Strategies for Promoting and Strengthening Learning Continuity Amidst Emergency Situations

The fundamental human right of every child to education is threatened during and after a crisis. Every year, millions of children have their education disrupted due to humanitarian crises, acts of terrorism, natural hazards, and other forms of sudden and unforeseen insurgencies. People are forced to flee the comfort of their homes during a crisis with children paying the highest price one of which is an absolute disruption in their education. In the words of Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director: “Children do not start wars, and they cannot end them, but they always pay the highest price”.

Education must be resilient especially during and after a crisis. There is an urgent need to ensure that learning is not disrupted for children who have been in school. Learning does not have to stop after a crisis, hence, the importance of developing and integrating strategies to ensure learning continuity amidst emergencies. This is because education helps to provide psychosocial benefits of creating a sense of safety and normalcy for displaced children.

There is a huge learning crisis with millions of primary and secondary students forced to be out of school due to emergencies leading to a huge gap in foundational skills development needed for life-long learning and future success.

Emergencies disrupt the educational process, leading to lost school days, damaged infrastructure, and displaced communities. Natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, conflicts, and pandemics can devastate entire educational systems. The immediate effects include the destruction of schools, the loss of educational materials, and the displacement of teachers and students. The long-term consequences are equally severe, potentially leading to increased dropout rates, learning gaps, and psychological trauma among children.

Foundational Skills such as basic literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking are particularly vulnerable during emergencies. The early educational stages are crucial for cognitive development and future academic success. However, emergencies exacerbate existing challenges in education, such as limited access to quality education, insufficient teacher training, and inadequate infrastructure.

According to the World Bank, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of learning poverty in the world with 9 out of 10 children unable to read and understand a simple story by the age of 10

Ensuring that education continues seamlessly, even in the aftermath of emergencies will have a huge impact on the well-being of refugee children The urgency of restoring foundational learning in such contexts is critical, as the foundational years in education lay the groundwork for lifelong learning and development.

1. A well-structured plan for Education in an Emergency: Relevant stakeholders such as governments, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and educational institutions must collaborate to ensure that education is not disrupted during a crisis. This can be done by collectively developing a comprehensive emergency education plan that prioritizes the swift resumption of educational activities and the establishment of accelerated learning spaces must be met. This plan must include a proper risk assessment, resource allocation and mobilization, policy implementation, and an effective monitoring and evaluation plan to ensure that education remains a priority in humanitarian responses.

2. Teachers Professional Development Program: During emergencies, recruiting teachers tends to be a big challenge due to a lack of necessary qualifications, hence the need for training teachers and school administrators in emergency preparedness and response. This will enable teachers to be equipped to manage learning continuity during a crisis effectively.

Teachers should be exposed to training on vocational and life-skills education, emotional resilience, innovative teaching methods, and approaches, particularly in non-traditional educational settings, dynamic curriculum design and adaptation, and other vital training that will enable them to sustain education during and after a crisis.

3. Accelerated Learning Centers and Programs: Making provisions for accelerated learning centers such as community learning centers can be a way to prepare for emergencies. These facilities should be safe and accessible to community members to serve as a space for children to continue learning. The facilities should also be equipped with learning materials to enhance their learning process.

It is also important that local stakeholders and members of the community are carried along and involved in setting up these community centers in order to ensure that the educational responses are culturally relevant and sensitive. Also leveraging community resources and expertise ensures that educational programs are sustainable and aligned with local needs.

More importantly, incorporating accelerated learning programs can help bridge learning gaps as these programs help to accelerate learning and help the children catch up on lost learning time. These programs are particularly effective for older children who have missed significant schooling.

4. Technology and Digital Learning Solutions: E-learning platforms and online learning resources that do not require internet access can be very useful during a crisis, especially for communities located in remote areas with a lack of access to the internet. These platforms can offer flexible learning opportunities for learners which could also ensure that learning continues.

In some extreme cases, learning can also be broadcasted via radio and television to reach a wider audience in areas with limited internet access ensuring the continuity of basic foundational learning.

5. Monitoring and Evaluation: This is a very important aspect of ensuring learning continuity amidst emergencies. This is because the strategies outlined above can only be as effective for learning continuity when they undergo an intensive and intentional monitoring and evaluation process.

A monitoring and evaluation system must be put in place as one of the strategies as this is important for assessing the impact of the various interventions as well as evaluating the outcomes to draw learnings from the process.  M&E tools help identify gaps, measure progress, and inform policy decisions. Collecting and analyzing data on attendance, learning outcomes, and psychosocial well-being ensures that educational programs are responsive and adaptive to learner’s needs.

At this point, it is important to state that an intentional effort must be put into ensuring foundational learning continuity during emergencies is a huge challenge, but it is also doable. With collective planning effort and input from every relevant stakeholder, authority, and institution, incorporating innovative and effective strategies, education continuity can be maintained even in the most adverse situations and education in emergencies can become possible.

Education in emergencies not only mitigates the psychosocial impact of various forms of crises but also safeguards the rights of every child. Our collective commitment to foundational learning will build the foundation for lifelong learning and future success for every child.

Written By: Elizabeth Abikoye

Digital Communications and Social Media Associate, AREAi.