In the past, we in Canada may have been tempted to take education for granted. Of course our children will go to school when they turn five or six and stay in school until they graduate at the vibrant age of 18, ready to take on the world—or, at least, university. But after nearly two years of rolling COVID-19 lockdowns, school closures, and various versions of online-only or hybrid learning, we’re no longer so quick to assume anything when it comes to our children’s education. “From its early days, the pandemic has been a terrible study in inequality, so it seems inescapable that the world’s poorer countries would bear the heaviest costs. But kids also disappeared from classrooms in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.”1
We’ve witnessed the incredible stress that school closures have caused our children. Separated from their peers, struggling with new systems of learning, spending hours a day interacting with two-dimensional classrooms through a glowing screen—“disruptive” just doesn’t go far enough. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the gears of our global education systems, revealing the social cracks we need to work on, both here in Canada and across the globe.
January 24 marks the International Day of Education. It’s a day to reflect on the current state of things, the challenges we face, the successes we celebrate, and where we need to go from here. This year, the theme is appropriately named “Changing Course, Transforming Education.” The hope is to “generate debate around how to strengthen education as a public endeavour and common good, how to steer the digital transformation, support teachers, safeguard the planet and unlock the potential in every person to contribute to collective well-being and our shared home.”2
The pandemic’s impact on education has made it glaringly clear how the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” affects children in a crisis. According to Save the Children, “As schools closed and remote learning was not equally accessible for all children, the biggest education emergency in history widened the gap between countries and within countries….The divide grew between wealthier and poorer families; urban and rural households; refugees or displaced children and host populations; children with disabilities and children without disabilities.”3
Delivering School Supplies and Books
The shift from traditional classroom learning to an at-home based system has made it extremely difficult for older students in Guatemala to complete their studies. FH staff helped vulnerable teens get through this tough time through phone calls and home visits, encouraging them to not give up pursuing their high school diplomas. FH staff prioritized visiting five young people in particular who require more consistent follow-up to prevent them from dropping out of school.
Digital Access for All
FH staff and volunteer teachers in Cambodia trained 172 school-aged children how to use technology for remote learning in an effective and efficient way. Thanks to this training, children in rural areas have been able to access the website that hosts their online school lessons and use it to complete their homework assignments.
Feeding Hungry Students
In Uganda, FH met with parents and five school administrations to encourage them to pursue school feeding programs, even in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns. FH provided seeds including maize, beans, and soy, while schools and parents pitched in to prepare, plant, and weed 15 acres of land. Now it’s time to harvest!
While schools in Uganda remained closed for most of 2021, they did re-open to allow students passing from middle school to high school to take their qualifying exams. Parents and school administrators collected funds to provide these 135 students with mid-day meals to support their concentration in class. It’s worth noting that 105 boys and girls (over 75 percent!) passed their exams and can move on to secondary school in the new year.
Which is a huge sign of hope! According to UNESCO, “Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.” Food for the Hungry prioritizes gender equality in all of its programming, from agriculture to financial literacy to health empowerment to entrepreneurship to education, FH seeks to train women and girls to lead their communities.
Empowering Girls for Equal Opportunity
One way FH helps girls stay in school is through providing Girls’ Hygiene Kits to teens. In Uganda, FH trained pre-teen and teen girls on how to make reusable sanitary pads using locally available materials. A similar project was undertaken in Cambodia with great success a few years ago. In Uganda, girls were also provided with sex education and made aware of the benefits of refraining from early sex and pregnancy. The girls were encouraged to share what they learned with their friends in the hopes of reducing school absenteeism among girls.
Where to now?
Visit our Gifts for Change Gift Guide to give a gift that supports education, or consider sponsoring a child.