Progress despite the pandemic

The lives of almost 10,000 girls are being changed for the better through our long-running Girls’ Education Challenge programme in Kampala, Uganda. The Covid pandemic has been a massive obstacle in the way of progress – but in spite of the challenges there is good news, as Mim Friday explains.

In 2013, Viva partnered with CRANE to help transform girls’ lives in Uganda. We started with just 500 out of school girls aged between 10 and 17 enrolling in one of 20 newly imagined Creative Learning Centres. Many of those girls are now mature young women whose lives have been transformed and who are now leading change in their own communities.

By March 2017, 9,890 girls had been supported to get back into school or helped to stay in school when they might otherwise have dropped out. In March 2020, we were still walking a journey with 6,318 girls and young women. The 3,500 girls who have transitioned off the project have mostly finished their studies and gone into work.

That month, all Ugandan schools were closed due to the Covid pandemic. For the next 83 weeks, schools remained firmly shut until January 2022. We were forced to rethink and regroup. Staff had already been prepared for home working. Teachers learned to get maths questions into 250-character text messages. Mentors learned to Zoom. Staff started writing manuals and creating virtual learning platforms. Whatever could be done, was done.

As the lockdowns extended from weeks to months, new strategies were pursued: transmitting through TV and radio; creating supplementary learning resources to compliment the government’s newspaper lessons. And once some movement was allowed, lessons under the mango trees where teachers created local learning clusters started to pop up.

Meanwhile, our safeguarding team was busier than ever. Relationships that had already been established with the police, prosecution and probation and social welfare offices saw CRANE becoming the active responder to children who were lost, abused, sick and in trouble. Children who had resisted leaving the streets came to quarantine camps where counselling and support helped many of them decide that when they could, they would go back home.

An external study has revealed some surprisingly good news this year.

While the number of students sitting exams went down across the country, we had more girls than ever before doing so. O-Level and A-Level students did better than they had done previously and better than the national average.

Incredibly, whilst the schools were closed, the children progressed three times faster than expected. It’s a testimony to the community mentors tracking the girls and to the teachers who went the extra mile. We believe that our regular delivery of reading and self-study materials, phone calls and SMS messages helped keep girls focused on school.

The number of girls from the programme who got pregnant or ended up in child labour was far less than the national averages. Additionally, the cases of project girls being abused has been a fraction of the national rates and of the community cases reported to us of children being abused. This, we believe, is attributable to the endless rounds of safeguarding training and awareness raising we have done with girls and their parents.

We are pursuing three crucial system-level changes, for which we would value your prayers.

In the area of disabilities, we have successfully opened and managed the National Education Assessment Centre, meaning children can now get a formal assessment from specialists.

A new school inspection tool has been proposed, which includes elements of Viva’s Quality Improvement System training. It is set to be rolled out nationally.

We desire better and faster child-friendly justice for children who have been abused or who are in conflict with the law. We have trained the Public Prosecution Service in basic Child Development and Child Psychology. The Judiciary has asked for the same training.

Article by Mim Friday, Viva Africa Director

The Girls’ Education Challenge programme is run by Viva and our partner network, supported by the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.