday by families across the world who are living in poverty. Our organization Kizazi exists to support the development of breakthrough school models in developing countries. We currently work with local partners in India, Armenia, Ghana and Nigeria, where schools have been closed for extended periods. We have been inspired by educators’ response to the needs of children and their families during these challenging times. Here is a snapshot of what we have learnt.
Lack of education is by no means the only challenge for children
Before we can expect children to learn, we have to attend to their basic needs – food, shelter and health. This has not been a given during lockdown in many of the communities where our partners work, and they have stepped in where government responses have been lacking. Akanksha, one of our partners in India, has launched a task force to provide essential food supplies to vulnerable families of their 9,000+ children in Mumbai and Pune who had previously relied on school meals. As well as providing distance learning opportunities, Akansha’s teachers are also supporting their children’s safety and emotional wellbeing through video counselling and arts activities.
Lockdown learning means low-tech solutions
Recreating school on Zoom is not an option in many communities, given lack of access to computers or bandwidth or sometimes electricity. Nor can we expect parents to have the capacity to replace the teacher. But that doesn’t mean giving up on sharing engaging, self-directed learning activities with children. Our partner Simple Education Foundation in Delhi, India has developed No Curfew For Education – a repository of broad-ranging low-tech activities for parents, students and teachers which they have been sharing on WhatsApp.
Addressing gaps will take time
The issues children have faced in lockdown range from boredom and learning loss, to hunger, hardship and serious trauma and abuse. We will need patience as we help them to overcome learning losses and other gaps. Our partner Teach For Armenia has been painstakingly re-designing their very first “Seroond School”, planned to open this September, to focus on diagnosing children’s needs, supporting their socio-emotional wellbeing and academic needs, re-sequencing the year’s curriculum and setting up systems for online learning to prepare for any future school closures.
Building back better is critical for schools
The absence of school has reminded us of their essential purpose – and the critical role they play in academic learning and broader outcomes. It has also reminded us of the importance of fostering student independence, agency and resilience and developing the capacity of parents as well as students – so that learning can happen outside of school as well as within. Returning from closure offers us a golden opportunity to evolve the design of our schools to address such issues. With our partner ERIT in Nigeria we have been developing a new secondary school model to launch in Lagos State, one which will prepare secondary students for life post-school – which is even more important in the post-Covid economy.
The most challenging situations in the world can force the most innovative solutions to emerge, and I hope we can continue to find ways to respond to the crisis with purpose, enterprise, and compassion.