On March 25, exactly 2 weeks after the WHO declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, GPE approved a grant of US$8.8 million to UNICEF to help 87 countries plan their education response to COVID-19.
At that time, 1.5 billion learners around the world were out of school due to school closures. That number is now 1.2 billion as some countries have started to slowly re-open their education systems.
Rapid response to the crisis was not just essential, it could be lifesaving for millions of people. In the education sector, acting quickly meant ensuring that children in developing countries would not lose the benefits of their previous schooling and could continue learning from home. More importantly, it also meant that the most vulnerable children wouldn’t be forgotten.
Previous school closures during the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa have shown that children at home can be more at risk of exploitation and violence, girls are more at risk of being married off too early and becoming pregnant, and many children in poor families are at risk of never returning to school.
Kick-starting the education response
The US$8.8 million grant can seem small in the face of this gargantuan crisis, but the rapidity with which it was made available to the 87 ministries of Education (one week after approval) meant that it contributed to early planning in essential ways. Here is how the countries used the funds:
Countries like Afghanistan and Eritrea prepared short-term, medium-term, and long-term plans to keep their education systems going during and after the crisis. Resilience to future crises is a common thread in the plans.
- Collaboration and cooperation
- Increase ministries’ capacity
In Haiti, Nicaragua and Togo, the funds helped provide computer equipment to ministry staff to ensure they could work from home efficiently. The funds also supported the crisis management units in some ministries.
- Train teachers in distance learning
In the Maldives, the grant was used to prepare teachers in the pedagogy and techniques to teach their students remotely, and identify efficient ways to keep in touch with them.