The COVID-19 crisis has affected families, children and educators particularly hard. Parents have now been burdened with the responsibility of meeting their children’s educational needs. This burden has been hardest among marginalised communities. Schools2030 – a flagship programme for the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and a coalition of eight other private foundations – is responding to the crisis.
At the heart of this endeavour is listening and learning to frontline educators about “what works” and “why”. AKF has responded with two concrete steps.
First, in partnership with its sister agencies the Aga Khan Education Services and Aga Khan Academies, AKF developed and shared a global review of available tips, recommendations and offline/online learning resources to support families and educators to help children learn during school closures. The resources were shared across the Schools2030 geographies and with in-country partners. These resources can be accessed here: Education Resources during COVID-19
Second, to search for and develop local solutions to teaching and learning during COVID-19 that would supplement the global review and materials, AKF and the Schools2030 coalition hosted a number of virtual Human Centred Design (HCD) sessions over several weeks.
In March 2020, AKF led the first Schools2030 HCD training session in Nairobi for partners in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, who were tasked with using design thinking across the schools to co-create new solutions to improve holistic learning outcomes for children. Global experts in design thinking, Katie Krummeck and Gray Garmon, co-led the design of the Schools2030 Design Thinking Toolkits. Roll-out across the remaining Schools2030 geographies was planned for the weeks that followed.
As COVID-19 forced educators to think of how schooling might work, representatives from the 10-country coalition engaged in one of the most important design thinking challenges of our time: “How do we continue to provide quality education for all during and after COVID-19?”
Addressing teaching and learning concerns
To find answers to this, AKF has been hosting initial online “sprint design” sessions for staff and partners of Schools2030 to engage in virtual HCD exercises with the specific aim of addressing the teaching and learning concerns that have now arisen from this unprecedented crisis.
A variety of issues became apparent straight away. Among them: concern for the mental health of families struggling to adapt to these new circumstances; fear for those students who were verging on dropping out; how to know if the children are making the progress that would otherwise be monitored at school; and importantly, how to reach those students whose families do not have access to computers or the internet. A number of recommendations were adopted and are now available through: Education Resources during COVID-19
Not every aspect of these conversations was negative, however. The money being saved by both the families and educators on the cost of travel is one positive. Another is that students are able to spend more quality time with their loved ones. (It was also noted that the mental wellbeing and social-emotional health of students is now amongst the chief concerns of many educators, whereas it may not have been a priority before COVID-19). Further, many noted the opportunity of the current learning situation to strengthen social connections between children’s families and educators, thereby building a stronger support network for holistic quality learning experiences over the long-term.
Next began the process of collating and synthesising this information. Participants were asked to vote on which concerns they felt were the most important and – from both the positive and negative sides – two of each were chosen to carry through to the next stage of design thinking.
Within just 15 minutes, a staggering 250 ideas had been generated. After unpacking some of these solutions, tangible ideas began to surface with one of the biggest challenges being a lack of adequate internet or computing facilities in many communities. Some suggested dedicated WhatsApp groups for teachers’ communities of practice and more relevant radio and television broadcast programmes (both ideas are coming into effect in some geographies with the support of AKF and other partners). Tailoring the radio and television broadcasts to encourage family participation was also discussed.
Other participants suggested that shadowing a child as they learned virtually would give parents and educators an opportunity to understand better the challenges children face in this unfamiliar territory. It was also proposed that communities of practice be set up online as a support forum for educators and parents, as well as a virtual mentoring system for younger, less experienced educators.
Long-term learning, innovation, and impact during COVID-19
The final stages of the programme will take some of these ideas and develop them into prototypes to be tested and assessed further. The Schools2030 consortium will also provide flexible response funding to advance these prototypes into meaningful sustained learning experiences for children and students. This process will be led through an ongoing virtual course that AKF and its Schools2030 partners have developed to equip colleagues throughout the world with the skills and knowledge to become stronger design thinkers and respond to the ever-changing landscape of teaching and learning in the weeks and months ahead during COVID-19.