Rob Nicol & Stephanie Carter - Jun 29 2020
COVID-19 and Education in Fragile Contexts: Lessons from Mindanao

Source: Pathways

With more than 9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world, and more than 470,000 related deaths at the time of writing, this pandemic is a global priority. While the immediate spread of the virus does not discriminate, affecting people of different race, colour, language and religion, its long-lasting impacts will be experienced differently in different communities. For fragile and conflict-affected countries that remain outside mainstream global economic and political networks, and those with weaker governance systems, the effects of COVID-19 will be felt long after the pandemic subsides.

Don’t Forget about Education

One such fragile context is the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the southern Philippines. Following decades of armed conflict, the region commenced a peace process in recent years, based on an agreement between the national Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. While the Bangsamoro people continue to strengthen health and education systems and legal structures, there is still much to be done.

Since 2016, the Australian Government-funded Education Pathways to Peace program (“Pathways”) has worked in partnership with the Government of the BARMM, supporting conflict-sensitive quality education services in an area with the country’s poorest education learning outcomes. By investing in education, the program and its partners expect to see a positive impact on resilience, stability and peace in the region. With the advent of the COVID-19 crisis, there is an accelerated need to strengthen resources, leverage partnerships, and to do things differently.

“Covid-19 is a ‘game-changer’,” says BARMM Minister for Basic, Higher and Technical Education Mohagher Iqbal. “The pandemic has significantly affected the BARMM and other relevant institutions’ capacity to deliver essential services across the Bangsamoro region due to stringent health measures.”

Staying Connected During a Crisis

In BARMM, more than 860,000 primary school students are expected to be affected by COVID-19-related education disruptions. Working with the BARMM’s new inter-agency COVID-19 taskforce, the Pathways program has drawn on its adaptive programming approach to help address the impacts of the pandemic at the education frontline.

Offline and online strategies are being deployed to better support the ministry’s education services and COVID-19 Learning Continuity Plan, including the use of SMS and text blasts, two-way radio, social media, and broader mass media platforms.

“Pathways is helping us create a multi-platform communication system to help disseminate information including the Learning Continuity Plan and serve as an additional instructional delivery option,” explains Minister Iqbal.

A Pathways household survey showed only 5% of households in BARMM have internet and phone access, making learning continuity extremely difficult. To address this, partnership building has begun with existing radio stations, including with D’Alert radio in Sulu, and Lanao del Sur – part of the Kapai Radio Forum - in the remote Tagoloan and Kapai regions of the BARMM. By bringing on board a radio producer and generating a series of radio programs, key education announcements, as well as alerts and surveys, the ministry’s education services will reach a broader audience at this crucial time.

Working with Save the Children, Pathways is also supporting the spread of child-friendly health and hygiene messages to encourage handwashing with soap, social distancing, and symptom awareness. This is being achieved through posters, flyers, videos, and billboards, as well as through social media, radio and TV. Messages are translated into local languages and are expected to directly reach 14,400 children.

Minimising Further Disruption to Children’s Education

In supporting the BARMM’s broader Learning Continuity Plan, Pathways continues to explore additional measures that may minimise the COVID-19 disruption to children’s education services. As the school year begins, parents and caregivers will need to learn how to facilitate children’s learning at home. With Pathways support, the ministry is developing a home-based teacher induction package that gives teachers, parents and caregivers the tools they need to teach children in the home. These resources will be used beyond the COVID-19 crisis, strengthening the resilience of the ministry’s education services.

According to Pathways Team Leader Caroline Vandenabeele, this resilience is key.

“While Pathways’ program priorities have pivoted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the short-term, all activities are underpinned by the desire to build long-term stability and resilience so the Ministry can better deal with future disruptions to education and continue service delivery,” she says. “This is possible thanks to the full use of our adaptive, flexible, and responsive program approach. These are fundamental principles when working in volatile regions with transitional governments like the one we have in Mindanao.”

Pathways is a Philippines-Australia education program partnership, implemented by Palladium. Contact to learn more.