As a supporter of United World Schools (UWS) since 2017, Search Associates (SEARCH) always looks forward to receiving UWS reports, which illustrate how this U.K.- based, non-profit organization is working in some of the world’s poorest and remote regions to give every child access to free primary education, transforming the lives of children and empowering communities across Cambodia, Nepal and Myanmar. This fall, the charity sent a special thank you letter, allowing SEARCH a view of how, with the help of UWS and its partners, communities are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through posters, radio announcements, word of mouth, and song, UWS and its team of local educators reached 216 communities and about 150,000 people across Nepal, Cambodia, and Myanmar with information about virus symptoms, how it spreads, the importance of and protocols for proper social distancing and handwashing, and tips on maintaining general well-being. UWS has also overseen installations of 219 handwashing facilities and 161 upgrades throughout its communities. Their newsletter reports,
Since April our teams have been working to upgrade facilities across all our schools, ensuring that they meet the standards now set by the World Health Organisation.
Determined to keep children and teachers engaged and mitigate learning losses despite school closures, UWS has supported supplementary education programs across the three regions.
More than half of the UWS students in Cambodia continued their education as UWS community teachers travelled from home to home, socially distanced, distributing supplementary work. When the Cambodian Ministry of Education sent the mandate for schools to reopen as of September 7th, 109 UWS school teams worked hard to clean, reorganize, update handwashing facilities, and procure materials on time. Classes have been split to restrict numbers, with each child attending school two days a week.
Approximately 60% of the UWS students in Nepal have engaged in UWS’ radio programme to continue their education during school closures. Because it is estimated that more than 85% of households have access to radios, UWS began broadcasting a daily education program through local radio stations! The organization says that, “Within weeks, 10,000 children were listening daily.” Informative programs about COVID-19 and the location of handwashing facilities began as one, 45-minute daily program and evolved to “eight, separate, daily, grade-specific programmes of 30 minutes each (with prompts for further homework), with 5 local stations broadcasting the programme,” reports UWS in its newsletter. The Nepali government has been so greatly impressed by this success that it is exploring how to roll out radio education programs nationally. A UWS Nepal community teacher Tulashi says,
Children are not used to listening to radios, but they are slowly learning to adapt to the new environment. I think it is an accessible and important program which not only provides an opportunity for children to learn from their houses but also helps to chase away their boredom and make them feel connected to their school.
In Myanmar, more than half of UWS students have continued their education, by studying Mathematics and Burmese in daily, 45-minute, outdoor small group gatherings of no more than five and taking work home for further practice. Children who must work in the fields with their families can opt for project-based learning by fetching materials and brief instructions from a teacher every Sunday. After turning in their completed work the following Sunday, they receive instructions and materials for the next one, and so on. Students receive awards for regular attendance, keeping worksheets clean and organized, and good performance. As the number of detected COVID-19 cases in Myanmar continue to rise, community teachers are educating children through speaker-phone, and the UWS teams are training teachers to deliver the curriculum through mobile phones.
Through house-to-house enrollment and retention drives, UWS teams continue to engage with communities to promote the value of education, build trust, and reduce anxiety about sending children back to school during a pandemic. When children return to school, UWS assess each individual’s learning gaps and provide remedial learning opportunities so that children feel engaged, supported, and confident getting back on track with national curriculum expectations. At the same time, the UWS team rapidly identifies ‘at-risk’ students who do not return to school and initiates engagement immediately by providing accelerated learning, initial assessments, flexible school timings, well-being and emotional support, and takeaway learning.
This year, UWS was awarded the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for its work in improving the literacy rates in remote regions in Myanmar. Initiated in 1989, the prize rewards non-profit organizations for supporting mother-tongue language education in developing countries. Search Associates feels privileged to support this organization. Director of School Relations David Cope says,
Our admiration for the wonderful work done by UWS has become even greater this year, as we have witnessed their teams tackling so effectively all the challenges created by the pandemic. We are increasingly proud to be their partner.