Planning ahead in the Marshall Islands mitigates interruptions in learning

GPE is supporting the government of the Marshall Islands to ensure the continuity of learning for all children before, during and after health-related emergencies.

November 10, 2021 by GPE Secretariat
3 minutes read
Students of Rita Public Elementary School during class in Majuro, Marshall, Islands. Credit: Asian Development Bank/Flickr
Students of Rita Public Elementary School during class in Majuro, Marshall, Islands.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on education worldwide. In East Asia and the Pacific, school closures affected more than 325 million children.

While the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), had no major COVID-19 outbreak, the Ministry of Education, Sports and Training (MoEST) nonetheless implemented several preventive measures to stop a possible spread.

These measures included fast-tracking the school calendar year and cancelling major school-related activities, resulting in an estimated 5 weeks of learning loss.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that the ministry was not ready for a sudden school closure as it wasn’t in a position to offer alternative modes of instruction to ensure children could continue learning.

Increasing preparedness for future emergencies

With the support of a US$750,000 GPE grant, overseen by UNICEF, the ministry has been planning a wide range of approaches to ensure learning is not interrupted in the event of an outbreak. To achieve this goal, GPE has supported the government in the development of a contingency plan and its implementation.

Additionally, GPE is supporting the development of distance-learning materials from kindergarten to grade 8.

To test some of the materials, the MoEST conducted a simulation lockdown involving 9 schools from kindergarten through to secondary levels.

The exercise undertaken at Kwajalein High School was made possible through the guidance of the MoEST and education staff in close collaboration with community leaders and parent-teacher associations (PTAs). PTAs supported the distribution of learning packets while teachers monitored the use and effectiveness of remote learning.

The simulation exercise went as follows:

Children staying at home added extra work for parents, who were overwhelmed with pre-existing challenges. This was the case for single-mother Maria (real name not provided), since she had to take care of small children (not yet in school) and help with distance learning for her older children. All of these while still continuing with her regular household chores. Given the circumstances, an older brother in the family took care of the younger siblings to support their learning and care. Thanks to his support, the younger siblings could continue learning and ensured that children did not fall behind in their studies. This also helped mitigate Maria’s stress in managing the impact of school closures on her and the household.

The simulation lockdown demonstrated potential challenges if real school closures occurred, which raised awareness of the importance of preparation and collaboration in the community. Challenges included: parental overload, a lack of materials in Marshallese, lack of capacity development for teachers and guidance for parents.

Lessons learned from this exercise have been collected to fine tune the country’s COVID-19 contingency plan while helping ensure the continuity of learning.

Another simulation lockdown was conducted on the island of Majuro. Lessons from this exercise were shared with neighboring island teachers and head teachers.

Teachers who participated in the simulation also shared with their communities and fellow teachers on how to use the learning packets in preparation of a potential school closure.

Contingency planning through preemptive measures is ensuring that a robust system is in place to address health-related emergencies in the RMI.

With dedicated contributions from UNICEF as a coordinating agency and grant agent in the country, other local education group members and the community, GPE is helping the Marshall Islands establish and maintain an equitable learning environment.

This will enable all children to have access to a safe learning environment even during health emergencies.

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