Supporting FAWE Scholars through the COVID-19 Pandemic
This article is part of the Committing to Change: Girls’ EiE from Charlevoix to COVID-19 blog series.
The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), in partnership with Mastercard Foundation, has been implementing the Scholars Programme in Ethiopia and Rwanda since 2013. The Scholars Programme supports academically gifted girls and boys from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to access and complete secondary and higher education. Sponsored Scholars receive a comprehensive scholarship package that includes tuition, uniforms, scholarship materials, health insurance, and a stipend. The Scholars Programme is currently supporting 526 secondary school scholars in Ethiopia and 826 university scholars in Rwanda. Since its inception, the programme has sponsored 1,200 Scholars.
Now, with record numbers of children and youth out of school as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and education programmes impacted by school closures, travel bans, and lockdowns, FAWE has had to adapt its programming to support Scholars virtually.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted FAWE’s Scholars Programme?
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges and created some new challenges for Scholars Programme, especially in light of school closures. Some challenges that Scholars may experience while learning at home include:
- Challenges in meeting basic needs and risk of contracting Covid-19. All sponsored Scholars come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and may be considered vulnerable children and youth. The majority may be unable to access basic needs like water, food, healthcare, and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, and soap. For those living in crowded homes, lack of social distancing and lax compliance with infection prevention methods may expose Scholars to a higher risk of contracting the COVID-19.
- Anxiety due to the abrupt closures of schools and learning spaces in the middle of the school term and fear of losing learning gains. This is a particular concern for Scholars living in remote areas with little to no access to mass media, electricity, and internet.
- Increased rates of school dropout, especially for girls. Girls who are out of school face a higher risk of child marriage, sexual and gender-based violence, early pregnancy and child labor. This increases the likelihood that girls will not return to schools when they reopen.
- Access to technology. Women and girls tend to have less access to devices and mobile internet. This may exclude girls from online learning, staying connected to supportive mentors and social networks, or accessing SGBV hotlines and support.
- Misuse of Scholars’ stipends. As a result of increasing financial strain during lockdowns, Scholars may need to use their stipends to support their families’ needs rather than their own academic needs.
How has FAWE addressed these challenges?
FAWE is supporting Scholars and addressing the above challenges by:
- Ensuring that Scholars can safely return home immediately following school closures. Scholars who were unable to travel home were placed with nearby relatives or, in Ethiopia, were provided with housing and subsistence support.
- Holding regular check-ins with Scholars via phone calls, telegram and WhatsApp. Due to challenges with internet connectivity, FAWE appointed representatives and teacher mentors to follow up with the Scholars in Ethiopia.
- Providing pyscho-social support to Scholars to support their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. Scholars were paired with mentors and counselors for online mentoring, guidance and counselling sessions.
- Providing additional stipends to support Scholars to meet their basic needs and support their families while learning from home. These stipends were provided to prevent Scholars from using funds set aside for their academic needs to support their family’s basic needs.
- Purchasing smartphones (for Scholars in Ethiopia) and laptops (for Scholars in Rwanda) to enable Scholars to continue learning and accessing learning materials online and to help them keep in touch with the FAWE team, mentors, counselors and teachers. Scholars, mentors, and tutors were provided with communication allowances to ensure that mentorship, career guidance, and counselling sessions were able to continue virtually, without creating additional financial burdens.
- Upgrading existing medical insurance for Scholars, so that they are able to access medical care even while at home.
- Recruiting additional subject teachers in Ethiopia to support scholars to accessing learning content from government websites. These Teachers support scholars to analyze, discuss and review content through Telegram and Whatsapp.
With this support, Scholars have been able to continue learning from home and are adjusting to these new virtual ways of working. FAWE will continue to support Scholars in these ways until they are able to safely return to school.
The views expressed in this blog are the author's own.