As DFID adviser in Sierra Leone, I’ve received a raft of emails recently on what can be learned about Sierra Leone’s education response to Ebola in 2014/2015.
COVID-19 with its asymptomatic transmission presents a different level of challenge to education systems. However, there are certainly useful lessons to share – particularly on rebooting education systems – but I will leave my DFID predecessors to comment on this in future blogs.
What I offer here are general thoughts on preparedness response in resource-challenged contexts and links to the Sierra Leone educational materials used to during the year that Ebola closed schools.
Please note these comments are largely unencumbered by research evidence and draw more on intuition, common sense and experience.
- Don’t jeopardize those in leadership roles: That’s the first rule of crisis management – think of the safety of front line staff. Set up equipment, protocols, phone trees and clear and regular communication.
- It’s not just about the children – it’s also about the administration: Building the capacity of the educational delivery chain from ministry to rural teachers is a smart investment, for example by using virtual conferencing, with tools like Zoom and Teams, setting up WhatsApp groups, or using mobile money transfers to keep activity going.
- To paraphrase Michael Barber – ‘It’s not innovation but routine’ that drives change that sticks: Routine, and confidence that the basics are being done, is never more important than in a time of crisis – for students and adults alike. Establishing COVID-smart routines and protocols, be that learning times or coordination meetings, will help systems function and support mental health and individual productivity.
- Where possible, exploit social media – WhatsApp groups are great for sharing messages and giving support. Great work has been done in Bangladesh on recording teacher training support on SIM cards, which teachers can then insert into their own phone to watch.