How are PoP-supported communities responding during COVID-19?

Pencils of Promise
June 29, 2020

In order to adequately prepare for school reopenings when local governments in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos deem it appropriate, Pencils of Promise (PoP) sought to learn from teachers and community members to understand 1) personal and collective experiences during COVID-19 and 2) comfort level of communities once again engaging with PoP team members. Throughout late-May and early-June, Learning & Evaluation (L&E) teams reached out to teachers and community leaders via phone interviews and/or digital surveys to gather information about experiences during COVID-19 that helps formulate a tailored plan to meet specific needs when PoP programming returns to school grounds. The following are summaries provided by all PoP L&E Managers that serve as briefs on the highly detailed and thorough full reports produced by each team. These data will be used to inform ongoing adaptations that PoP’s Programs teams are implementing, as outlined in recent Transparency Talks:

Ghana: Summary of COVID-19 survey results

Edwin Asare, Ghana Learning & Evaluation Manager
Photo description: Five teachers in a PoP-supported classroom in Ghana gather in front of the blackboard for a picture.
Photo credit: Nick Onken

A sample of 50 teachers (25 males and 25 females) were interviewed over the phone. Out of this number 19 were Head Teachers. Overall, all teachers were willing to welcome PoP staff back to their respective schools when classes resume. Examples of statements confirming this were: 

  • “I don’t think the COVID-19 can stop the good work PoP is doing. But the staff visiting must follow the [government] protocols.”
  • “It will be very nice to have the PoP team back to my school to continue the good work they are doing.”
  • “If the PoP team does not visit how will they be able to implement the programs? It will be my joy to see the PoP team in my school.”
  • “I will see it as a continuation of work.”

The respondents said being home was boring; however, it is for their own safety. Almost all teachers interviewed found the PoP weekly text messages useful and more than half (68%) of the respondents could not successfully sign onto the PoP Reading Mobile App (Figure 1 in previously published Transparency Talk). This was largely attributed to lack of stable internet services, followed by faulty mobile phones. Examples of some of the responses confirming these experiences were: 

  • “Due to network issues in my current location, I could not access the PoP Reading Mobile App.”
  • “I have a problem with my phone so I have not been able to. I will access it once I fix my phone.”

Majority of the respondents said no community structures currently exist to support education during COVID-19. Only a few of the respondents mentioned community centers, community radios and other public address systems as structures which could be used to support learners during this period. For example, two respondents said:

  • “There is a community center where learners gather in the evening for some adults to teach and read to them.”
  • There is a public address system that can be used to teach learners. The local radio station can also be used to teach learners.”

Majority of the respondents suggested that PoP distributed e-readers be returned to the students during this time so that they can keep reading. Examples of some statements confirming this are as follows: 

  • “PoP should share the e-readers with learners to engage with them during [COVID-19].”
  • “It will be great if the e-readers can be made available for learners to take home.”
  • “It would be nice for PoP to give the e-readers back to students to read as they are at home. PoP can collaborate with PTA executives in the community to monitor the movement of the e-readers.”

Some of the respondents also proposed that hardcopy books be given to the learners. In conclusion, the teachers will welcome back PoP to continue programming in their schools.

Guatemala: Summary of community/teacher survey results about the impact of COVID-19

Viviana Tzul, Guatemala Learning & Evaluation Manager
Photo description: A teacher in Guatemala conducts a lesson in her classroom at a PoP supported school.
Photo credit: Amanda Brown

Community Engagement, L&E and Program teams implemented surveys of teachers and community leaders from the 30 schools receiving the WASH and Teacher Support programs during the 2020 school year. Teachers were surveyed via Google Forms, which were sent through WhatsApp groups established for each school. Community leaders were surveyed over the phone and are categorized in two groups: 1) Parent Organization (i.e., OPF) and 2) Community Development Council (i.e., COCODE). Teachers and community leaders were asked questions about how they were feeling during COVID-19, their access to technology and ways of communication and their availability and/or willingness to maintain participation in PoP programming once classes start again

Results from the surveys are as follows:

  • Number of teachers surveyed: 110 (out of 225)
    • 77% female | 23% male
  • Number of community leaders surveyed: 56
    • 61% female | 39% male
  • Results
    • Emotional state:
      • Most teachers feel worried, sad and scared because of health risks associated with COVID-19, contagion risk, education constraints and the impact on the local economy.
      • Most community leaders feel worried, sad and/or scared because of a struggling local economy, education constraints, contagion risk and future uncertainty.
    • Support to students while schools are closed:
      • 67.3% of teachers have provided students with the following:
        • Homework, guides, booklets, preventive recommendations for contagion and emotional support
        • Some teachers have used WhatsApp, text messages, phone calls or home visits.
    • Access to technology:
      • 61.8% of teachers have internet access all the time
      • 34.5% of teachers have internet access sometimes
      • 41.2% of community leaders have internet access all the time
      • 23.5% of community leaders have internet access sometimes
    • Willingness to allow PoP team to continue visiting the community after schools reopen:
      • 96.4% of teachers are willing to receive PoP’s teams as long as precautions are implemented
      • 100% of community leaders are willing to receive PoP’s teams as long as precautions are implemented
    • Most teachers and community leaders said that parents are afraid to send their kids to school once they reopen due to the risk of contracting COVID-19. They fear children will hardly be able to comply with hygiene and social distancing measures, crowds at schools and lack of information.
    • Quote:
      • “We agree to [have] you at any time, you have been supporting our community for years and we consider you part of our community, and everything that is for the benefit of our children — we [welcome you] with pleasure.” – Community leader

Laos: Summary of results from the teacher/community survey on impact of COVID-19

Thong Lor, Laos Learning & Evaluation Manager
Photo description: A teacher in Laos looks out of the window of the classroom and smiles.
Photo credit: Timmy Shivers

In early May 2020, the PoP Laos L&E team worked to conduct a survey with teachers and communities in order to continue support and find if there is a need and/or concern for PoP to return to communities and offer programming services.

To conduct surveys, an interview protocol was developed and the L&E team made phone calls to communities. These conversations over the phone gave PoP an opportunity to learn about and discuss the challenges regarding the daily lives of communities during the pandemic. 

Twelve district coaches and 30 PoP-supported teachers (including school principals) were contacted:

  • 83% of schools and communities described a lot of challenges such as school closures, being required to stay home, inability to find food due to market closures and restrictions placed on going outside to farm

During the survey, a teacher told a L&E team member, “During this challenging time, I can’t visit my friends and I can’t go out. I can’t go to my [farm].” Another teacher also said, “School lessons are not finished as planned… I miss meeting [with] people.”

Despite the challenges, communities stayed home hoping to overcome the difficult time and established their own plan of reopening and going back to school once things got better. Most of the survey responses mentioned that community meetings would be scheduled before reopening schools; however, it was also made clear that there is a need for classroom cleaning and provision of face masks and other hygiene equipment for students.

Teachers surveyed were very excited to get back to classes and do their job. 60% of teachers reported that during the school closure, they worked very hard on lesson planning and reviewed contents of lessons, including checking and making teaching materials (e.g., posters, diagrams, etc). One teacher said, ​”we are already planning to prepare lessons, make teaching materials and clean the school by using alcohol.” Besides readiness in order to get back to teaching, 67% of teachers said they needed more teaching materials in order to teach effectively and efficiently in classes. 

All schools in Laos are now open and operational

To fill the needs of the communities, PoP is taking action and working closely with the Ministry of Education to plan and provide communities with materials. PoP aims to provide bottles of hand soap to the communities and new WASH topics will be discussed during meetings with government partners. PoP hopes to deliver other materials to target schools in order to help with disease prevention. The next Teacher Support workshop will be held in August 2020 in order to support teaching techniques and other skills needed regarding the survey findings. In the meantime, PoP will provide some teaching materials to the teachers.