The Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a partnership and funding platform to strengthen education systems in developing countries, has approved grants totaling US$381 million to help 47 countries respond to coronavirus-related school closures ensuring children continue learning during the pandemic. A further US$20 million is being provided to a joint initiative managed by UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank that will ensure regional and global efficiencies and knowledge sharing. Alice Albright, chief executive officer at GPE, says nearly 720 million students are out of school in developing countries where combined impacts of school closures and economic hardship due to the coronavirus, threaten to reverse decades of hard-won gains in education. She says girls are especially at risk, as they are more likely to have to take on household chores alongside remote learning, and when girls are out of school they are more vulnerable to gender-based violence, early marriage and teenage pregnancy. “There is a risk that millions of the most vulnerable children, especially girls, will never set foot in a classroom again and GPE is committed to ensuring no child’s education is left behind because of COVID-19. Our emergency funds are helping partner countries keep children engaged in learning, making sure they can return when schools reopen,” she says. Developing country governments are using GPE funds to improve access to remote learning, support safe reopening of schools and strengthen the resilience of the education sector to respond to future emergencies. Remote learning solutions being applied in GPE partner countries vary widely, but three quarters rely on radio, television and print materials as these approaches ensure the most marginalised children without access to internet connectivity or electricity, aren’t falling too far behind. According to Albright, GPE works with partner countries to ensure grants focus heavily on the most marginalised children by for example, providing materials adapted to children with learning disorders or disabilities. She says it is essential that distance learning programs are reaching the poorest and most marginalised girls and boys and are not just accessible to the rich and able. Serigne Mbaye Thiam, vice board chair of GPE, says emergency funding from GPE ensures countries get technical and financial support to sustain learning for all their children and many governments are using several platforms simultaneously to reach the greatest number of learners. In Rwanda, GPE’s $10 million grant will support radio and television programming and deliver educational content online via YouTube and e-learning, while Timor-Leste is using its $3.5 million grant to expand the Eskola Ba Uma (School Goes Home) initiative, school lessons broadcast on radio and television, available in print and online.
According to Thiam, some countries are using the COVID-19 crisis to invest in solutions that will provide greater resilience to future disruptions such as the Eastern Caribbean States of Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines using a regional grant from GPE to give every child across the four countries access to an online learning device. He says a partnership with the telecommunications sector will ensure access to e-learning materials is free and this investment in remote learning could also be used in future emergencies as these four countries are among the most vulnerable in the world to hurricanes and other natural disasters.
“Following the launch of the GPE COVID-19 fund on 1 April, 51 countries have applied for an initial amount of $537 million in emergency grants. In response to the high demand, GPE increased its COVID-19 funding window to $500 million in June and an additional 16 countries are expected to apply for $51 million in the coming months. Grant applications are based on countries' existing COVID-19 education response plans with the GPE previously providing US$ 8.8 million to support 87 countries to develop these plans,” says Thiam.