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Challenges and opportunities as students return to school in West Africa

This report shares survey findings on the barriers that children face as they transition back to school after prolonged closures with evidence from caregiver and staff surveys across Rising Academy Network Schools.

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Executive Summary

This report describes the results from the first round of phone surveys conducted with Rising Academy Network (RAN) families and staff in January-March 2021. The main objective of this study is to determine the barriers that girls face as they transition back to school after prolonged school closures and inform the type of interventions education providers should implement in response. We collected data on school enrollment, attendance, and the impact of COVID-19 on households across 103 government and private schools managed by RAN in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ghana. Across our sample, student dropout and irregular attendance rates after COVID-19 induced school closures are low and are expected to remain contained in the medium term. Caretakers reported that the transition to remote learning decreased the time children spend on education compared to time spent during in-person learning and had a negative impact on their learning. IDinsight will conduct a second round of data collection in Summer 2021 to help RAN develop additional interventions.

Key Findings
  1. Enrollment and attendance: Dropout rates and irregular attendance are generally low across countries. This contrasts with results from previous epidemics such as Ebola. Caretakers highlighted financial difficulties as the main barrier to re-enrollment.
  2. COVID-19’s impact on education: Caretakers report a decrease of at least 5.7 hours spent in education-related activities each day and 76% of them believe that this has negatively impacted their child’s learning. The main challenges limiting the time children spend in education are the lack of access to educational programming (39%), internet (44%), and materials (45%).
  3. Availability of devices and internet for distance learning: The technologies that children access on a weekly basis include basic handsets (45.7%), smartphones with data (36%), and radio (24.3%) One in eight (13.0%) of the respondents did not have access to any technology or inputs to support mobile use. Access to and utilization of the internet for schooling is limited.
  4. Support provided to students during school closures: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent closure of schools, caretakers and other individuals within the household had to assume a more active role in children’s education in order to support their learning. School staff and caretakers reported different frequencies of interaction between school staff and students.
  5. COVID-19’s impact on households: The financial impact of COVID-19 appears to be widespread with most (83%) caretakers having difficulty providing for their family. Regarding the health impact, despite the fact that the vast majority of parents have sent children back to school and have not observed high infection rates related to the pandemic, over half (54%) of caretakers ‘worry a lot’ about sending their kids to school during the COVID pandemic. Respondents do seem to think that some types of household conflict increased due to COVID-19 related stress.
  6. COVID-19’s impact on RAN’s staff: 61% of RAN staff expected that some of their colleagues would not return to school. The main reasons given include the possibility of another job (48.6%), better salary elsewhere (29.4%), and increased responsibilities at home (18.8%).
  1. Dropout and irregular attendance: Continue to monitor attendance and retention throughout the year considering the long-term financial impact of COVID-19 could translate into increased student’ dropout.
  2. COVID-19’s financial impact: Consider setting in place safety nets for families with low-economic status, families who are prone to food insecurity and lack access to electricity.
  3. Decrease in time spent on education: Education providers could re-think the role that their staff could play, as well as the support they would need, during future school closures to incentivize allocating time towards education and facilitation of remote learning.
  4. EdTech tools: Remote learning needs to be disseminated across multiple technological and non-technological tools in order to reach all types of students.
  5. COVID-19’s health impact: Communicate COVID-19 prevention protocols more clearly and broadly to reassure parents about the safety guidelines in place to protect the health and safety of students.
  6. Gender-based violence: Establish support structures for girls facing gender-based violence now and during potential future school closures.