The philanthropy sector globally has not shied away from supporting COVID responses. In education as in other sectors, foundations, donor-advised funds and other private grant-makers have promptly devised unprecedented responses in support of their existing partners or grantees. Many have gone the extra mile and beyond their usual remit in doing so, extending exceptional financial and technical support where it could be of best use.
The philanthropy sector globally has not shied away from supporting COVID responses. In Sierra Leone, Kenya and many other countries where education sector responses were supported by GPE, philanthropy played a crucial role as an ally in addressing unmet needs, supporting the fast-track strengthening of alternative and distance learning solutions and teacher development, and enhancing partnerships that work for students most at risk of being left behind.
"What is important at the moment is to ensure that learning continues."
Sierra Leone and Kenya share their response to the pandemic
In the last of 8 online discussions facilitated by the International Education Funders Group on July 16, a large and diverse group of education grant-making foundations reflected on global coordination and advocacy efforts in response to COVID-19. Inspiring and candid conversations saw David Moinina Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Chief Innovation lead for Sierra Leone, and Elyas Abdi Jillaow, OGW, Director General, Kenya Ministry of Education, State Department of Early Learning & Basic Education present the contours of emergency education response plans in their country. Alice Albright, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education joined in to discuss key lessons to date with regards to education responses more globally, financing and partnerships during COVID and beyond.
In both Sierra Leone and Kenya, national emergency education task forces have been hard at work since March to imagine and create the continuous, remote and virtual learning solutions critically needed, ranging from drastic expansion of radio and TV curriculum-focused broadcasting, to the digitalization of learning materials or hands-on-deck “tech literacy” training efforts for the 350,000 and 85,000 teachers in Kenya and Sierra Leone respectively.
At this point neither of the countries is in a position to reopen schools fully and safely. School closures are even likely to remain in place until at least early 2021 in Kenya for pre-primary, primary and secondary levels. This raises legitimate concerns around risks of drop-out particularly amongst the most vulnerable children.
“We are only at the end of the beginning as the needs are going to continue. We run the risk of millions of vulnerable children not being able to return to schools when they reopen.”
A crucial role for philanthropy
In discussions moderated by Dr. Randa Grob-Zakhary, CEO and co-founder, Insights for Education and representative of the private foundations constituency on the GPE Board, education funders demonstrated a keen interest in understanding how philanthropy can be an ally in addressing unmet needs, supporting the fast-track strengthening of alternative and distance learning solutions and teacher development, and enhancing partnerships that work for learners most at risk of being left behind.
Classrooms, schools and systems of tomorrow cannot look like those of three months ago. Education systems will need a complete reboot, as the rampant pre-COVID learning crisis risks being exacerbated particularly for the most vulnerable children. In Sierra Leone, the bitter experience of school closures during the Ebola crisis, which indirectly resulted in thousands of teenage pregnancies, hasn’t been forgotten. In Kenya, policy makers are already ringing alarm bells as incidences of child labor, child marriage, gender-based violence and other child protection concerns are on the rise. If there is a silver lining in this crisis, it is the opportunity for the education systems, programs and leaders at all levels to redouble efforts towards quality learning for all, and to initiate more equitable education transformations.
Philanthropy and foundations have a role to play as full-fledged development partners in these transformations. Their agility in programming and financing, as well as their commitments to inclusion, social justice and equity were commended during the session. Their appetite for innovation can potentially support the diverse array of responses to the crisis that will keep learners of all ages engaged, and bridge the gap in real-time, policy-oriented data that both Minister Sengeh and DG Abdi called for.
"Covid is there, schools have closed, but my desire to transform education and quality learning has not changed, and that cannot stop."
And indeed what has been achieved so far has been an important step, but only the first one. As the crisis unfolds, ring-fencing education budgets is becoming an urgent necessity. The time is now.