COVID-19 education response: No country and no single actor can do it alone

GPE promotes coordinated responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and supports local education groups to meet education needs in partner countries. For both the short and long-term, the success of the response efforts hinges on coordinated actions through effective and accountable partnerships.

April 29, 2020 by Janne Kjaersgaard Perrier, GPE Secretariat, and Carmela Salzano, GPE Secretariat
5 minutes read
The joint sector review took place during National Education Week (NEW) in Accra, Ghana, with peer to peer learning between officials from Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Gambia.
The joint sector review took place during National Education Week (NEW) in Accra, Ghana, with peer to peer learning between officials from Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Gambia.
Credit: GPE/Philippe Menkoue

The novel coronavirus has generated an unprecedented global education emergency requiring extraordinary solidarity to kick start the response and recovery effort and minimize damaging long-term effects on children’s learning and development.

School closures worldwide have disrupted education on a scale never seen, cutting off children from learning as well as from other vital services provided through schools, including health care and nutritious meals. As of mid-April, this touches 65 GPE partner countries and 383 million children.

The urgency and scale of the crisis has called for innovation, partnership and solidarity, with international and country stakeholders working together at different levels to avoid a disruption in learning for the most vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Joined-up efforts at global and country levels

The Global Education Coalition, launched by UNESCO and joined by GPE, has been working closely with countries to monitor school closures and raise investment in remote learning solutions, including best practice models for distance teaching and learning, that ensure continuity in access to quality education.

GPE has mobilized rapidly to provide financial and technical support to partner countries, including

  • US$8.8 million to support countries to kick start an education sector response to the pandemic, including supporting response planning, coordination, and knowledge sharing
  • US$250 million to help countries cope with mitigating and recovering from the impacts of the pandemic. This includes US$25 million for regional and global activities, including coordination.

In partner countries, ministries of Education are enlisting the support of a broader ecosystem of education actors - including NGOs and CSOs in both the education and public health, nutrition and social protection spheres as well as academia, private sector foundations and the business community.

In some cases, governments are negotiating large scale connectivity partnerships with telecom providers, mobile operators, and other companies for the very first time. Without these, there will be insufficient capacity to support distance teaching and learning at the level needed.

Leading education systems in such unprecedented times is challenging

Many voices are vying to be heard, country situations are changing rapidly and the need for rapid response and agility can generate a strong temptation to circumvent established dialogue and coordination structures. It is critical for ministries of Education to maintain a steady hand, coordinate multiple efforts effectively and direct the flow of engagement quickly to areas in greatest need.

For these reasons, the education response efforts must empower country leadership, including more collective, collaborative forms of leadership that mutualize resources and responsibilities and reinforce country capacities to the extent possible.

It is key to ground responses in country-led coordination mechanisms that channel, harmonize and align all support to ensure relevance, coherence, cost-effectiveness and sustainability.

Whether this means working within local education groups as a collaborative platform for sector policy dialogue between governments and their education partners, or any other national structure or partnership mechanism set up for the COVID-19 response – GPE has generated a set of partnership guiding principles and tools that remain relevant in the current situation and can assist countries in managing their education response and manage their partnership building efforts more effectively.

Through the lens of the current crisis, these principles and tools underscore the following contributing factors to partnership success:

  1. Ensure clarity of purpose in all COVID dialogue/coordination efforts: The strategic effectiveness of the COVID-19 response begins with clarity of purpose in dialogue with different actors (i.e. clear goals and objectives) and the co-creation of action plans based on a shared understanding of these goals and priorities, how they can be addressed most effectively and in which order. This is more likely to incentivize collective resource mobilization and generate smart investments around targeted actions with immediate impact.
  2. Include diverse country perspectives, talents, expertise and skills to chart the way forward: The inclusion of diverse perspectives in the dialogue will help to ensure that international and domestic mobilization efforts build on the knowledge, assets and expertise of experienced NGO and CSO partners already active on the ground and avoid role duplication. Mapping and leveraging existing global and country evidence, infrastructure and equipment, and building cooperative relationships with country stakeholders, will be critical in taking commitments “to scale” and ensuring longer-term sustainability.
  3. Ensure clear governance arrangements: Clarifying leadership roles and relationships between different bodies involved in the COVID education response (including with other sectors), as well as authorities over different types of decision-making, will facilitate decision-making and monitoring of progress towards the commitments made.
  4. Ensure working arrangements are flexible, fit-for-purpose and well-communicated: Working arrangements should be flexible and fit for taking priorities forward. This includes agility in decision making based on best available evidence or knowledge, reorganizing and adapting organizational roles as necessary, managing stakeholder contributions and communicating regularly to ensure that all partners are informed of decisions taken, progress made and wider modalities for collaboration.
  5. Review dialogue and coordination arrangements regularly to learn and adapt. Carving out a space for regular review will enable education partners to identify bottlenecks, capacity and resource challenges as they emerge and air any concerns relating to the overall partnership mission and goals. Regular review also contributes to maintaining healthy partnership dynamics, credibility and legitimacy within the education community.

For further information on GPE’s guidance and tools, please see:

  • Principles towards effective local education groups focus on the possible core functions of a local education group which contribute to its strategic effectiveness, the main challenges to realizing these functions and the key principles for effective policy dialogue based on agreed priorities, organizational and collaborative capacities.
  • LEG self-assessment and performance feedback tools can be used to facilitate a structured reflection among education actors on the purposes and quality of the policy dialogue within a given sector coordination mechanism, key challenges, and actions or building blocks for strengthening the group’s effectiveness.

The principles and tools are complementary to, and feed into, GPE’s broader Effective Partnership Rollout, which seeks to make partnership more impactful at country level through more effective processes and engagement, and greater focus on government ownership and capacity.

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