Closing the educational gap: An OECS Academic Recovery Programme

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Written by OpenDevEd’s Callista Regis.

Relationship status: Open Development Education and OECS in Partnership

The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), comprises 11 member states committed to regional cooperation and societal integration including in education. Teaching and learning in the OECS has been strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw mass school closures, transition to teaching online, and parents and caregivers becoming increasingly involved  helping to teach their children at home across the region. In response, the OECS’s Education Development Management Unit (EDMU) partnered with Open Development and Education to design an Academic Recovery Programme (ARP) to tackle learning loss brought about by COVID-19, as well as to address existing educational gaps exacerbated by the pandemic. 

The ARP began with a focus on four member states: St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, and Grenada (other member states are expected to begin their ARP implementation at a later date). OpenDevEd has worked over the course of many months to build close working relationships with each member state. These partnerships have been essential to executing the ARP successfully, ensuring that each participating state implements a programme that is both evidence-based and tailored to its own socioeconomic realities.

Ministry of Education staff Nathalie Elliott and Giannetti George working on national ARP development, Saint Lucia
Photo Credit: Saby Etienne

What’s the situation on the ground?

The ARP’s design began with an extensive literature review, situational analysis, and interviews with key education stakeholders across the four focus countries. These interviews provided rich data from a number of perspectives, facilitating an in-depth understanding of both the regional and member-state specific situation in relation to education and COVID-19.   Across the region, school dropout is much higher among boys than girls, who also academically outperform their male counterparts at the primary level.

In some areas, access to devices and internet connectivity was inconsistent or non-existent. Furthermore, teachers were ill-prepared to deliver content effectively online, and the lack of teacher preparation and resources meant that the academic needs of some students were not met. In particular, students in earlier grades and those with special educational needs (SPED) were worst hit by the transition in teaching: a lack of social contact led to significant academic struggles for some in earlier grades.

While SPED students were already inadequately catered for, and almost forgotten in the transition to online learning. The lack of technological infrastructure also meant that many students were not reached with the necessary resources to continue their education at home. The effects of the pandemic on these unreached students are still unclear, and will not be fully grasped until wider diagnostic tests have been conducted. 

ARP Components

Following the information gathering and stakeholder consultations, the ARP was designed, comprising seven key components.

  1. Supporting teachers and instructors, building their capacity in online and face-to-face delivery within a blended learning environment
  2. Employing effective diagnostic tools to identify vulnerable students and track progress 
  3. Supporting SPED students with referral systems and tailored materials and approaches 
  4. Building partnerships with a range of relevant stakeholders
  5. Garnering community buy-in to and support for the programme
  6. Empowering parents to become partners who can support their child’s teaching and learning at home
  7. Developing a central repository of open-access materials and resources to support teachers, learners, and parents.

In short, the ARP will foster a team approach to addressing learning loss by soliciting input from parents, community professionals, and strategic partners, and attending to the psychosocial needs of teachers, students, and their families. Importantly, the ARP focuses on skills, not specific grades: by focusing on the skill levels commensurate with grades 1-3, the programme can identify older learners who are also facing problems and provides support to help them catch up.

ARP planning at the Ministry of Education, Dominica: Stephanie Baron Darroux, Dr Jeffrey Blaize,  Leandra Laidlow, Octavia Timothy
Photo credit: Dionne Durand Smith, MoE Communications Officer. 

The ARP is designed to promote continuous monitoring and evaluation of every step of the implementation. Several guidance documents support the ARP implementation and monitoring, taking account of the local context. This means that each member state can prioritise components of the ARP based on local needs and other considerations.

ARP implementation   

Initial implementation of the ARP among the four focus countries is expected to last from May to September 2021, owing in part to funding restrictions and the expiry of COVID-specific education grants from donors such as the Global Partnership for Education. The ARP includes documents that provide guidance on execution, budget, and timelines to guide effective implementation, as well as activity-specific documents relating to core activities, such as distributed, peer-facilitates teacher professional development sessions. The documents give flexibility to ensure each member state designs and executes their own ARP so that it compliments their unique local situations. Importantly, the ARP documentation developed provides guidance for monitoring and evaluating each component of the ARP in ways that promote accountability, promoting lasting impact.

Following the design and trialling of the ARP, OpenDevEd is providing pro-bono support to its implementation in the four focus countries. This aims to facilitate smooth execution of the initial stages of the ARP, whilst further forging strong working relationships with each focus country and the other OECS member states.

The case of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Already wrestling with the acute learning loss and the many inconveniences brought about by COVId-19, in April 2021 St. Vincent and the Grenadines were plunged into further difficulty with the explosive eruption of La Soufrière, a volcano in the north of St. Vincent. The eruption exacerbated an already fragile educational situation, forcing many families to move to shelters or to be evacuated from the country entirely. Providing a continuity of education has had to be reimagined once again, balancing a competing list of priorities, in particular, providing adequate space and basic necessities for displaced families, reaching out to students who were still at home, finding appropriate resources to work with a range of students in shelters, and continuing to manage the spread of COVID-19. 

Thus far, the government has managed to provide education for a range of students in shelters, but the situation has attracted the attention of many global organisations, with some donor agencies providing a presence on the island to assist.

MoE staff Noreen Ferguson playing a literacy  game with children at a shelter in Lodge Village, SVG
Photo credit: Edmira Walker, MoE staff
Children at the Greggs Primary School shelter, SVG, doing a colouring and discussion activity about their experience of the eruption.
Photo credit: Edmira Walker, MoE staff

OpenDevEd has supported fundraising efforts – in partnership with the UK-SVG Friendship Trust – and has been communicating with donor agencies to ensure that efforts are coordinated and effective in the longer term. The emergency education approach in St. Vincent will no doubt provide good data for emergency education plans for other OECS member states. In particular, an emergency education plan is important in the Caribbean region as the yearly hurricane season poses a threat to education in the form of school closures and damage to infrastructure. Through its support to a newer model of blended learning and distributed education support, the ARP offers an approach to help mitigate the effects of these natural hazards on education in the OECS. More information about St. Vincent and the volcanic eruption can be found here.

Children receiving educational supplies, SVG.
Photo credit: Edmira Walker, MoE staff

What’s next?

In the foreseeable future, OpenDevEd hopes to help support the adaptation and implementation of the ARP for five further OECS member and associate member states: Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, Anguilla, and the British Virgin Islands. Lessons learned from the first four focus countries can be applied to pre-empt and address upcoming challenges. Watch this space for further updates on the progress of the Academic Recovery Programme, helping the OECS to recover in its fight against COVID-19 and supporting its children to obtain a quality primary education.

References

OECS Logo: https://oecs.org/en/

Map of the four focus countries:  https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.skyecaribbean.com%2F&psig=AOvVaw0xeNcTvlLXKbRylD0uFTQC&ust=1621600921659000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCIC_066k2PACFQAAAAAdAAAAABAD

Icons retrieved  from The noun project:

  1. Adrien Coquet. ‘Teacher’. Link
  2. Alice Design. ‘Family’. Link
  3. designexpert61@gmail.com. ‘Community’. Link
  4. DinosoftLab. ‘diagnostics’. Link
  5. Razlan Hanafiah. ‘wheelchair’. Link
  6. Vectors Point. ‘ebook’. Link
  7. Vectorstall. ‘partnership’. Link

Available under Creative Commons Attribution https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/legalcode 

St. Vincent Cooperative Bank partners with UK-SVG Friends for SVG relief efforts

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Cross-posted from https://uksvgfriends.org/.

The UK-SVG Friendship Trust has teamed up with the St. Vincent Cooperative Bank as its local partner to assure the framework for the disbursement of its EC$ 800,000 La Soufriere Volcanic Eruption Recovery Assistance Programme.

The UK based Trust has engaged the bank due to its long-standing commitment to the country as one of the oldest indigenous banks. The “penny bank” with its strong roots in local communities will act to ensure that all funds spent locally are accounted for and that the programme delivers for its intended beneficiaries.

The UK-SVG friends is comprised of over 7000 donors in the UK. Collectively, they have so far contributed more than £250,000 in a campaign launched on the GoFundMe platform which was supported by the SVG High Commission. The Fund will have three components, (1) A specific sum to be transferred to the Government’s volcanic relief fund (2) A portion to be reserved for assisting persons who were evacuated and are returning home on advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (3) Purchase of items for immediate needs for those in shelters and those staying with families or friends.

According to Chairman of trustees Cenio Lewis, “the funding framework for the programme is to provide for the relief of hardship by persons directly impacted and displaced by the La Soufriere Volcanic eruption particularly those evacuated from the red zones. The Trust is especially concerned about the plight of women, girls and persons living with disabilities and those who are otherwise at high risk.”

Lewis further indicated that “as far as practicable, the Trust intends to directly procure food and personal care items in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to boost the local economy with particular attention to small enterprises. Given the double challenge of dampened economic activity due to the Covid-19 pandemic and now the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano, we wish to do our part to keep the economy afloat as we respond to individuals in most need.”

Executive Director of the St. Vincent Cooperative Bank Mr Albert Porter has welcomed the partnership stating that “this is an interesting time in the country’s history and the bank is pleased to be playing a pivotal role in helping to bring people back on their feet in partnership with the UK-SVG Friendship Trust. The bank stands in solidarity with the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and will help to rebuild the nation in whatever way possible”

Mr. Porter also highlighted that “The St. Vincent co-operative bank is known as the peoples bank because of its good track record of accountability, trust and a people centric focus. It is because of this we can forge these types of partnerships to ensure that those who are most in need can have access to the help they deserve.

The La Soufriere volcano began erupting explosively on April 9, 2021 after months of continued effusive eruptions which began on December 27, 2020. The explosive eruptions have led to the displacement of thousands of people who live near the volcano and have significantly destroyed agriculture and infrastructure, mainly in the northern region of St. Vincent.

Please continue to follow us on our social media platforms for further updates.

WELCOME DONNA FRASER OBE OLY TO TEAM UK SVG Friends

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Four times Olympian for Team GB announced this week on LinkedIn that she is now an official Ambassador for the UK-SVG Friendship Trust.

As a British Vincentian, Donna will continue to use her platform to support our La Soufriere Volcanic Eruption – Recovery Assistance Programme (SVG-RAP) which aims to assist families and friends directly impacted and displaced due to the ongoing eruption.

Our team is ecstatic to work alongside this great champion!

Your donations will help to reach those in need and with Donna’s support, we will ensure that our women, young girls and those living with disabilities are given greater attention.

Remember to share our GoFundMe campaign link and find us on your favourite social media platform by searching for @uksvgfriends.

#StrongerTogether #UKSVGFriends#IdonatedtoSVG#DonatetoSVG

More donations on the ground, 40ft container shipped AND Amazon Wishlist donations. Let’s keep going!

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This week we have helped even more people on the ground including a donation of 1,500 Sanitary pad packs to the Ministry of National Mobilisation, Social Development, the Family, Gender Affairs, Youth Housing and Informal Settlement to buffer their various welfare interventions. This is on top of the 3,000 Sanitary packs and 300 food care packages distributed – you can see images in the gallery above.

But we have also sent off a Shipment from the UK this week including donations purchased by an Amazon Wish List link which was created by Mina, a member of our donor community. Mina was inspired to create the Wish List by Ava Vidal who had previously created a Wish List for another crisis. She appreciated that those wanting to donate would appreciate the ease and wanted to do her bit to ensure that St. Vincent and the Grenadines got the support it needed during this terrible time.

Mina’s Amazon Wish List generated £2,673 worth of much needed donations and the UK-SVG Friendship Trust are very grateful to her for all her efforts to raise awareness and donations for the La Soufrière Volcano Recovery Assistance Programme. You can see some of what was purchased in this video:

These donations have been shipped along with other emergency aid contributions. We would like to give a heartfelt thanks to Waypoint Shipping, SVG High Commission, Geest Line NCSVGA, volunteers, donors and fundraisers once again.

For further updates on how the funds are being spent and where your donations are going, please check our social media links here: https://linktr.ee/UKSVGFRIENDS

Please like, share and comment on our updates because we want to hear from you.

#HelpSVG #StrongerTogether #LaSoufriereEruption #UKSVGGofundme #DonatetoSVG

Approaching £100k

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This story has been cross-posted from https://uksvgfriends.org/2021/04/13/approaching-100k/.

Great news! We are inching closer and closer to £100,000 and with your continued support, we will get there soon.

However, we are excited that we have received official communications from the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines through the High Commission’s Office that our campaign has been officially endorsed. See photo below! This helps us to focus on what matters!

Thanks to new friends to the Trust like Björn and Gemma who reached out to us today after making a donation, we will be getting a spanking new website shortly to better communicate with you. Björn and Gemma from www.opendeved.net have volunteered their services to get this important work done.

We have heard, you want us to get this right and we promise we are in this for the long haul. #forMother Hairouna!