The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to fundamentally rethink the design, implementation, and measurement of our Girls’ Education Program (GEP) at Room to Read to ensure girls are supported, continue their education, and develop the life skills they need for long-term success (see our theory of change graphic below).
As the pandemic took full force in the first quarter of 2020 and schools closed across the eight countries where we implement our program, our typical way of working was rendered obsolete—nearly overnight. We recognized the long-term negative effect that school closures can have on girls’ life outcomes in low-income communities based on evidence from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and many other crises and conflicts. We also recognized that as families deal with unprecedented levels of stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of intrafamily conflict and gender-based violence increases, negatively impacting girls’ self-confidence, well-being, and ability to effectively navigate key life decisions.
To counter these challenges, we harnessed the power of a team of community-based staff who knew the local context, were close to the realities and needs of the girls, and were highly invested in their success. These strengths drove our immediate response to school closures, transitioning our school-based small group life skills and mentoring sessions into a system of remote one-on-one mentoring sessions within a matter of weeks. Our teams’ knowledge of program participants and their families facilitated this quick response and focused our mentoring on four priority areas: well-being, academics at home, staying safe and healthy, and girls’ return to school. Over the ensuing weeks, we worked at a global level to assess the best practices used across countries and brought those practices together into a common set of guidance, which is still evolving.
In some countries where connectivity is greater and data is cheaper, social mobilizers are also leading virtual group mentoring sessions, ensuring that girls continue to have access to the support of their peers, which is crucial in times of stress. In other countries, such as Nepal and Bangladesh, we have developed and broadcast radio programs with life skills and mentoring content.
Read the full article about reimagining girls’ education by Christine H. Beggs and Lucina Di Meco at Brookings.
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