Adapting to New Circumstances: 2020 in Summary


Christopher Stanfill
Senior Director, Data & Operations
December 30, 2020

Education systems around the world were pushed to their brink as a result of immediate school closures in March. As governments found ways to adapt within their own borders and bring the pandemic to some level of control across communities, a multitude of support systems collaborated with local governments to ensure a coordinated response.

The Pencils of Promise (PoP) family was formed a little more than 12 years ago with the vision of our founder, Adam Braun, the community of for-purpose change makers that believed in his vision, and the dedicated volunteers and foundational employees who helped bring the vision to life. This family has grown to more than 100 employees across multiple offices around the world with the support of a true global community that has yielded hundreds of thousands of individual contributions. As all families can be challenged and presented with circumstances that define the strength of their bond, the PoP family stood up to the events of 2020 and discovered ways to learn, adapt and set a path forward to become stronger.

Albeit atypical in form of delivery, PoP programs continued to reach communities throughout school closures. Innovative forms of remote support were developed and PoP teams found ways to engage with teachers and students on various levels. The following summaries are highlights of accomplishments made in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos, which serve as evidence of the deep level of dedication PoP teams around the world have to their communities and partners and the passion for ensuring children have access to a quality education — no matter the circumstance.

Photo description: A group of students in Ghana sit at their desks inside the classroom. (Photo credit: Chi Chi Ari)

Ghana

Schools across Ghana closed in late March as a result of the pandemic and remained closed throughout the remainder of 2020, with a potential plan to reopen in January 2021. As soon as schools began to close, PoP teams in Ghana had to quickly adapt to ensure 1) communities continued to feel supported by PoP during such a difficult time and 2) discover ways in which students, caregivers and community members could remain engaged with learning materials. This took a great deal of planning and coordination with government counterparts and ensuring that all support agencies are working alongside one another rather than offering counterproductive and/or ineffective services. Adaptations to PoP programming included:

The 2019-2020 school year was getting close to beginning the third and final term before students and teachers had to leave the classroom. The following sections provide an overview of PoP’s Teacher Support and WASH program outputs and findings.

Photo description: A student in Ghana stands in front of the blackboard inside a PoP-built classroom. (Photo credit: Chi Chi Ari)

Teacher Support program outputs:

  • Schools with Teacher Support: 108
  • Total teachers: 910
  • Students benefited: 21,466
  • Reading materials: 9,000+ (includes both e-readers and paper books)

Teacher Observations (two rounds completed before COVID-19 school closures):

  • Teachers supported by PoP demonstrated the largest differences (compared to teachers not supported by PoP) in organization, material access, classroom management, managing student behavior, using question and discussion techniques, and using assessments.

Baseline Early Grade Reading Assessment results (endline data not collected due to school closures)

  • Primary 4 students in PoP-supported schools demonstrated a higher rate of passage reading proficiency (60 words per minute) compared to students not in PoP-supported schools (27% of students proficient compared to 17% of students not in PoP schools)
  • Primary 4 students in PoP-supported schools demonstrated a higher rate of reading comprehension proficiency (8 out of 10 questions correct) compared to students not in PoP-supported schools (26% of students proficient compared to 16% of students not in PoP schools)
Photo description: A group of students in Ghana use a handwashing station provided by PoP. (Photo credit: Chi Chi Ari)

WASH program outputs:

  • Schools with WASH: 80
  • Total teachers: 180
  • Students benefited: 16,879

WASH Observations

  • Water Access:
    • 96% of schools reported have an improved source of drinking water available at school
    • 94% of the 230 students interviewed mentioned getting water from a PoP-provided filter
  • Sanitation Facilities:
    • 96% of schools reported having improved toilets and urinals
    • 92% of facilities observed were fully functional (i.e., toilet in working condition, door unlocked, water available for flushing)
  • Hand washing:
    • 64% of all hand washing stations observed both soap and water
    • 38% of students observed demonstrated all six steps of proper hand washing
    • 53% of students observed leaving the bathroom washed their hands with soap and water

Guatemala

Schools across Guatemala closed in late March as a result of the pandemic and remained closed throughout the remainder of 2020, with a potential plan to reopen (in a hybrid format) for the beginning of the 2021 school year (i.e., January). As soon as schools began to close, PoP teams in Guatemala coordinated with government counterparts and adapted programmatic services to ensure communities continued to feel supported. Adaptations included:

  • Programmatic content and support services delivered via group WhatsApp messages
  • Remote coaching sessions
  • Distribution of videos that contained lessons
  • Continuing an increased level of community outreach through distribution of guides that aided community leaders in engaging with parents and/or caregivers during school closures

The 2020 school year was barely underway before students and teachers had to leave the classroom, but important findings associated with programmatic adaptions will inform innovative strategies for years to come. 

Photo description: Two students in Guatemala stand in front of a blackboard inside a classroom. (Photo credit: Lauren Smith)

Teacher Support and WASH remote program findings: 

A large sample of teachers and community leaders were polled to learn about their experiences with remote support provided by PoP teams. Even when in-person learning resumes, ways to broaden the reach of Teacher Support and WASH content will be engrained into components of typical program services.

  • Responses to PoP remote strategy during school closures
    • 86% of teachers believe that the implementation of the workshops through videos sent through WhatsApp groups and the coaching sessions via phone calls were different but effective strategies, and they agree that these forms of communication can continue during school closures.
    • More than half of the teachers said they had some level of difficulty watching the videos and stated the following reasons:
      • Teachers do not have a smartphone or internet access
      • Lack of telephone, internet signal and/or electricity
      • Disruption from children and/or need to attend to personal duties
    • Roughly 70% of teachers reported that coaching sessions have been effective remotely because they remain informed, supported and questions were clarified. 
Photo description: A teacher helps a student write on the white board at the front of a classroom in Guatemala. (Photo credit: Lauren Smith)

Community Engagement

Due to the suspension of in-school activities, the Community Engagement team implemented a Contingency Plan that allowed for community training sessions that were scheduled for this year. This plan consists of three stages:

  • First Stage: Sending content for “Recommendations during COVID-19”
    • This included five submissions of digital content (written messages, images and audio) through SMS and WhatsApp platforms.
  • Second Stage: Community Training 1
    • In person meetings with one or two community leaders to deliver Illustrative Guide # 1 “Pencils of Promise at Home” for later distribution to parents.
  • Third Stage: Community Training 2

By the end of the first stage, community leaders reported that digital content created by PoP had already reached more than 1,600 parents and/or caregivers. Feedback from community leaders on the content distributed during the training sessions (i.e., second and third stages) was overwhelmingly positive with 96% reporting documentation was easy to deliver, an effective form of communication with parents, comprehensive and well produced.

Photo description: A community in Guatemala celebrates the inauguration of a school.
(Photo credit: Amanda Brown)

Laos

Schools across Laos closed in late March as a result of the pandemic, but were able to reopen in late-May/early-June due to low viral spread and strict border closures. While the closures undoubtedly caused challenges for everyone in Laos, establishing a thoughtful path to reopening schools ensured that the 2019-2020 school year could be successfully finished and the 2020-2021 school year could begin on time. The following sections provide an overview of outputs and findings.

Teacher Support program outputs:

  • Schools with Teacher Support: 60
  • Total teachers: 108 (P4 and P5 only)
  • Students benefited: 1,566
Photo description: Members of a community in Laos lay the foundation for a school build. (Photo credit: Timmy Shivers)

2019-2020 Laos Teacher Observation Results:

  • Teachers receiving support from PoP performed better in all seven dimensions of the observation, compared to teachers not in the Teacher Support program.
  • Highest scores among PoP teachers can be seen in the ‘Organizing Physical Space/Use of Materials’ dimension (average score of 3.4 in second and fourth rounds), where there was also a large discrepancy compared to teachers not supported by PoP.

2019-2020 ASER Results:

  • Students in both Primary 4 and 5 at PoP-supported schools scored higher on five sections (objects, images, words, letters (upper and lower case)) compared to students not in PoP-supported schools
  • Students in PoP-supported schools were less likely to score a zero on five of the seven sections compared to students in schools not supported by PoP.
Photo description: Two students in Laos stand outside of a PoP-built school.
(Photo credit: Timmy Shivers)

WASH program outputs:

  • Schools with WASH: 41
  • Total teachers: 205
  • Students benefited: 5,566

WASH Observations:

  • 88% of students drink water from the filter provided by PoP
  • 96% of students had their own drinking cups
  • 76% of students keep their drinking cup at school
  • 82% of students demonstrated all seven steps of hand washing
  • 81% of students demonstrated all five steps of tooth brushing
  • 90% of students use PoP-built toilets at the school

Student Interviews:

  • 86% of students reported learning about WASH at school
  • 81% of students reported learning about WASH from their teacher
  • 44% of students could recite the seven steps of hand washing
Photo description: A student in Laos washes their hands with soap at a PoP-provided handwashing station. (Photo credit: Timmy Shivers)