The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—and its impact on education budgets and consequences for education systems—underscores the importance of arming policymakers with relevant evidence needed to make informed decisions. That is why CGD’s education program is launching the Partnership for Research on Progress and Resilience in Education (PREPARE), a consortium of research institutions who will work together to produce rigorous evidence on the most important education challenges posed by COVID-19.
A core goal of CGD’s education program is to foster substantive collaborations with research organizations in low- and middle-income countries, and PREPARE is a part of that effort. Under this collaboration, our partners are identifying the most policy-relevant questions and working with local policymakers to ensure that the answers are heard. We can help to ensure that global education discussions benefit from the rigorous analysis and more nuanced, global perspectives that their research will bring.
To begin, PREPARE partners based (initially) in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Pakistan and Senegal are focusing on the education challenges created by COVID-19. As schools reopen, policymakers need to work out how to ensure children can re-enrol safely, determine what learning has been lost and how to reverse this, and understand the potentially large differential impacts of the pandemic on girls and vulnerable groups.
In this blog, PREPARE partners discuss their plans to produce data and evidence that will help answer pressing education policy questions both in their countries and globally, as education systems rebuild from the pandemic.
Francis Ansah, Might K. Abreh, Rosemary S. Bosu, Amina Jangu Alhassan, Clara Araba Mills, Wisdom K. Agbevanu, and Nana Efua Rockson
The Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA), University of Cape Coast
The pandemic has taken its toll on Ghana. In March 2020, like many countries across the world, Ghana embarked on a nationwide closure of schools as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.
School closures led to disruptions for households, including impacting on parents’ livelihood opportunities, and concerns about the learning deficit children faced. The government’s immediate response to the educational crisis was to introduce remote teaching and learning interventions through radio and television programs in order to minimize the adverse impact on children’s education.
The phased re-opening of schools started with the opening of the tertiary sector in July 2020, followed by secondary schools. All levels of schools (including Early Childhood Education (ECE) centers) reopened fully in January 2021, except first-year Senior High students, who were admitted only in March 2021. Many school-based surveys have been undertaken during the reopening period, but there are crucial data gaps: household surveys will help us to understand reasons why children may not have re-enrolled, perceptions of school readiness to re-open, how perceived learning loss of learners at home were addressed, and how the pandemic has impacted female labor force participation.
Evidence from the 2014-2016 Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia shows that prolonged school closures can be devastating for enculturation, socialization, and learning outcomes for children, particularly children living in poor rural communities, living with disabilities, and those from low socio-economic backgrounds. Furthermore, prolonged school closures, especially the closure of ECE centers, can have adverse impacts on female labor force participation as women are typically caring for children below the ages of four years. There are concerns that these outcomes will play out in Ghana. To better understand the situation and ensure the government can form an effective response, we need data on the scope of the problem.
This study will provide that evidence. It will use a nationally representative panel of households and schools to fill data gaps about the impacts of school closures and whether children are returning to school. It will also assess the impact of ECE center closures on the female workforce. The broad goal is to help ensure national education policies post-COVID focus on making education available to all children equitably, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.
The research will be carried out by the Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA), a UNESCO Category II Institute at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. A technical working group with membership from the Ministry of Education and other relevant agencies is being formed to offer technical and policy advice to the study.
Moses Ngware, John Muchira, and Caroline Thiongo
The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC)
In low-resourced urban informal settlements in Kenya, about 47 percent of children are enrolled in low-fee private schools (also known as Alternative Provision of Basic Education and Training, or APBET); in Nairobi the figure is over 60 percent. Before the pandemic, there was a steady increase in the utilisation of low-fee private primary schools, despite the introduction of free primary education in 2002. Low-fee private schools are popular among urban informal settlement communities largely because of excess demand and physical accessibility—there aren’t many government schools close by.
With school closures in Kenya between March 2020 and January 2021, the income flow to these private schools was disrupted. Reports show that private school teachers were less likely to be paid during school closures than public school teachers and that some schools have been converted to non-education enterprises, while some teachers are said to have relocated and/or moved on to other income-generating opportunities. It is not known what exactly are the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on low-fee private schools that fill a very important school supply gap in very low-income urban informal settlements; we also do not know the long-term effects of the disruptions caused by the pandemic on low-fee private school markets and operations, and implications of short-term or permanent private schools closures on the wider education system.
The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) is researching the impacts of COVID-19 on private schools serving low-income populations in Nairobi, as part of a larger research partnership with the Center for Global Development.
This study will examine the economic shocks created by the pandemic and implications on affordability, demand, and supply of schooling for children living in urban slums. We aim to study enrollment changes in private and public schools, factors that affect household enrolment decisions since schools have reopened, differences in patterns by gender, implications for quality in private and public schools, and—crucially—what policy responses could be to ensure that all children can return to school. A first round of survey research will take place in April 2021.
This year APHRC will also be exploring the nexus between gender and education, and how existing challenges of achieving a gender responsive education system, and especially gender-responsive pedagogy, have been exacerbated by COVID-19. APHRC’s education team is excited to begin this collaboration, exchange learnings with like-minded research organizations, and share evidence generated with decision makers, as a complement to its ongoing work to transform lives in Africa.
Centre for Educational Research and Training (CERT), University of Malawi
Malawi has witnessed two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic: a first wave in spring 2020 that was relatively mild, and a second wave, starting in early January 2021 that resulted in a high rate of infection and fatality, and is now subsiding.
Just before the onset of the pandemic in Malawi last April, the government announced a state of national disaster. This was followed by policy directives, including the closure of schools until September. The school re-opening process was staggered such that examination classes at primary and secondary levels, and final year students at universities and colleges, started first in mid-September. Schools, colleges and universities were fully re-opened in October 2020.
When the second wave began, schools were again closed between January 18 and February 22, 2021, with the aim of protecting students, teachers and parents and supporting national efforts in the fight against the spread of the virus.
The pandemic caught the education sector off-guard as structures to mitigate the effects of school closures, including the infrastructure to support remote learning, were not in place. And when open, most primary schools are overly congested and operate with minimal quality inputs, making compliance to the standard COVID measures very challenging.
In order to mitigate against the negative impacts of the COVID-19 control measures on the education sector, the Ministry of Education rolled out some distance learning measures. Among these were radio programmes for primary school-goers and online learning materials and non-digital learning sets for secondary school students. The government also launched an e-learning platform and subsidized the data costs to ensure access to education.
However, access to the internet remained a significant challenge for most households, especially those from the rural areas. Access to enablers like smartphones and radios was low. In addition, the majority of students come from rural and poor backgrounds where opportunity costs of schooling are high. After prolonged school closures, low-quality remote instruction and severe impacts on households, it is as yet unclear who has been able to return to school since March 2021.
A team of researchers from the Centre for Education Research and Training (CERT) at the University of Malawi and the National Statistical Office in Malawi in collaboration with the Center for Global Development has set out to conduct research to provide policymakers with evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on the education sector, in particular on primary education. The study will assess whether learners have re-enrolled, broken down by gender and socioeconomic status, and explore measures that may be taken to prevent subsequent dropout. We will also assess the uptake and perceived effectiveness of remote learning strategies during school closures and look at the strategies put in place by schools for remedial learning and classroom decongestion after schools reopened. This study will help policymakers understand how learners have been affected by the pandemic and whether there is a disproportionate impact on girls compared to boys. We are working directly with the Ministry of Education to share findings about the implementation of COVID-response measures and inform future policies.
Pakistan is the newest country where PREPARE will be conducting research.
A survey of parents and children across Pakistan conducted by Malala Fund and its Education Champions in Pakistan found that the pandemic is having uneven effects on the likelihood of completing school for girls versus boys, lower-income versus better-off children, and children in rural versus urban areas. The survey found low uptake of e-learning overall, with girls significantly less likely than boys to have access to phones or internet in some places. Overall, 82 percent of girls and 79 percent of boys surveyed said that they intended to return to school when schools reopen, with significant variances by location, household income, and grade level.
In collaboration with Malala Fund, CGD is working to identify a research partner in Pakistan who will investigate in greater detail the impacts of COVID-19 and school closures in the country, with a focus on girls’ education. The partnership will aim to inform policy and practice to create more resilient and gender-transformative education systems post-COVID. Stay tuned for updates on PREPARE’s work in Pakistan.
Centre de Recherche pour le Développement Économique et Social (CRDES)
The coronavirus pandemic hit Senegal at the beginning of March 2020 (the country declared its first official case on March 2, 2020). A year later, the country passed the fateful 1,000 death mark with more than 38,000 cases, despite measures by authorities to contain the spread of the virus. The country has faced two waves of COVID-19, which have led to public curfews, restrictions on public gatherings, and the cancellations of celebrations for Senegal’s 60th anniversary of independence.
Schools closed on March 13, 2020, and didn’t reopen fully for eight months. After schools reopened in June 2020 for exam classes, Senegal was able to officially end the 2019-2020 academic year and start the new academic year for all students in November 2020.
The real effects and impacts of the lockdowns and school closure on children are poorly documented. A telephone survey conducted by CGD and CRDES at the start of the crisis found, among other things, that more than 85 percent of surveyed Senegalese households had seen a decrease in their income since the beginning of the crisis. It also found that the closure of schools dramatically reduced learning time and exacerbated inequalities, as many students could not access learning materials during this period. Access to distance education was very low, in some cases non-existent, but above all very unequal.
Results of a mobile phone survey of 1000+ households in Senegal, April 2020
As the pandemic continues to unfold, there are many unanswered questions. There is a risk that school closures and income losses will lead to school dropouts. A political crisis in early March 2021 leading to mass demonstrations further shows the extent of the socio-economic challenges that await policymakers in the coming months and years. Decision makers need to be well-informed and have the right information to deal with an uncertain future.
This research project aims to provide decision makers with high-quality data. The lack of quality data is a real obstacle for public decision-makers, both in the design and monitoring and evaluation of the policies that have been put in place.
Our survey aims to provide answers to the question of whether and which students returned to school after the closures. By comparing levels of enrollment over the last few years, we want to see if the pandemic exacerbated gender, income, or regional inequalities in access to schooling. We also aim to measure the importance of these inequalities in repetitions and exam failures over the past few years, and to see to what extent they have changed with the pandemic.
This research also seeks to answer several related questions: We will also try to better understand the reasons why students have not returned to school, and to detect the degree of dropout associated with financial problems, health problems or fear of the coronavirus. The cessation of school activities also raises fears of an increase in early marriages and teenage pregnancies. Our work aims to understand this situation and better characterize it. And we will try to characterize the degree of compliance with COVID preventive measures in schools and how the pandemic has affected the motivation of teachers and staff in the school environment, such as teachers, school directors and staff.
The data from this survey are intended, among other goals, to compensate for the lack of quality data on the groups most affected by the educational effects of the pandemic, whether at the household level or at school level directly. By identifying the most at-risk groups in the population, our survey will give decision makers the means to better support these students and their parents and ensure they are not lost permanently to the school system.
This research is carried out in collaboration with government authorities, in particular the Ministry of National Education and the National Statistics Agency.
We plan three phone surveys of schools and households to measure school re-enrolment and drop-outs, with a focus on socio-economic inequalities and barriers to schooling. We will be working closely with the Ministry of Education to provide timely analysis of the impacts of the COVID school closure with the goal of informing Ministry policies.
Thanks to our former colleague Maryam Akmal for her work to start up PREPARE and to Susannah Hares for comments.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.