Protecting students’ right to education during COVID-19
19 December 2020
Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, UNESCO has been advocating for safeguarding the access to quality and equitable learning opportunities for all.
Dr. Lubna Al-Hajjaj is deeply committed to ensuring equal access to education in Jordan. She began her career as a teacher in 1994 with one goal in mind: to have a positive impact on her community by supporting her students. Born and raised in Tafila, a remote area in southwestern Jordan that suffers from high poverty and unemployment rates, as well as weak infrastructure, today Dr. Lubna is the Director of Education in the Tafila Region.
In early 2020, Dr. Lubna participated in a workshop organized by the Ministry of Education (MoE) as part of the MoE’s Gender Action Plan, where she received a training aimed at raising awareness on the MoE’s Strategy for Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Education (SMGEE) 2018-2022, developed with technical support of UNESCO as an integral part of the national Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2018-2022.
Empowered through learning about the MoE Strategy, Dr. Lubna ensured that gender equality was a key component of education planning in Tafila, and was able to address the challenges presented by the Covid-19 crisis in her community. In March 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kingdom announced a total lockdown and schools were closed. As an immediate response, and in order to ensure continuity of education and learning, the Ministry of Education activated online learning solutions through both televised lessons and an e-learning platform (http://www.darsak.gov.jo).
Immediately, Dr. Lubna knew that some learners were at risk of being left behind, especially young girls, and those living in rural areas without access to e-learning technology. She recognized that many of the nomadic people living in remote areas surrounding Tafila sent their children to school but did not have electricity at home.
Dr. Lubna sensitized the MoE to the challenges Tafila’s students faced with distance learning. Thanks to creative solutions proposed by the MoE, 20 caravans were secured to create a safe place for teaching and learning for the most vulnerable in Tafila. Dr. Lubna visited some of the surrounding tribes to get an idea of the most accessible spots to place the caravans, and advocated with local communities on the importance of continuing education even under challenging circumstances. She spoke to the children in the area, telling them about the caravans under development, and informing them that snacks would be provided at these makeshift schools, knowing that offering food at school provided a strong incentive to attend.
Dr. Lubna also worked hard with the surrounding communities to ensure that caravans were connected to water, linking them to local wells and ensuring that COVID-19 physical distancing and sanitary measures were maintained.
“I was determined to ensure that this group of students, many of them vulnerable, were not forgotten as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. I decided that even if just one student showed up at a caravan, school would be in session”, said Dr. Lubna.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, UNESCO has been advocating for safeguarding the access to quality and equitable learning opportunities for all, including support to the most vulnerable children and youth. As part of its system strengthening support to the MoE, UNESCO aims to also empower the field directorate and school levels to incorporate crisis sensitive planning tools to mitigate the challenges of crisis.
Dr. Lubna‘s initiative in Tafila, and the support she received from the central level Ministry, is a great example of a resilient education system that can adapt to meet the needs of learners in times of crisis, and make sure that learning never stops.
While Covid-19 has caused unprecedented disruptions to education, school caravans in Tafila were operating at full capacity, with 200 students, by the middle of May, demonstrating both Dr. Lubna and the Tafila community’s commitment to ensuring the right to education for boys and girls. Until the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, 15 caravans were still operational throughout the Tafila area. Once schools opened, the caravans were used to support overcrowded schools in the area.
The caravans hosted groups of up to seven students at a time. Students were seated in a way that maintained proper physical distancing requirements. Dr. Lubna also applied key concepts of gender- sensitive leadership, which allowed here to set up the classrooms in a way that respected local customs and further encouraged strong attendance from the girls in the community. Teachers also sanitized the caravans routinely following public space safety guidelines, and supported student’s engagement in distance learning. For some of the most remote parts of Tafila, Dr. Lubna also arranged transportation for the teachers from the center of Tafila to the outskirts of the area.
"When I first saw the caravan I thought, ‘this is not a school - more like a room’”, said Sadeel, 12.
“But I love it because it is a place where we can read and learn and I want to learn. I know girls from my community who drop out of school at a certain age. I want to become a teacher one day so I will be able to teach my community”.
When Moataz, 13, saw people setting up the caravan near his makeshift home, he was wondering about the construction. Once he saw desks and chairs being added, he knew that some sort of school was being built and became excited about returning to school life. “My dad always tells me, ‘you need to study to survive and to improve life in our community’. When I saw the school caravan open, I was waiting for my class to start, even going to the classes of the lower grades while I waited”.
UNESCO supported the MoE in the development of their ESP and SMGEE, and is currently implementing the “System Strengthening Partnership with Jordan’s Ministry of Education” programme (SSP) aiming to strengthen the core functions of the MoE to monitor the progress of their ESP and the SMGEE. The SSP programme is funded through a Multi-Partner Trust Fund mechanism with the generous funding of Canada, and the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation (AICS). In-kind support is also being extended by Norway with the provision of senior experts deployed to the Ministry of Education.
Support through the SSP programme focuses also on crisis-sensitive planning, looking at both the response and preparedness to crisis situations, like the one presented by Covid-19, as well as support to the Government of Jordan in meeting the targets of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular SDG4 on education, and SDG5 on gender equality.
In August 2020, UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition launched a global #LearningNeverStops campaign to ensure that every girl is able to learn despite school closures. A policy guide has also been developed to ensure that countries Build Back Equal, aiming at decision-makers to ensure that planning for school reopening addresses the key bottlenecks and barriers to education that girls face.
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization