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Educational leadership at local and community level: Supporting ‘Quality Education’ even in times of adversity

Updated Friday, 4 September 2020
The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were created to achieve a better future for all. In this article Dr Eric Addae-Kyeremeh explores how SDG 4: Quality Education has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Globally, it is estimated that remote learning is out of reach for at least 500 million students.While the objective of equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all has always been a challenge, the COVID-19 global pandemic of 2020 has made the realisation of these targets even more so. The United Nations Department for Social and Economic Affairs estimates that school closures have kept 90% of all students out of school globally, reversing years of progress in education.  Governments around the world have had to ensure continuity of learning through alternative means. This has mostly been technology-based remote learning approaches, even though that risks exacerbating the challenges associated with the digital divide which disproportionately affects the underprivileged in both low-income and high-income countries. Globally, it is estimated that remote learning is out of reach for at least 500 million students. In these difficult times, it’s even more important that we stick to our goals of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all (SDG 4).

Achieving the SDG 4 goals in these unprecedented times does not only sit in the school setting and with government. Educational leadership at local and community level plays a key part in its achievement. While governments engage in the process of developing digital and online portals that host video and audio content for learners (for example, iCampusGH from the government of Ghana), at local and community level, particularly in low-income countries, educators have deployed a range of appropriate solutions to ensure learning continues for children who don’t have access to the internet or the necessary devices for accessing this content. International development partners, with local and community leaders at their core, have taken responsibility for the development, planning and delivery of initiatives that have ensured we stick to the goal(s) even in times of adversity.

Localised approaches that offer resilient solutions in times of adversity also need local leaders who are resilient. There are three important aspects to building this resilience:

  • Uncertainty is not just a phenomenon that is experienced at senior levels in an education system. Local leaders’ responses to the uncertainty about when children will return to school have meant looking for creative ways to keep learning going. For many in low-income countries the solutions have focused on low-tech approaches (e.g. radio broadcast in local communities). A recent blog post by Power (2020) on Activating local study-groups for children’s learning—an equitable EdTech response? shows how local community leaders in Zimbabwe have used WhatsApp to recruit and support local Community Learning Champions who cocreate and share learning activities with children and caregivers on a daily basis. The team report that this approach is being trialed in 4 of the 9 project districts, with approximately 100 champions reaching over 1,000 children. Whether they are called headteachers, education supervisors, community-based educators, etc., they continue to play a significant role in ensuring learning continues for all.
  • Focusing on what works: local and community leaders are best suited to finding context-specific solutions; therefore, their voices are essential in designing sustainable solutions that will stand the test of time. Woodward et al., (2020), in their blogpost, also catalogue how local and community leadership have helped in harnessing low-tech strategies to counter social-distancing restrictions resulting from COVID-19, by offering a wealth of opportunity to vulnerable girls in Zimbabwe. This localised solution doesn’t only demonstrate leadership at local and community level, it is building resilience into the education system, working with and supporting local educators to find localised solutions in times of adversity. The benefits of such approaches can be sustained beyond the COVID-19 crisis. While focusing on localised solutions that work, Sampat and Oomen (2020) highlight the important role of school leaders in the recovery and continuity of learning when schools return to normalcy.
  • Recognising and responding to the emotional impact of change: adversity and the impact of change and COVID-19 affects people differently and they react in different ways – some negative, some positive. While the negative impact on children and schooling has been widely debated in political and policy discourses, the positives have been underplayed. There is overwhelming anecdotal evidence (including my own) about how families have enjoyed more time together and teachers have valued the flexibility afforded by distance education. As educators welcome children back to school, it is important to recognise the different experiences children bring back and harness these experiences into something meaningful and productive as they help children build emotional resilience.

Now – even more than before the COVID-19 pandemic – it’s important to stick to our goals so that societies don’t become even more polarised. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 thrusts on us the responsibility to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all. We have to recognise that our success will partly depend on local leaders who are also resilient.

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