Education Prevails: Sifting through COVID-19 with Education VP Eileen St. George
By Ashley Williams
April 15, 2020
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The world is adjusting to a new reality as the coronavirus continues to cause global havoc. Education is one of the many consequential sectors hit during this crisis, and we are left asking: “How do we educate 1.6 billion students who are now out of school, particularly in low-resource areas?”
The solutions are being developed, but each day education professionals and policymakers are mobilizing to bring learning into people’s homes. Throughout our series “Education Prevails,” we will speak with people from across the sector to explore the challenges, innovations and humanity going into caring for children worldwide during COVID-19.
Eileen St. George, Ph.D., Vice President of Creative’s Education Division, discusses where we are at in the pandemic now and her hopes and fears for education as we continue to navigate this crisis.
What are the challenges faced by the education in development field during this pandemic?
Everyone is working through how to effectively pivot from business as usual to considering new ways of educational delivery. Meanwhile, all of us — both implementers and stakeholders — are personally touched by this global crisis and doing our best to move forward.
We are immediately faced with the lack of infrastructure to equitably reach students and parents with learning practices that can aid the continuation of learning gains. Education implementers must determine how to make national curriculum content accessible and usable in the absence of facilitated learning.
No one knows how long this crisis will last or how long the ripple effects of it will be felt, so we are looking at how to provide robust solutions that enable children to continue to access education and students to continue on their educational pathway towards completion.
Tell us about an inspiring/creative education solution you’ve seen to the challenges presented by COVID-19?
While I am yet to be truly inspired by the solutions — they’re in the beginning stages — I am heartened by the energy and commitment of education providers globally. The education sector is unprepared to provide the equivalence of formal school remotely in the places we work (and here at home in the U.S.), but everyone is dedicated to innovating in the time of COVID–19.
I also appreciate the quick turn-around from Ministries of Education to mobilize funding and support that will be critical to our collective response.
What is your greatest fear for education during this time?
The most vulnerable children will suffer greatly during this crisis, and that’s heartbreaking. Many will fall further behind, especially those from homes and communities with low literacy rates and those without mobile connectivity.
The economic downfall of COVID-19 will hit the countries we work in and the opportunity costs for families will call these children back to household income generation for immediate survival rather than investment in the longer-term benefits of education.
We have a host of students who are at greater risk of not returning to school as well as a population of children at greater risk of not ever accessing schooling. Looking ahead, this is concerning as the education of a country’s children and youth is paramount to its future path to self-reliance.
We must also address that children for whom school is a safe haven away from home or community environments of violence, abuse or inadequate basic needs (such as food) are more deeply at risk.
Finally, I fear that inadequate stop gap solutions to education become “good enough,” thus using resources that should instead be invested into the right solutions. We must design interventions responsive to immediate needs but continue to improve upon them and look to the future.
What education opportunities do you think might emerge during this time?
This experience has the opportunity to reshape the education landscape. It is forcing everyone to address the inequality of internet access and brings an invigored commitment to USAID’s Last-Mile Connectivity Initiative and the new Digital Strategy.
I am hoping that we will see a new vision for creating learning communities and new and exciting ways to promote the achievement of learning outcomes that are more flexible, multifaceted and experientially oriented in life and community.
Blended solutions for learning will become prioritized globally to allow learning to pivot from classrooms to households while mitigating the spread of coronavirus. I can only be hopeful that this experience helps bridge the divide between homes and schools in sharing the responsibility and solution-building for the education of our children and youth.