Harnessing multi-sector collaboration to respond to girls’ educational needs

Meridith Gould
Francesca Walker

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted disparities in education in an unprecedented way, as the varied contexts, circumstances and social-emotional needs of children and young people around the world have been cast into the spotlight by school closures. In many parts of the world, girls’ needs and the barriers they experience can be particularly complex and challenging, especially as they reach adolescence. In this commentary, we consider how addressing these needs – and thereby contributing to effective education interventions – might best be achieved through a multi-sector, collaborative approach.

Covid-19 has highlighted not only the challenges of educational disparities, but also the importance of effective collaboration between sectors like never before. The pandemic has required the health, education and employment sectors to work together in unprecedented ways to address the many needs of children and young people around the world. As we recover from the effects of school closure and seek to address the pre-existing learning crisis, we must consider how to make education interventions more effective by specifically accounting for such students’ – and especially girls’ – distinct needs. Multi-sector responses provide a holistic approach to doing so.

A whole-child approach

The most effective multi-sector responses take a whole girl-child approach. This approach to intervention aims at harnessing resources that enable girls to have access to continuous, safe and supportive learning environments that improve their learning, development and wellbeing.  The Covid-19 crisis, as we have seen, has served as a reminder of the need for creative solutions to address ongoing education challenges – not least for disadvantaged girls. The pandemic has required the international education sector to think creatively about how to address the challenges of girls’ education by engaging in multi-sectoral work to harness more available resources. It has also necessitated an approach of ‘meeting girls where they are at’, using a whole-child approach and prioritising them because of the unique and immediate circumstances they face.

Here, we explore two examples of such approaches from Education Development Trust’s work in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Harnessing community health volunteers to ensure learning continuity in Kenya

We have sought to harness community resources through a cross-sectoral approach in our Covid-19 response in Kenya, where (as described in a recent report) our team redesigned the roles of community health volunteers to enable education continuity for vulnerable girls throughout the pandemic, alongside helping to ensure their health and wellbeing. Through this approach, we reached over 30,000 disadvantaged girls during the period of school closures.  

The community health volunteers (CHVs) engaged during the crisis had already played an important role in our Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) programme, Wasichana Wetu Wafulu (WWW – Let Our Girls Succeed), collecting household-level data on girls’ school enrolment and attendance as part of their healthcare circuits, which are a longstanding element of the Kenyan healthcare system. However, their role was expanded when schools closed to support continuity of learning for the girls they worked with: delivering printed learning materials and tailored tutorials, collecting exercises for marking and returning feedback from teachers.  They also monitored girls’ engagement with learning activities and provided guidance for parents and caregivers to support learning at home. In addition, as part of their rounds, they were able to address and contribute to the girls’ psychosocial wellbeing by identifying issues at household level, referring them to local counselling services as needed, as well as distributing sanitary pads and dignity kits to those girls who would usually receive these at school.     

A holistic approach to school reopening for pregnant girls in Rwanda

The Building Learning Foundations programme in Rwanda has also utilised a cross-sectoral, whole-girl approach to meet the needs of vulnerable girls during the pandemic. Our team took the challenges that Covid-19 presented to some of the most vulnerable students –young women who had become pregnant – and developed a strategy to help them to continue to access education while also catering to their specific needs. Pregnant girls enrolled in school were provided with assistance from both their school and officials from outside the education sector. Throughout their pregnancies, schools have provided healthy food to expectant mothers to ensure that they were getting a balanced diet, and school staff made alterations to school uniforms to enable the girls to continue wearing them.  Young mothers have also been given an additional hour in the day to breastfeed their babies. Officials from all sectors (health, education and social care) worked together to ensure that these young women were getting proper nutrition, hygiene and medical care, in addition to continuing their learning and attending school.

Creating effective girl-centred programming for the future

Both of these lessons can be applied to future programming and programme design to ensure efficacy and equity, but there are further measures that could be employed for effective girl-centred multi-sectoral solutions in the future.

As with all effective programmes, girls’ education programmes should be evidence-based and informed by best practices, emerging evidence and changing circumstances – and must be scalable and sustainable for system-wide change. Gender-responsive and learner-centred approaches can contribute to the overall program efficacy of the intervention and improve girls’ knowledge and skills development. Programmes should be adapted to meet the unique needs of girls in their local context, focusing on a whole-child approach which allows for the complexity of girls’ lives or situations. Such approaches address a girl’s social, emotional, cognitive development, learning and wellbeing. They will also use a safe-space model to ensure that girls are learning in a safe and supportive learning environment.  Girl-centred educational programs also prioritise the inclusion of girls’ voices and may even enable them to participate in the design of the intervention, where appropriate.   

As the effects of the pandemic threaten to undo much of the existing progress in girls’ education worldwide, it is a critical time to consider the future impact of girl-centred programming. Multi-sector, whole-child approaches show real potential for meeting the needs of disadvantaged girls around the world.


To find out more about our work in girls’ education, please click here.