Tonga: Building a resilient education system to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and natural disasters

In Tonga, mitigating the impact of the pandemic on learning begins with building a resilient education system.

June 29, 2021 by GPE Secretariat
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3 minutes read
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Students attenting class in a primary school in Tonga. Credit: Ministry of Education
Students attenting class in a primary school in Tonga.
Ministry of Education

Tonga is among the few countries in the world where there hasn’t been a single case of COVID-19 yet. However, the country is still dealing with the widespread destruction caused by Tropical Cyclone Harold, which hit Tonga in April 2020.

The cyclone’s breadth of damage included a major impact to education continuity for 2,000 students, as 20% of primary schools and 30% of secondary schools were affected.

Should a COVID-19 outbreak occur in the country, it will compound the challenges already posed by Tropical Cyclone Harold, causing even greater disruption to the education system.

It is estimated that the combined effect would lead to the closure of 181 schools in five regions of the country and affect over 21,300 students and 1,600 teachers. Without access to appropriate standardized and inclusive home-schooling learning resources, the impact of the pandemic can be far reaching.

To mitigate disruption to children’s learning, the government of Tonga is ensuring that contingency plans are in place to respond quickly and mitigate learning loss, ensure education continuity, and strengthen the education system to be more resilient to future threats.

Students attending a school function in Tonga. Credit: Ministry of Education
Students attending a school function in Tonga.
Ministry of Education

Contingency planning to mitigate impact of COVID-19

With a US$750,000 COVID-19 emergency grant, GPE is supporting the implementation of the Tonga Accelerated Resilience Program developed by the Ministry of Education and Training in partnership with Save the Children and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

This program also intends to respond rapidly to the fluctuating situation in Tonga.

“This program, aimed at Tongan children enrolled in early childhood education and primary schools, will secure their access to ongoing quality education should COVID-19 or natural disaster prevent them from going to school.”

Hon. Hu’akavameliku, Minister of Education and Training

More specifically, the GPE-funded program is supporting the development and delivery of multimodal lessons for early childhood education and home-schooling guides for early childhood, primary and lower secondary students.

Guidance for parents and caregivers has been developed in the event of further school closures.

The GPE program is also supporting capacity development of teachers to acquire skills in education technology and innovations that will help them more quickly adapt to modern pedagogies. Teachers will be trained to use online, radio and TV as mediums of delivery for lessons, and to monitor home-based learning.

The rapid provision of home-schooling resources in a range of modalities will help reduce loss of learning. Additionally, it will provide a safe, supportive and conducive learning environment.

Students participating in school activities in Tonga. Credit: Ministry of Education
Students participating in school activities in Tonga.
Ministry of Education

Support to the most vulnerable students

Home schooling can exacerbate learning inequities for some children, in particular for the most marginalized or disadvantaged students who may lack access to or be unable to afford the appropriate digital and technology tools.

To ensure that children most at risk of being left behind do not miss out on their schooling, the GPE program is supporting the development of home-schooling materials through a variety of channels that include physical, radio, TV and SMS for interactive feedback. Support to vulnerable children will also include guidance to their parents, taking into account their literacy levels and other circumstances such as remote and rural living conditions.

Having mechanisms in place to respond, mitigate and rapidly recover is critical during a crisis. By ensuring children and caregivers have rapid access to inclusive home-schooling materials, broadcasts and guidance, the Tongan government’s preemptive actions are ensuring that children are more likely to continue to learn without interruption.

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East Asia and Pacific: Tonga

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