The Global Education Summit that took place in London in July brought to light the impact of COVID-19 on school education –especially in developing countries. School closures played a key part in the low learning results and the increase of young girls’ pregnancies and early marriages.
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With governments in these countries reducing expenses on several fronts to palliate the pandemic, plus a reduction in household income due to unemployment or informal employment, funding of education is at a critical point.
How is the philanthropic sector working to dampen the pandemic’s impact on the education of millions of children and what actions need to be taken?
According to the Financial Times, “Education systems in most developing countries already faced serious challenges. In 2019, half of 10-year-old learners in these nations could not read or fully comprehend a simple story.”
The statistic is way higher in the poorest countries, the newspaper asserts.
The numbers left by the 18-month school closures are staggering. According to UNESCO, about 131 million students have lost three-quarters of their face-to-face learning and, despite this, around 27% of the countries still have totally or partially closed schools.
Fernando Reimers, professor of the International Educational Policy program and director of the Global Initiative for Innovation in Education at Harvard University, says that if the appropriate measures are not taken, things are bound to get worse.
He warns that, if the right measures are not taken, the world could be “on the verge of the greatest educational calamity in the history of humanity since public school exists and that means that in many countries there is a real risk of going back ten or twenty years.”
For Nick Maughan, founder of the Nick Maughan Foundation (NMF) the education attainment gap has been gravely exacerbated by the pandemic. “This will have devastating long-term effects on disadvantaged young people even though we are presently unable to quantify it.”
According to the latest study by the OECD Centre on Philanthropy, grant-makers and wealthy donors gave at least $20.2 billion to education globally during 2020. Further, corporate foundations and corporate giving programs accounted for $9.4 billion –or 44%– of total Covid funding.
The report asserts that “While financial information is scarce, available data suggest education foundations are protecting and, in some cases, increasing their education giving in 2020 and 2021.”
Out of the 25-foundation sample, 18 disclosed financial figures for the 2018-2021 period with 14 maintaining or increasing their funding for developing countries between 2019-20. Half of those increased it by 20% or more.
According to the document, only four foundations reported a decrease in their 2020 development budgets, a move that depicts the financial shifts specific to the education sector, “with 12 foundations sustaining or increasing their education giving from 2019-20, and 6 reporting a decrease.”
There is cautious optimism for 2021, as 14 foundations will have maintained or increased their funding in education by the end of this year, according to the report.
Due to COVID-19, foundations are focusing on bridging the access gap to remote learning in the short term, mainly through a broad spectrum of delivery formats.
In India, for instance, the Aga Khan Foundation is generating contextually relevant and low-cost learning kits for those children unable to access technology-enabled learning. The kits were conceived with the input of students themselves, their families, and teachers.
The Jacobs Foundation in Côte d’Ivoire is working with the government to further
remote learning opportunities by the use of local radio broadcasts. The initiative is supplemented with free access to a mobile device learning platform.
In Brazil, the largest education foundations and multilateral organizations teamed up to synchronize their initiatives against the Covid crisis and cooperatively offer remote learning spaces across the country.
Their response included creating educational content and broadcasting remote classes on TV channels with an estimated audience of 8 million students.
“These approaches ensure that the most marginalized children –those without access to Internet connectivity or even electricity– are not falling too far behind. Foundations also see a window of opportunity in the crisis to remove some barriers to connectivity,” the OECD report underlines.
A Greater Contribution
To augment the impact of their contributions, foundations should follow specific recommendations by the OECD.
In the short term, donors should prioritize initiatives that can fast-track a safe school reopening while inspiring learners to return and support teachers in delivering targeted instruction.
This can be achieved through student-focused incentives in a context where many households are under economic stress.
Also, foundations should “Place educators at the center of mitigation and recovery strategies. Professional development and change management skills of teachers, school leaders, and local administrators are the cornerstone of any sustainable transformation in education delivery.”
The OECD asserts that private philanthropy can also focus on measuring social and emotional learning (SEL), “teaching and certification strategies, and in demonstrating the feasibility of whole child approaches in low-income settings.”
With regards to remote learning, there is a gargantuan benefit in working on partners to help them understand how technology-enabled instruction can best enhance teaching and learning in school and at home.
Every initiative, the OECD asserts, must be done by adopting a future-oriented culture, as strategic foresight becomes more critical than ever. “Scenarios for the future of schooling are a framework to guide long-term strategic thinking in education.”