PEAS - How we responded to Covid-19

PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools) was founded with a mission to expand access to quality, secondary education for all children in Africa and they currently have 28 schools in Uganda and 4 schools in Zambia.

A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of five and each additional year of secondary education adds 13% to a person’s lifetime earnings, which is enough to take a family out of poverty. Laura Brown, the CEO of PEAS explains the impact the Covid-19 has had on their organisation, schools and students and how they’ve adapted during this situation...

 

Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have been working hard to continue to support the students, parents and staff, as well as working with the Ministries of Education in Uganda and Zambia to help them respond to this crisis. The schools have been closed since mid-March, which, for us poses a huge safeguarding risk for our students. For them it’s not a case of being bored at home with potentially too much screen time, there are big health risks to the students with many of them living in communities without access to running water or sufficient healthcare opportunities. One of our main goals is to ensure that not only do we increase the number of students staying in secondary education but also to ensure that there is an equal number of girls in education as boys and ensure that communities understand the value of girls receiving this education. Child marriage and early pregnancy can spike during school closure and we learned from the Ebola pandemic and school closures in West Africa in recent years that when schools close in rural Africa, the poorest students are likely to drop out of education forever. The longer the schools are closed for, the less valuable the secondary education becomes so the girls are often encouraged to marry with the boys busy engaging in agricultural or fishing labour and then it becomes too hard for families to give up that additional income when the schools re-open again.

 

For us, when the schools closed, we were concerned about the students and the governments only gave us 24-hours’ notice to close, so it was a really big task to organise this overnight. In addition to this we had to completely re-design our support and programmes for students from ones which were delivered through schools to ones that could be delivered remotely at asocial distance. That was particularly challenging as 1/3 of our students come from households that live below the $1.90 a day international poverty line so our students don’t have access to smartphones, internet or TV. We had to think really creatively about how we would be able to support our students during this time when they needed our support more than ever.

 

We designed a package of low-tech interventions using basic Nokia style phones and also through the use of radio, so our teachers and teams are sending SMS messages to our students and their families with lots of core messaging and health messaging. One of the big challenges we’re facing is that there is a lot of fake news and false information about Covid-19 circulating in our communities and so we’re being a provider of high quality, public health information, which is lacking in our communities. We’re using these tools to support our students to make sure that they’re being safeguarded and being protected during the period of school closure and then we’re also using the radio to deliver our lessons and our curriculum. The teachers now have developed a radio programme so that instead of delivering the lessons in the classroom, each programme is linked to the curriculum for all of the years of secondary school. The children are able to listen in for the content and do their questions, but they also receive lots of safeguarding and health messaging within that. The content for the radio has also been endorsed and approved by the governments in both countries, so it’s not just the PEAS students that we’re educating at this time, but also millions of other children are also receiving their education in this way, which is quite exciting.

 

It has been a huge effort to completely pivot our programmes in this way and one we weren’t expecting to have to do at all. We were really grateful that COINS Foundation very quickly changed the nature of their funding for this year in order to support this work, which has made a huge difference with the transition.

 

We also launched a new fundraising campaign called #FundAYear, which is to help support our Covid response and the aim of this is to demonstrate how relatively simple and routine daily costs in the UK can have a transformative impact on a child’s life in Africa. In the UK, £29 doesn’t get you very far, but in Uganda and Zambia that same amount can provide a child education for a full year.

 

Thank you again to the team at COINS and the COINS Foundation for the support to PEAS over the long term, and for stepping up as an invaluable partner as we navigate a challenging period and seek opportunity out of adversity.