Africa holds the secret to tackling the world’s post-COVID education crisis, an educational foundation said today.
New research from Education.org, a non-profit initiative to bring the world’s best available evidence into the hands of education leaders, shows how ‘accelerated learning’ has been pioneered across African countries over the past decade. These innovative programmes have compressed up to three years of primary education into one school year for children missing out on school due to poverty, child labour, war or Ebola.
Education.org says using the best of these approaches could help African countries to catch up learning lost to the pandemic and recoup over half of their pandemic-related GDP losses as recovered learning translates into higher earnings.
Below is a snapshot of accelerated learning successes from Education.org’s research focus countries:
Ethiopia: Speed Schools give hope to working children
Since 2011, Geneva Global has operated a Speed School programme in Ethiopia to help out-of-school 9-14-year-olds get into formal education. Many of these children are living in extreme poverty and are expected to work. Speed School classes cover Grades 1 to 3 in ten months using a condensed curriculum. They use fun, activity based, learner-centred methods, continuous assessment by specially trained facilitators, and relatable lessons linked directly to the pupils’ local contexts. Community engagement is key, with self-help groups for mothers. Speed Schools have benefited more than 250,000 children, over 95 per cent transitioning to state primary schools where they routinely outperform their peers. The programme is now fully integrated into the government education system with a dedicated Speed School Unit and regional equivalents.
Liberia: a Second Chance at education after civil war and Ebola
Since 2016, the Luminos Fund has been running a Second Chance accelerated learning programme in Liberia to address acute educational challenges following years of civil war and Ebola. More than half of primary-aged children are out-of-school. The programme condenses the first three grades of primary into ten months. It forges deep links with hard-to-reach communities to target vulnerable children aged 8-14 and gain the support of parents to keep them in class. So far, it has graduated 12,650 students, with 90 per cent transitioning successfully to government schools. The endline evaluation of the 2020/2021 year singled out impressive improvements in students’ reading abilities. It also said the classes were helping to cement peace in communities. The Luminos Fund is working with the Liberian Government with the aim of scaling the programme.
Kenya: supporting refugee children to catch up on lost learning
In northern Kenya, accelerated education programmes have served refugee communities in the long-term camps of Dadaab and Kakuma. Since 2017, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has been targeting 10-18-year-olds who have never been to school or had sporadic learning. The programme has focused on the essentials of literacy and numeracy, while also offering psychosocial support for children to improve their wellbeing and restore a sense of normality and hope. Since 2019, they have enrolled a total of 8,178 students, enabling many of them to transition to formal schools. NRC and other partners are now working with the Ministry of Education to develop a standardised accelerated education curriculum, covering the first two grades of primary in one year.
South Sudan: ‘teaching the teachers’ with accelerated secondary education
A new initiative in South Sudan is using the accelerated learning model to help teachers to complete their secondary education. Sixty per cent of South Sudan’s teachers are untrained; the majority do not have a secondary education certificate so they cannot progress to professional training. Non-profit Windle Trust International condensed the four-year secondary curriculum into 2 ½ years and set up centres in each of the country’s ten states where teachers attend class in the afternoons after school. They are currently educating 500 teachers – and working closely with the Ministry of Education to have accelerated secondary education incorporated into the country’s alternative education system policy.
Northeast Nigeria: helping displaced children to learn safely in a conflict zone
In the northeast of Nigeria, displacement and insecurity caused by the 10-year conflict have had a devastating impact on education at all levels, especially for girls. The USAID-funded Addressing Education in Northeast Nigeria programme (AENN) targeted students aged 6-15 in 180 communities in Yobe and Borno states, helping them to catch up and transition into formal schooling. Implemented by FHI360 and partners, it set up 912 Non-formal Learning Centres offering a compressed curriculum in local languages, Hausa and Kanuri. As well as basic literacy and numeracy, it prioritised social and emotional learning for students who had experienced trauma from witnessing violence, displacement, and being orphaned. It also trained a total of 2,412 educators in conflict-sensitive education practices. By collaborating closely with communities and local authorities, it helped 201,555 children and youth to access education (75,576 in Nonformal Learning Centres and 125,979 in formal schools).
Sierra Leone: getting teenage mothers back into school
Education in Sierra Leone has been repeatedly disrupted, with an 11-year civil war followed by the 2014 – 2016 Ebola outbreak, and then COVID-19. Girls have been particularly affected: 28 per cent of 15-19-year-olds are teenage mothers, mostly from the poorest households. The Education Breakthrough Project (2016-20), led by Save the Children, set out to use accelerated learning methods with 720 children and youth in Pujehun district in the south of the country, home to many civil war orphans and teen mothers. It worked closely with communities to overcome stigma around pregnancy, providing counselling and using specific measures to protect girls in school. In 2020, 88 per cent of students in the programme passed the National Primary School Examinations enabling them to move into junior secondary education, 248 boys and 246 girls. Having enacted the 2021 Radical Inclusion policy for education, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Education is working to formalise existing guidelines to support pregnant teens and young mothers to re-enter formal schooling through accelerated education.