It started with a just handful of school closures in countries where we operate. Within 48 hours, we were faced with nationwide school closures in all eight countries due to COVID-19 prevention and containment measures.
UNESCO consolidated information on COVID-19's global impact on education, with statistics that were hard to fathom.
- 165 countries with nationwide school closures affecting more than 1.5 billion learners
- 87% of the global learner population enrolled at the start of March is suddenly out of school
- All 1,700 schools in the EduQuality program closed, along with nearly all of Opportunity EduFinance’s markets with financial institution partners
We know the risks. We’ve seen them before during the 2008 economic recession and the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014.
- Lost education time has negative implications for learners’ future earning potential.
- After significant educational disruption, some learners will never return to the classroom.
- Girls are at greater risk when out of school and more vulnerable to sexual violence. Cases of teenage pregnancy more than doubled during school closures in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak.
Mobilising for a New (Temporary) Reality
With a team of nearly 40 local Education Specialists, we are well positioned to use our existing infrastructure to support the needs of school leaders, teachers, parents, and learners as they work to maintain some continuity for their children in their at-home learning environment.
Last Monday, after gathering immediate feedback from schools on their biggest concerns in the first few days of closures, EduFinance held strategy meetings to map the overarching needs and a response.
By Tuesday, 12 EduQuality staff agreed eagerly to join our COVID-19 Task Force to create and deliver essential training content and guidance to school leaders.
Over the next several days, staff worked tirelessly to create practical content for school leaders and teachers, select and set-up multiple communication platforms, and implement new operating routines for contacting school leaders to provide individual support and guidance.
Today, the EduQuality team has sent out the first set of content to school leaders and teachers, and will continue to provide weekly support during school closures and through the recovery period.
Stronger on the Other Side
Opportunity EduFinance’s immediate question during school closures remains in line with our mission to increase access to quality education: If temporary school closures evolve to permanent closures, how will it affect access to education for millions of learners?
To address these concerns, EduQuality launched a School Leader Toolkit today that will evolve over the coming weeks. Because we believe there will be an end to this pandemic, despite many unknowns, all our work right now is focused on the same end goal: How can we practically prepare schools to be stronger on the other side? And how do we ensure we do not lose momentum to create greater access to children globally?
The School Leader Toolkit we are developing is organised around the following topics:
'School management in a pandemic: How to keep your school afloat during a crisis'
- Assessing your School’s Cash Burn Rate & Cash Runway
- Business Planning in a Pandemic
- How to Retain your Workforce – Teachers & Non-Teaching Staff
- How to Retain your Customer Base – Parents & Learners
- How to Rebuild your Workforce
- How to Rebuild your Customer Base
These modules guide school leaders to assess their cash runway and consider approaches to strategic decisions for paying a portion or all of their existing workforce. Leaders must consider alternative streams of revenue, they could generate or increase, during these school closures to keep their school business afloat. Finally, schools should plan for recovery now, prepare to rebuild their staff, expect some attrition, and recruit both previous and new students who may be slow to return.
'Virtual classrooms in a pandemic: How to develop new routines that benefit learners'
- Developing New Routines: Supporting parents to create achievable at-home learning for students
- How to transition schemes of work into lesson plan templates for at-home learning
- How to restructure lessons to deliver by phone/SMS
Many schools in the EduQuality program had already started their current academic year. That means schools have already prepared full schemes of work (syllabi) for the year in line with national curriculum standards. EduQuality is working to help educators translate schemes of work intended for classroom delivery into lesson plan templates best suited for at-home learning, with scripts and guidance for teachers and parents.
Because the EduQuality model leverages in-person school cluster meetings and larger school training workshop formats, we have also quickly pivoted to leverage new delivery channels. While there is no one-size fits all in this context and no time to pilot, we have focused on selecting delivery channels that have the largest potential to reach the most schools.
The School Leader Toolkit and other school communications are being delivered via:
- SMS messages, best suited for schools in rural communities;
- One-on-One Phone Calls with School Leaders facilitated by EduSpecialists;
- WhatsApp Group messages by country, most commonly used by school staff in urban settings;
- Facebook Light Groups, which supports 2G access in all of our markets;
- Virtual Zoom Cluster Meetings, being tested in Colombia.
Colombia: Virtual School Cluster Meetings
In Colombia, as soon as it was clear schools would be closing nationwide, the team quickly began planning alternative ways to continue supporting school leaders. We agreed Colombia was an ideal market to test the use of virtual cluster meetings via Zoom conference calls, scheduled by our Senior Education Specialist, Andrea Camacho.
Because video conferencing is a new technology to our schools, Andrea is working with each school prior to their first virtual meeting to guide them step-by-step through the process of connecting and participating in a Zoom conference call, which includes both internet and phone audio connection options. To date, three virtual cluster meetings have been held with schools in Bogotá, with between 90-100% participation rate. Cluster meetings with schools in Barranquilla are scheduled over the next week, which will provide another opportunity to test the viability of virtual cluster meetings in a different region of the country. School leaders have already expressed pride and new confidence in their ability to learn and connect via this new digital platform.
School leaders attend their first virtual meeting in Bogotá, Colombia
As part of the meeting agenda each school leader is sharing their experiences and challenges during school closures, which at times has become tearful. Leaders are also sharing innovative ideas with one another of how to continue managing their schools, engaging at-home learners and parents, and retaining staff, supported by additional materials provided by EduQuality from the School Leader Toolkit and the Colombia Ministry of National Education. Feedback from those that have already attended their first virtual cluster meeting is extremely positive, expressing gratitude for having their cluster network of peers to rely on during this difficult time.
“The schools are very grateful for the EduQuality team walking alongside them at this moment when the primary bond in our profession is each of us. These meetings must continue, as today has been very productive and I feel happy, safe, it is good to see that they are all well, and we can see each other. This medium and this opportunity that you all give us are more than something merely work-related, it is something spiritual and it will serve each of us. For me today it took away the anguish of my fear, I wanted to see what we each are doing and today we could see each other and it is wonderful. This meeting will strengthen us even more. I do not want the meetings to stop, or make them shorter, this feeds my soul and motivates me to continue fighting and looking for other strategies.
– Grace Mendieta, Director of Jardin Infantil Campestre Pequeñitas y Pequeñitos de Jesus (Translated from Spanish
Maintaining Momentum in Global Education
Despite school closures, Opportunity EduFinance remains committed to the educators who are at the heart of progress for learners globally over the last decade. These are the same educators who will do the hard work during the recovery period once schools resume. They will likely be faced with a myriad of challenges, including how to re-engage learners, make up for lost learning time, rebuilding their staff, overcome stigmas and fear related to COVID-19, and ensuring their school can continue to operate despite significant financial strains during the closures.
We are all in this together. Please join us in our commitment to maintain hard won momentum for global education. The time to support educators to prepare for recovery efforts is now – we cannot wait until schools are ready to reopen. In this unprecedented global crisis, we benefit from shared experiences and innovations, so please contact us if you have ideas to share that could benefit our work to support educators, teachers, and learners. With everyone’s tireless commitment and support, we do believe we will be stronger on the other side.