International Day of Education

Written by
FH staff writer
Published on
January 21, 2022 at 4:36:00 PM PST January 21, 2022 at 4:36:00 PM PSTst, January 21, 2022 at 4:36:00 PM PST

In the past, we in Canada may have been tempted to take education for granted. Of course our children will go to school when they turn five or six and stay in school until they graduate at the vibrant age of 18, ready to take on the world—or, at least, university. But after nearly two years of rolling COVID-19 lockdowns, school closures, and various versions of online-only or hybrid learning, we’re no longer so quick to assume anything when it comes to our children’s education. “From its early days, the pandemic has been a terrible study in inequality, so it seems inescapable that the world’s poorer countries would bear the heaviest costs. But kids also disappeared from classrooms in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.”1

We’ve witnessed the incredible stress that school closures have caused our children. Separated from their peers, struggling with new systems of learning, spending hours a day interacting with two-dimensional classrooms through a glowing screen—“disruptive” just doesn’t go far enough. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the gears of our global education systems, revealing the social cracks we need to work on, both here in Canada and across the globe. 

January 24 marks the International Day of Education. It’s a day to reflect on the current state of things, the challenges we face, the successes we celebrate, and where we need to go from here. This year, the theme is appropriately named “Changing Course, Transforming Education.” The hope is to “generate debate around how to strengthen education as a public endeavour and common good, how to steer the digital transformation, support teachers, safeguard the planet and unlock the potential in every person to contribute to collective well-being and our shared home.”2

The pandemic’s impact on education has made it glaringly clear how the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” affects children in a crisis. According to Save the Children, “As schools closed and remote learning was not equally accessible for all children, the biggest education emergency in history widened the gap between countries and within countries….The divide grew between wealthier and poorer families; urban and rural households; refugees or displaced children and host populations; children with disabilities and children without disabilities.”3

We’ve watched this play out in our own communities. “Parts of Canada had school closures of more than 31 weeks and counting, which according to UNESCO4 data puts us in line with Italy, Romania, Ethiopia, Cambodia and Afghanistan.”5 Through this experience, we’ve seen how the “haves” don’t need to worry about internet connection, an extra home screen to work on, educated parents to guide them through their trouble spots, or food in the cupboards to replace free school lunches. The “have nots”, however, have not been so lucky. Because of a lack of resources, they’ve struggled to access the new virtual world of education. With parents out at work or ill-equipped to support them, they’ve been on their own—stuck when they don’t understand what to do next. 

Yet even before the pandemic, millions of children around the world daily faced the barriers of the “have nots”. UNESCO reports, “Today, 258 million children and youth still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school.”6 

Those are some big numbers to overcome!

But we must persevere. Education has a strong role to play for peace and for development. In the last century, the world agreed that we need not only “free and compulsory elementary education,”7 but also to make higher education accessible to all.8

In line with these global convictions, Food for the Hungry (FH) has made education one of the four foundational pillars of their development model. In every community where FH works, childhood education is prioritized. FH support comes in all forms from building infrastructure to training teachers to one-on-one mentoring of struggling students. COVID-19 school closures presented new challenges to childhood education in all of FH’s partner communities, but it also brought new opportunities to help students learn they can thrive even in the midst of such a formidable obstacle. 

FH staff across the continents delivered learning materials to children studying at home, made home visits and phone calls to check-in with families navigating school closures, trained caregivers and volunteer teachers on how to help kids stay engaged with learning, empowered girls to manage their periods and pursue schooling, facilitated community kids’ clubs to nurture the academic, social, and personal growth of children, and so much more. Read on to learn more about how FH championed education in 2021 and equipped families to learn at home.

Delivering School Supplies and Books

Delivery of Books on literacy activities

FH Guatemala delivered school supplies to middle school students so they could complete at-home lessons assigned by government schools. They also distributed reading, writing, and math workbooks to children in Grades 1, 2, and 3 who were struggling and needed that extra support. This not only helped students keep up with their learning instead of dropping out, but it also alleviated the pressure on parents who lost income during COVID-19 and couldn’t afford to buy learning materials. Check-ins with these families and their teachers showed FH staff that the school supplies raised children’s academic performance and helped them turn their homework in on time. They also saw the ways the books sparked curiosity and helped cultivate a love of reading. One bonus outcome is the way parents are changing. Through watching their children learn at home, parents can see their children apply themselves and have fun with learning. This has motivated otherwise disinterested caregivers to help children with their lessons. 

Uganda saw the longest school closures in the world, disrupting the education of 15.5 million children.9 FH Uganda supported children in their partner communities by, among other things, successfully procuring 2,084 copies of government produced study materials and distributing them directly to students’ homes. 

Helping Moms and Dads Support Their Kids

Staff training teacher volunteer on book management at Tasiem Village.

FH staff also supported caregivers as they suddenly found themselves responsible for their children’s education on a whole new level. FH trained local leaders who in turn trained parents and guardians in early childhood development so they could help their children navigate the stress of the pandemic as well as keep up with school work at home. As a result of these efforts, while the rest of Uganda anticipates five million students will not go back to school now that the lockdown has ended,10 schools in FH partner communities registered a 95 per cent increase in children returning to school!

In Cambodia where schools were closed from March - November 2021, FH trained 466 caregivers and volunteer teachers on ways to help kids practice reading, writing, and math. The participants shared this information with their neighbours, thereby dramatically increasing the capacity of the whole community to deal with the educational impacts of this crisis. 

Mentoring Vulnerable YouthMiguel doing his homework

The shift from traditional classroom learning to an at-home based system has made it extremely difficult for older students in Guatemala to complete their studies. FH staff helped vulnerable teens get through this tough time through phone calls and home visits, encouraging them to not give up pursuing their high school diplomas. FH staff prioritized visiting five young people in particular who require more consistent follow-up to prevent them from dropping out of school.  

Digital Access for All

FH staff and volunteer teachers in Cambodia trained 172 school-aged children how to use technology for remote learning in an effective and efficient way. Thanks to this training, children in rural areas have been able to access the website that hosts their online school lessons and use it to complete their homework assignments.

Feeding Hungry Students

But childhood education isn’t only about reading, writing, and arithmetic. Millions of children across the globe went hungry when schools shut their doors. Many low-income families rely on free school meals to supplement their children’s nutrition—without it, they may eat only once a day, or not at all. One way FH tackled this issue was to lean into existing, sustainable school feeding programs. 

In Uganda, FH met with parents and five school administrations to encourage them to pursue school feeding programs, even in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns. FH provided seeds including maize, beans, and soy, while schools and parents pitched in to prepare, plant, and weed 15 acres of land. Now it’s time to harvest! 

While schools in Uganda remained closed for most of 2021, they did re-open to allow students passing from middle school to high school to take their qualifying exams. Parents and school administrators collected funds to provide these 135 students with mid-day meals to support their concentration in class. It’s worth noting that 105 boys and girls (over 75 percent!) passed their exams and can move on to secondary school in the new year. 

Which is a huge sign of hope! According to UNESCO, “Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.” Food for the Hungry prioritizes gender equality in all of its programming, from agriculture to financial literacy to health empowerment to entrepreneurship to education, FH seeks to train women and girls to lead their communities. 

Empowering Girls for Equal Opportunity

One way FH helps girls stay in school is through providing Girls’ Hygiene Kits to teens. In Uganda, FH trained pre-teen and teen girls on how to make reusable sanitary pads using locally available materials. A similar project was undertaken in Cambodia with great success a few years ago. In Uganda, girls were also provided with sex education and made aware of the benefits of refraining from early sex and pregnancy. The girls were encouraged to share what they learned with their friends in the hopes of reducing school absenteeism among girls. 

In Guatemala, 500 girl students received sustainable girls’ hygiene kits including a carry bag, a bar of soap, one washcloth, three sanitary pads, eight panty liners, one discrete carry pouch, and a set of instructions on how to use the kit. During the distribution, they learned about personal care, the correct use of sanitary accessories, and the benefits of proper handwashing. These kits are a powerful tool that equips girls to manage their periods with dignity and comfort. They will also enable them to get out and about during their periods and go to school without the stress or embarrassment associated with menstruating. Through initiatives like these, girls and women are being empowered to move through their communities with greater equality and freedom.

Where to now?

Education can offer children a ladder out of poverty. It can pave a path to a promising future. The world has declared it is a human right, a public good, and a shared responsibility. And FH Canada agrees! COVID-19 or not, FH will continue to train and equip communities to educate their children with joy, dignity, and equality. And you can help!

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4.  United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
7. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
8. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989),