Maintaining learning continuity during school closure: Community Health Volunteer support for marginalised girls in Kenya

Donvan Amenya
Rachael Fitzpatrick
Ella Page
Ruth Naylor
Charlotte Jones
Tony McAleavy

The Covid-19 pandemic has been intensely disruptive to education all around the world. With children in many countries continuing to face prolonged absences from the classroom, innovative solutions are needed to maintain education continuity, especially for the most vulnerable students. Such crises require solutions that go beyond the resources of the ‘traditional’ education workforce, with local communities and inputs from other sectors playing a potentially important role in ensuring continuity of learning. This report, the second in our Learning Renewed series, explores the solutions adopted by our team in Kenya, where we have redesigned the roles of community health volunteers (CHVs) to support continuity of learning for the vulnerable girls we work with, and identifies key lessons which may prove valuable both during and beyond the current crisis.

Girls in many low-income settings have long been disadvantaged in terms of their access to education, and even before the disruption of the pandemic, they were less likely to complete their studies than their male peers. Factors such as early marriage, unplanned pregnancy and the necessity for family income generation have long meant that many vulnerable girls were unable to complete their education. In Kenya, our Girls Education Challenge (GEC) programme – Wasichana Wetu Wafaulu (‘Let our girls succeed’) – exists to help address this issue and better enable more girls to progress in education and training opportunities. We work with 72,000 girls in primary education to improve their learning outcomes and help them to successfully transition to secondary schooling – but such progress was severely threatened by the advent of Covid-19.

Previous crises have clearly demonstrated that vulnerable pupils in low-income settings, especially girls, are most at risk of disruptions to their education – and of dropping out of school entirely. Therefore, to help ensure that the vulnerable girls we work with could still be reached amid school closures and lockdown measures, a new model was emergency education provision was rapidly developed, leveraging the availability of community health volunteers (CHVs). CHVs have been part of the Kenyan healthcare system since the 1970s, and already played an important part in the GEC programme prior to the pandemic, collecting household-level data on vulnerable girls’ attendance at school. Their role was expanded during the period of school closures to include the delivery of learning materials, monitoring girls’ engagement with learning, and encouraging parents and caregivers to support learning at home.

As the analysis in our report shows, the deployment of CHVs has led to an impressive level of learning continuity for many disadvantaged girls, with over 90% of households surveyed making use of the learning materials they provided. Through this intervention, we have directly reached thousands of girls during the pandemic, but from our analysis, we can also take away key lessons for education beyond Covid-19. For example, throughout the pandemic, CHVs have been essential to enabling learning continuity in households with little or no access to technology – providing a much-needed no-tech safety net. As we highlighted in our first Learning Renewed paper, such safety nets are crucial to ensuring that disadvantaged children and young people are not left further behind in educational emergencies. Moreover, it demonstrates the potential for cross-sectoral working – between education and health workers – to enhance learning both during and beyond the immediate crisis.  

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Education Development Trust has sought to be highly responsive to the changing needs of educators, system leaders and our partners around the world. In doing so, we have developed an evidence base from which we have developed new thinking, which we call ‘Learning Renewed’, which reimagines what more effective, equitable and resilient education systems might look like, and how they might better withstand future shocks.