Although Burundi did not close its schools during the pandemic, COVID-19 posed a serious threat to children’s schooling. Read how GPE worked with the government and UNICEF to help contain its impact on the education system and support the continuity of children’s learning.
Like many other students, Chanceline had to cope with and adapt to the realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. When she contracted the coronavirus and had to interrupt her education, she was worried about the lessons she would miss while in quarantine, and the learning losses that would pile up.
This might have not been the case but for the efforts of the government, with support from GPE and its partners.
Although Burundi did not close its schools during the pandemic, COVID-19 posed a serious threat to children’s schooling. Increasing household poverty, due in part to the economic slowdown, threatened to spike school dropouts, as parents could no longer afford to pay for their children’s schooling.
In order to help contain the impact of the health crisis on Burundi’s education system and support the continuity of children’s learning, GPE gave the country two grants: an initial grant of US$70,000 in late March 2020 to assist the education ministry in planning its response to the pandemic (through the development of a response plan); and a second grant of US$7 million, three months later, to support the implementation of the response through a program called: Program to Support Learning Continuity in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Launched in mid-2020 and implemented by UNICEF and its partners, the program made possible, among other things:
- The implementation of basic health protocols for safe, inclusive and protective schools, through the dissemination of information on COVID-19 developments to students and communities; the provision of personalized psychosocial support to students and teachers affected by the pandemic; and the construction of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities in schools.
To date, 2, 700 students and teachers have been sensitized; 1,400 schools have been equipped with handwashing stations, and 1,300 psychosocial support focal points have been trained and deployed throughout schools.
The Bumwe Basic School, located on the outskirts of Bujumbura, is one of the schools benefiting under the program. The director, Ferdinand Muheto, welcomes GPE’s support. In addition, he points out that the COVID-19 preventive measures implemented under the program have unexpectedly lowered the incidence of other hygiene-related diseases in the community:
- The availability of teaching materials and learning content to ensure continuity of learning through the creation of École à domicile (school at home) a digital learning platform, which is in development.
The platform is providing free and open-source educational content in line with the national curricula, in both French and English.
Created through a partnership between the ministry of education and scientific research, UNICEF and UNESCO, the platform allows students who are unable to go to school (having, for example, contracted COVID-19) to continue their education online. Since its launch in February 2022, more than 7,312 students have accessed the content provided on the platform.
- New mechanisms to ensure the best learning environment possible for students and teachers.
Nearly 500,000 children have received school supplies; 175,000 students have benefited from make-up classes; more than 150,000 hygiene kits (including menstrual hygiene kits for girls) have been distributed, and in excess of 31,000 students received school meals.
These actions have contributed significantly not only to ensuring the continuity of learning for students whose schooling was interrupted during the pandemic, but also to improving attendance for all students, especially girls.
Béatrice Nihorimbere, a teacher at Bumwe Basic School, stresses this point: “We were having problems with the girls, mainly because of their period. Some of them missed school, others had their period at school, and it was an incredibly difficult experience. Since receiving the menstrual kits, we have seen clear improvements. No girl has missed school because she didn’t have sanitary napkins and I am extremely grateful to whoever came up with this idea, especially in this region where we have the poorest families.”
Chanceline confirms this: “The sanitary napkins I received were a great help as I would sometimes miss school because I had none. Now I’m no longer ashamed of going to school [even] when I’m menstruating.”
What’s more, the make-up classes have provided an unexpected incentive for some dropouts to return to school.
The achievements to date are the product of close cooperation and effective coordination of actions between the ministry of education, local authorities, and the various implementing partners (UNESCO, WFP, the ONG World Vision, and the Platform of Psychosocial and Mental Health Stakeholders, among others) led by UNICEF in its capacity as grant agent.