Adapting to school closures: the need for accessible alternatives
Today, we mark the International Day of Education by reflecting on the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on young people across the world. Encouragingly, Prince’s Trust International’s work with partners has shown that, despite the challenges, education can be delivered in alternative settings, helping many young people to thrive.
At the pandemic’s peak, 1.6 billion children were out of school, disrupting their development, learning and wellbeing worldwide. As recently as September 2021, UNESCO reported that 117 million students (7.5% of all children globally) were still affected by complete school closures.
The continued tightening and loosening of Covid-19 protocols has understandably been a struggle for young people, teachers, and parents and carers alike. In most of the countries where we work, schools have been closed during much of the pandemic. As many of our programmes are delivered in a school setting, this presented a huge challenge to us and our delivery partners.
Together with our partners, we focused on adapting programmatic content and delivery methods. Almost four-fifths of the young people we worked with from April 2020 to March 2021 were supported digitally. For example, large cohorts in Jordan and Pakistan took part online in our school-based Enterprise Challenge programme.
In 2021, 61% of young people surveyed for our research into the future of work said that online learning had supported them to make changes in their life. The findings showed that boys and young men were more positive about online learning than girls and young women, with similar results regarding access to the correct equipment.
Remote learning is not without challenges. This is particularly noticeable in lower to middle-income countries where many young people struggle to gain access to digital equipment, especially young women in rural communities. Just one in five people in Sub-Saharan Africa are connected compared to 86% in Western Europe.
Rural schools in Kenya face many practical challenges in terms of equipment, power supply and connectivity. Facilitators from our partner organisation, Asante Africa Foundation, brought laptops to sessions and we provided our recently-upgraded digital learning tool, Pop Up – a business simulation game – on a USB stick for use offline. Straightforward activations like these can make a substantial difference.
Following further school closures, we worked with Asante Africa Foundation to adapt the second pilot to be community-based. Adhering to Covid-19 restrictions, facilitators met with small groups in sites such as offices, community centres and churches.
This year also saw the launch of our first Achieve programmes in Malaysia. When Covid-19 hit, our partner, SOLS 247, quickly adapted their plans, trialling online sessions for urban young people alongside face-to-face sessions in indigenous rural communities. SOLS 24/7 focused on empowering staff members from indigenous backgrounds to deliver specific modules of the Achieve programme in their home villages – remote communities in jungle areas. By the end of the pilot, 80% of young people felt more positive about progressing their education and employment aspirations.
One of these young people, Rasidi, used to run a cosmetics shop in Kuala Lumpur, but was finding it hard to make ends meet, so he returned to his home village and opened a small grocery shop there. Rasidi didn’t have many customers at first but, after taking part in the Achieve programme, he secured two business partners. Having expanded his range of stock and proactively promoted his business, Rasidi’s shop is now thriving with 60-70 customers every day.
At Prince’s Trust International, we hope that this year’s International Day of Education can drive home the importance of in-person education, and the need for high-quality and accessible alternatives, better preparing the world for future emergencies.
Written by Will Straw, Chief Executive Officer of Prince’s Trust International