Unprecedented education challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic call for innovative solutions. And this is exactly the approach Sudan is taking with the support of an US$11 million COVID-19 accelerated grant from GPE, which will target all public schools including 257 schools for internally displaced persons (IDP).
GPE is supporting the government of Sudan to ensure children can continue learning while schools are closed by developing and broadcasting TV and radio programs along with launching newspaper education columns.
The grant will benefit approximately 5.4 million school children at the basic education level through distance learning programs and facilitate training for 33,000 teachers on distance learning methods.
Following school closures in mid-March, GPE acted quickly to both minimize the negative effects of the crisis in the short- and medium-term and protect human capital. This decisive effort largely involves the support of learning continuity as well as schools’ reopening once the spread of the virus is contained. The GPE-funded program is supporting the Ministry of Education to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the education sector while supporting the recovery of the whole education system from the crisis.
Promoting innovation in learning
The program will support broadcasting lessons on TV and radio to ensure children continue learning during the pandemic. Radio programs will target children in grades 1-8 in all 18 states of Sudan, with TV lessons complementing radio instruction in the capital and urbanized areas, which typically have higher access to TVs.
The lessons will be aired for four to six hours a day from Saturday to Thursday, and text messages and phone-ins will be established to facilitate communication between students and teachers. Approximately 60,000 poor households and 287,000 students in those families will receive radios with solar power chargers; these will be distributed to communities with schools that lack electricity and have the lowest learning outcomes.
This set of audio and TV resources will supplement the traditional print materials used in schools and can continue to be used after the COVID-19 crisis, ensuring the sustainability of these initiatives.
A new system to teach and assess student work remotely
The GPE-funded program will support Sudan’s National Center for Curriculum and Educational Research (NCCER) to develop learning continuity programs. The NCCER will select lessons in mathematics and Arabic textbooks to be broadcast through radio, and then identify teachers to record the lessons. NCCER will also work with textbook authors and teachers to prepare assignments, which will be made available to students in local newspapers.
At the end of each lesson, guidance on completing assignments will be provided to students, who, with help from their parents, will drop their completed homework in a secure and weatherproof drop box installed in each school.
In parallel, blank quiz sheets related to the lessons will be printed in newspapers. Teachers will grade the assignments and submit the results through SMS or WhatsApp messages. Paper forms of the assignments will be stored in schools and later audited by a third party when schools resume.
When students are back in school, headteachers will reward students who completed most of the assignments, which will serve as an encouragement mechanism to promote continued education while at home.
Supporting community teachers
In Sudan, 1 in 6 educators are community teachers, who play a key role in sustaining the education delivery and are typically paid by the communities that hire them. Since the school closures triggered by the pandemic, their livelihood has been severely affected.
Many teachers no longer receive support from parents and communities. Therefore, the GPE program will prioritize community teachers to be assigned in schools to collect students’ homework and grade them. Community teachers will receive a small stipend for their efforts.
Furthermore, the program will promote an awareness campaign to prevent COVID-19 infections by supporting partnerships with radio channels at the national, state and local levels. The messages from the campaign will run during peak listening hours and deliver messages on the importance of hygiene, handwashing and social distancing.
Ensuring schools are safe to welcome children
Beyond rewarding students who complete most assignments, measures will be established to encourage students to come back to school. Schools will receive grants to remunerate teachers for grading students’ assignments; to buy cell phone data for teachers to communicate with students and send grade results; and to procure essential stationery.
GPE will also finance the provision of water storage tanks for schools lacking facilities to promote handwashing and hygiene practices.
The closure of schools – even with mitigation measures – will result in slower learning progress, more so for the disadvantaged children. When schools re-open, a rapid assessment of students will identify learning gaps and inform remedial programs to help students catch up to the appropriate grade level rapidly.
The GPE program aims to protect vulnerable children – particularly girls – from sexual abuse, violence and pregnancy by using technology to disseminate health messages, improving child safeguarding by promoting parents’ participation in distance learning, and ensuring schools are safe when students drop off their assignments.
With GPE’s support, the government of Sudan will launch initiatives to help mitigate the negative effects of school closures on access and learning – particularly for children from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
In conjunction, GPE is helping strengthen the resilience of the education system by promoting alternative and innovative approaches of engagement to ensure education can continue should a new crisis arise.
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