How GPE helped Guyana face the unknown during COVID-19
May 22, 2023 by Talia Miranda, GPE Secretariat |
5 minutes read

Discover 4 key takeaways on how Guyana supported education in its most remote regions during the pandemic, and how GPE’s support helped keep children learning.

More than 3 years after the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is hard to extract positive lessons amid the devastation caused by the virus on people’s health, well-being and on countries’ economies.

The dire situation was new to everyone. Soon countries understood that leaving children at home for long periods without any sort of instruction or access to learning would be highly detrimental not just to their schooling but also their mental health.

In Guyana, the pandemic closed schools around the country for about 18 months, leaving more than 208,000 children without access to their classrooms. In remote regions, some schools stayed open, operating on a rotating schedule with fewer children in the classroom.

Jennifer Peters, first year teacher, Aranaputa Nursery, Region 9
“When we first heard of COVID-19, we didn’t know much about it. We knew we had to close schools and go home. March 2020 is only three years ago but it’s hard to remember how helpless we all felt faced with this new dangerous virus.”
Jennifer Peters
First year teacher, Aranaputa Nursery, Region 9

A US$3.5 million GPE emergency grant to help Guyana respond to the COVID-19 impact and support learning continuity was quickly approved in mid-2020, with UNICEF as grant agent. The grant completed activities in late 2022.

The program focused on providing learning materials and resources specifically to the hardest-to-reach children, giving access to online learning for students where the infrastructure was available, support health and hygiene to guarantee a safe return to school, and develop a way to assess how much children had lost from what they previously learned.

Nicola Johnson, Chief Planning Officer, Ministry of Education
“GPE’s help to Guyana was tremendous. Because of the help we got from GPE, we were able to begin to engage students, provide psychosocial and other support to teachers during the pandemic, engage with teachers.”
Nicola Johnson
Chief Planning Officer, Ministry of Education

Let’s focus on the program’s impact in the most remote regions of the country and highlight 4 important takeaways.

1. Even with no digital access, learning can happen

In remote areas, it wasn’t possible to get families connected to digital learning, so the education ministry produced a variety of printed materials for students. These included worksheets and self-directed resources aligned to the curriculum, which were distributed weekly by teachers and ministry representatives to families.

Learning materials during COVID-19 in Guyana. Credit: Ministry of education
A home-based learning package
Ministry of education

The ministry of education took care to involve teachers from diverse backgrounds to create these learning tools and ensure they reflected Guyana’s diversity and were well-received by children and families, no matter their ethnicity.

It took time to get these resources ready, but once available, the printed materials helped ensure that learning could continue for ALL children in Guyana, and not just those with access to tablets or computers.

Teachers universally reported that they appreciated the worksheets, and considered them effective in supporting learners, mainly because of their alignment with the curriculum and their ease of access and use.

Children in grade 6, who needed extra support to prepare for their end-of-primary exam, received packages that included books tailored to their level, learning games, flashcards and other items. Families were very appreciative of these resources, especially since these children typically wouldn’t have had any book at home.

Irfan Akhtar, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Guyana
“One of the benefits of the learning packages was the engagement of parents. Now parents are more engaged and continue to support their children's learning. This stimulation is very important for children, especially in early childhood.”
Irfan Akhtar
UNICEF Deputy Representative in Guyana

Seeing how effective and well received the printed resources were to support learning, primary teachers are continuing to use them. Families also want to continue having access to the printed materials, which helped them stay engaged with their children’s education and follow their progress.

2. Learning with the family can be fun!

Another consequence of having school at home was that parents had to become more involved in what their children were learning and support them. In communities where literacy rates are low, some parents found this difficult. Teachers helped them, calling them regularly to check in and provide support.

“Brothers and sisters helped with school at home and parents too. The hardest subject for us to learn by ourselves was mathematics.”
Moco Moco Primary School, Region 9

But this situation also fostered more involvement by all family members. Households set up learning corners to help children have a dedicated area to study. Older brothers and sisters helped younger children. Even grandparents helped and found learning fun!

Louise Jarvis, headteacher, Surama Nursery School, Region 9
“Some parents didn’t remember some of the letter sounds; it was difficult for them to help us. So we had to help the parents and we practiced through all the protocols for COVID.”
Loreen Jarvis
Nursery Field Officer and Master Trainer, Surama Nursery School, Region 9

3. Good hygiene practices are reinforced

Students at Saint Ignatius Primary School wash their hands after an art project. Lethem, Region 9, Guyana. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Students at Saint Ignatius Primary School wash their hands after an art project. Lethem, Region 9, Guyana.
GPE/Kelley Lynch

The GPE-supported program funded handwashing stations for all schools in remote regions, including wash basins, water tanks and soap. The pandemic forced everyone to re-learn how to practice proper hygiene.

These good practices have been reintegrated in daily routines in schools and children in Guyana even sing this rhyme to remember them:

“I must always wash my hands
Before I eat my meals
Or else the germs from both of them
Will get inside me.”

Parents felt reassured to let their children go back to school in September 2021 knowing these measures were in place. Also, they now no longer send their children to school if they are sick with a cold or a fever, which limits the spread of other viruses and germs.

The ministry of education will need to ensure that schools get sufficient funding to keep these new washing stations in working order going forward.

4. COVID forced countries to plan for future crises

At the very early stages of the pandemic, Guyana received a $70,000 grant from GPE to help plan its response to the crisis.

Nicola Johnson, Chief Planning Officer, Ministry of Education
“The first support we got was $70,000 from GPE during school closures to develop our risk management policy. This policy is the first of its kind in Guyana. The GPE support gave us some sense of what we needed to do, how we should interact with students and teachers, parents and community members.”
Nicola Johnson
Chief Planning Officer, Ministry of Education

The country has learned a lot over the past three years on the solutions that worked well to keep children engaged in learning and those that didn’t. It will be better prepared to face the next crisis that affects its education system.

GPE’s quick support was critical to help the country jump into action and adapt its response to best serve its children.

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