Disruption and Rapid Response: A View of School Closures in Uganda From Educate!

This week’s post provides a glimpse of what is happening in Uganda during the school closures. The post begins with short email interviews with two Associate Teachers from Educate! and then includes some examples of how Educate! has adapted their work in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The excerpts are drawn from an article published on Medium by Boris Bulayev, one of Educate!’s Co-founders.

This post is the ninth in a series that includes views from Chile, Japan, the Netherlands, Scotland, Liberia, Pakistan, Australia, Canada, and China. The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.

In 2009, Educate! launched an experiential model for secondary education focusing on entrepreneurship. The key components of that model include a skills course in the last two years of secondary school, mentoring to help students start enterprises and community initiatives, and a professional development network for course leaders and mentors. Since that time, Educate! has scaled their approach in Uganda, expanded to Rwanda and Kenya and established partnerships with governments to support skills-based education nationally.

With the school closures in Uganda and most of Africa since March, As Boris Bulayev, put it in the article on Medium, “given our business model is rooted in in-person delivery, we were effectively out of business.” Although the Ugandan government is expected to make an announcement about reopening in September, in the meantime, the lockdown has been challenging for teachers as well as students and parents.

Alisio, an Associate Teacher with Educate! in Northern Uganda, and Akello, an Associate Teacher from the Lira District, shared their experiences in an email interview with IEN:

What’s happening with you and your family/friends? 

Alisio: I am fine, doing farming work and family work. Friends are also busy on the farm doing agriculture, but a few in the town have been left with no source of revenue since small- scale businesses have been closed. Life is harder in urban centers than the village.

Akello: Life is a bit difficult due to the lock-down since we cannot move anywhere. But I’m pushing on well.

What’s happening with education/learning in your community? 

Alisio: It’s been hard, lessons going on in the radio station from primary to secondary school. Five radio stations are conducting different lessons but I am uncertain of the education outcomes.

Akello: There is no serious learning taking place, some lessons are happening on Radio, TV but very few students pay attention to it and most parents are not also ensuring that the students get to listen and learn.

What do you/your community need help with?

Alisio: Relief food, agricultural inputs, repair of water sources. For education: financial sponsorship after lock down, both in primary and secondary especially as many parents have lost their source of livelihood.

Akello: It’s hard to determine the specifics, people want the lock down to end, and there are a lot of domestic violence related cases in families and this will affect the children. The help that can be given would be aimed at supporting orphans and designing projects that can respond to domestic violence cases.

What resources/links/supports have you found most useful? 

Alisio: History textbooks.

Akello: Reading the text books and making notes for students in preparation of the school opening.

What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?  

Alisio: Reading books – preparing notes for students, conducting behavioral research on the community.

Akello: Listening to/ watching the lessons on radio and TV respectively. Managing the students who are either watching or listening to the TV or Radio to be attentive. In my free time, I make briquettes.

What have you found most inspiring?

Alisio: I have shifted my mindset to have a positive attitude towards life. I have established other sources of income and now have a piggery project (7 pigs) and I hope to diversify my revenue stream.

Akello: Value everybody irrespective of status, put what you have learnt in practice.

While the schools have been closed and their direct relationships with students have largely had to stop, Educate! has also been trying to adapt. Drawing on resources like the Bain CEO plan for coronavirus and an article from Deloitte on resilient leadership, Bulayev described Educate!’s response as moving quickly into “defense” – ensuring they had the funds to survive for at least a year – and going on “offense” – essentially digitizing key aspects of their services and in-person delivery models.  To carry out that strategy, Educate! created three different teams, each focused on a different product:

  1. A version of their in-person, direct-to-school curriculum that can be delivered over a combination of radio, phone and SMS/text
  2. A government partnership to continue student learning of core subjects by USSD [“Unstructured Supplementary Service Data] and radio
  3. A light-web e-learning platform focused on youth, but open to others, on how to start and run hygienic motorbike delivery businesses during the coronavirus pandemic and stay safe while doing it, with potential to expand into informal retail and other informal sectors.

As Bulayev explains, although these strategies are designed to maintain their core services and impact over the short term, the crisis has also spawned the hope that over the long-term, the “digital will be blended with in-person to ideally achieve greater impact, scale, and sustainability.”

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