Ministers of education convene to discuss COVID-19 response in CapED beneficiary countries

The 6th edition of the Capacity Development for Education (CapED) Programme’s Ministerial Breakfast Meeting took place on 11 November 2021 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris during the 41st Session of the General Conference. UNESCO Assistant Director-General, Stefania Giannini, hosted the meeting which brought together donors and Education Ministers and representatives from CapED beneficiary countries, including 11 ministers.

It was the first time CapED beneficiary countries and donors were sitting around the same table since the outbreak of COVID-19. The meeting was therefore an opportunity for participants to discuss the education crisis caused by the pandemic, to share common challenges and good practices, as well as to make known their capacity development needs going forward.

CapED has been supporting least developed and crisis affected countries to strengthen their education systems since 2003. When COVID-19 struck, CapED was able to reprogramme its activities and quickly deploy support, expertise and resources to focus on country’s rapidly changing priorities. This saw 11 countries develop online, radio or television distance education programmes, four countries with robust COVID-19 response plans and strategies, and 12 countries with more empowered teachers, trained in new pedagogies and ICT skills to help them adapt to teaching remotely.

Many interventions discussed their transition to distance or blended education to ensure the continuation of learning. Zambia used distance learning mechanisms to prevent learning loss. The minister of Zambia explained the need to quickly assess the ICT capacities of teachers so they could know what gaps needed to be filled in order for teachers to support distance learning effectively. The minister outlined how, with CapED and IICBA support, the Government carried out a survey which revealed that many teachers lacked the skills to facilitate online teaching as well as a gender disparity with female teachers being disadvantaged. The survey’s results were then used to develop tailored in-service training for teachers and teacher educators. Looking ahead, the minister stated that they will explore potential synergies between this new teacher training and the pre-service teacher training gender-responsive pedagogies also supported by CapED.

An important aspect to consider when developing distance education tools is whether learners will be able to access them. “With many students living in hard-to-reach areas with limited access to Internet and ICT devices, switching only to online education was not an equitable option,” said the Minister of Bangladesh during her intervention. In order to improve access, Bangladesh opted for a blended approach and transitioned to online, TV and radio-based learning, with CapED support. The Minister explained that looking ahead, the Government is launching a new blended education initiative to retain the good remote learning practices developed during the pandemic to make their education system more resilient, flexible, and accessible.

The minister of Madagascar also discussed how her country adapted to remote learning. Similarly to Bangladesh, the Government of Madagascar plans to create a radio school for learners as well as for teacher training. The minister mentioned how UNESCO is assisting them form synergies with Word Cast in the frameworks of the Global Education Coalition to further develop this initiative. The importance of partnerships was also discussed by the Minister of DRC. He explained how in synergy with Education Cannot Wait and over 100 community radio stations they produced and broadcast radio lessons in provinces chosen for their high density of refugee and displaced populations. The initiative is estimated to have reached 4 million learners.

CapED’s donor countries were also in attendance. Common themes and priorities discussed by the donors included the importance of supporting teachers through continuous professional development and maintaining a focus on gender. The ambassador of Iceland highlighted the importance of gender and how girls must not be left behind stating that the crisis was an opportunity for CapED to expedite the integration of gender responsive approaches into education. Another priority was the need to map and monitor the effects of the pandemic so that countries can fine tune their national policy responses.

The minister of Mali stated that looking ahead, enrolling and retaining girls in school was a personal priority and she noted that CapED’s assistance would be needed to focus teachers’ effort on supporting girls to address the psychological impact and learning loss during the pandemic. The minister of Madagascar echoed this message, stating that as they move forward with the CapED Programme, despite their success in preventing a total breakdown in learning, a recent study highlighted the need to focus on learning loss, assessing it, and providing remediation. Zambia’s minister also mentioned the aim to focus on girls going forward, saying that he hopes the pedagogical content Zambia has produced will further develop teachers’ awareness and understanding of gender issues and help integrate a gender lens into presential and digital teaching practices.

The donors were all pleased with how the Programme was able to adapt quickly when schools stated closing their gates and expressed how CapED’s strength lies in how it can be reprogrammed and adapted rapidly, in part due to its flexible funding model. The donors highlighted the need for a sector-wide response to the education crisis caused by COVID-19 and noted that CapED was well positioned to fulfill this need. The ambassador to Sweden stated that: “The CapED Programme has demonstrated that UNESCO has the leading role in providing policy and normative support to Governments to strengthen national education systems.”

Launched in 2003, the CapED Programme is UNESCO’s key operational response to support least developed and crisis-affected countries as they implement the Education 2030 agenda. Through CapED’s capacity development approach focused on system strengthening, UNESCO assists governments in the design and implementation of education reforms that are essential to achieve national development priorities and realize SDG4.

The CapED Programme is funded by extrabudgetary resources and has mobilized more than US$ 120 million since its creation. Several external evaluations have highlighted its unique added value to UNESCO, relevant and strategic support to beneficiary countries, and value for money for partners. CapED is currently operational in 26 countries, including those recovering from conflict or in protracted crises. The CapED Programme is generously supported by the governments of Finland, France, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.