Even before the Covid-19 school closures, more than 75 million children across the world’s crisis and conflict-affected countries urgently required support to access a good quality education.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has been working around the clock in more than 30 countries, to ensure that children and youth can exercise their right to a good education.
“Our colleagues and teachers in the field, often in full lockdown themselves, have proved to be incredibly resourceful and creative in helping children and young people to continue their learning,” says Constantijn Wouters, Global Education Adviser with NRC.
Here are 7 ways we are helping children get through the pandemic:
#1: Using mobile phones
“Many families are deeply concerned about their children. We are doing our best to keep in touch with the children and their parents, but it’s hard when families lack both stable internet access and mobile phones,” says Noor Elkhairy, educational adviser with NRC Jordan.
In a number of countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, we are meeting the needs of children enrolled at NRC learning centres using remote learning. We use communication platforms such as WhatsApp, combined with follow-up phone calls to provide guidance and support.
“Although our learning centres were closed due to the Covid-19 situation, we never stopped delivering educational messages to the children,” explains Rayan El Baf, one of NRC’s child protection technical officers in Lebanon. “We regularly contacted them and their parents over the phone to check on their wellbeing, raise awareness of the situation and share learning materials.”
#2: Producing educational radio broadcasts
“We ensure that children continue to study by supporting teachers in creating remote teaching routines and materials. Where possible we do this together with the national authorities. In Kenya for example, they already had an educational radio programme before Covid-19, enabling children to study at home,” explains Constantijn Wouters, NRC’s Global Education Adviser.
In several countries, such as Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, we are responding to the situation by helping thousands of primary school children continue their learning through radio broadcasts.
In Burkina Faso we work together with local radio stations to broadcast school lessons for children, who gather near their homes in small groups to listen. NRC has distributed 400 radios to the community volunteers responsible for monitoring and supervising the children as they gather together to learn. Each radio costs 8,555 West African CFA francs, which is equal to USD 15. The radio broadcasts are also spreading messages on Covid-19 prevention in the community.
#3: Getting creative with learning materials
“Our colleagues and teachers in the field, often in full lockdown themselves, have proved to be incredibly resourceful and creative in helping children and young people to continue their learning,” says Wouters.
In Libya, NRC supports teachers in producing their own teaching videos using smartphones, which they then share with their students via WhatsApp. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, we created a paper-based learning package, so that children in remote areas without access to internet or radio could continue to study as well.
In El Salvador, NRC has delivered kits containing games, puzzles and school supplies, to help children learn and continue with their education while they are stuck at home due to the lockdown.
#4: Enabling students to take exams
Even if schools remain closed, NRC is supporting school authorities, teachers and learners so that students can at least sit their exams. In Mali, we made it possible for some students to sit their final exams in June.
The photo above shows students about to sit an exam in the Malian town of Gao. Our education and hygiene teams were on site at the school to set up handwashing stations, make sure the students kept a healthy distance apart, and raise awareness to help protect the students from Covid-19.
#5: Providing mental health support
In addition to the difficulties in accessing distance learning, NRC is concerned about the possible mental health consequences of the pandemic for displaced children. Many are suffering from trauma and nightmares.
“We try to help parents and children cope with that stress by providing remote psychosocial support, through our Better Learning Programme. This helps to create an atmosphere at home in which children and young people can continue to learn,” explains Wouters.
This education programme, developed and run by NRC and The Arctic University of Norway, provides mental health support to children who have experienced war and crisis.
“Our mobile phone has become our lifeline. It’s how we keep in touch with NRC, and how we keep the nightmares at bay,” says Malak, a 14-year-old Syrian refugee living together with her parents and seven siblings in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.
#6: Ensuring children do not go hungry
To make sure children are not going hungry, NRC is providing displaced and vulnerable families with cash grants in several countries.
The meals and snacks provided at school are often a lifeline for the most vulnerable children, keeping them free from hunger, as well as ensuring they have the energy to fulfil their potential at school. But the World Food Programme estimates that 352 million children globally are missing out on school meals because of Covid-19 school closures.
#7: Preparing to reopen schools
While we must remain mindful of the risks presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is essential that children are able to get back to school and resume learning as soon as they can safely do so.
We are currently preparing for the reopening of schools, as soon as national and local authorities allow it.
“Schools need to be disinfected and must have enough toilets and handwashing stations. We also need to procure extra equipment, such as soap and cleaning materials, and we need extra space, in case governments decide that teachers and students should stay one metre or more apart,” explains Wouters.
This requires a considerable investment and creativity in countries where classrooms are overcrowded, and hygiene facilities were already inadequate even before Covid-19.
“We need to ensure that children and young people are able to reconnect, cope with the stress they faced during lockdown and of course, catch up on learning,” continues Wouters.
“Based on lessons learned in countries where schools have already reopened, including Norway, we have developed clear guidelines and checklists for our colleagues in the field and for school management, so that they are ready when the time comes.”