Crisis can be good for those pushing for change

Malene Aadal Bo
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While throwing the world into a state of crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has also paved the way for enhanced advocacy for education and improved ability of CSOs to influence national policies.

On almost every scale, 2020 was a year of setbacks. While COVID-19 set in place a health and economic crisis, it also greatly disrupted education for millions of students. Even the most privileged children have lost an estimated 6 weeks of education – others have not received any meaningful schooling since March and the World Bank warns that an estimated 463 million children may have permanently dropped out.

While we are facing a severe educational crisis, EOL regional manager in Latin America, Paloma Neumann, suggested that the situation should also be perceived as a window of opportunity for those pushing for change.

“Right now, governments are forced to leave the status quo and obtain new solutions, ideas and measures. Let us work hard to take this opportunity to suggest long-term improvements that will secure better quality in education for all,” she said.

Based on biannual reporting on EOL funding, there are signs that many grantees have been successfully advancing their influence and mandate in recent months.

A new door to policy makers

Across the globe politicians, civil society and the public have found themselves on entirely new grounds trying to fight the pandemic without sacrificing the education and the mere future of children and youth. To do this, they have increasingly sought out the advice and guidance from civil society.

“The government find themselves in a very unusual situation and have requested contributions from civil society – asking for concrete proposals to manage the situation and find ways and means to get out of this crisis,” says Tahirou Traore, coordinator of the national education coalition in Burkina Faso.

Once civil society found out how to approach politicians through radio and newspapers instead of physical conferences and meetings that were restricted due to lockdown and assembly ban, they found the decision makers very responsive to their suggestions and saw governments paying heed issues such as weaknesses in the national response plan, pointed out by the education coalition.

Benedicto Kondowe from the national education coalition in Malawi puts it like this: “Malawi, like the rest of the world, has been confronted with an unforeseen and unprecedented crisis that has transcended the government’s capacity to handle. The government now more than ever realizes that there is need for comprehensive and collaborative efforts by engaging all stakeholders at all levels in addressing the pandemic and its ramifications.”

Early in the pandemic the coalition gained a seat in the Malawian national Covid-19 task force and thereby found themselves with direct access to the core political decision makers. A mandate they have used to influence current plans and initiatives, but also to show the value of the advice and input they offer to qualify political decisions.

“More than ever we have been a strategic partner to the government, helping to inform decisions and support in the development and implementation of policies,” says project manager, Benedicto Kondowe. “And then we advanced our mandate by making sure that Covid-19 is acknowledged as an economic, social and educational crisis as well as a health crisis. That made the government open the Covid-19 task force also to education representatives such as us, and gave us space to influence,” says Benedicto Kondowe. CSEC has used this opportunity to suggest hiring more teachers to decrease the number of kids in each class, making it safer to reopen schools sooner than planned. “The government has recruited over 3.000 teachers and is looking into recruiting more to assist in the fight against Covid-19 while still protecting the right to education,” Benedicto Kondowe says.

In Nepal, the National Coalition for Education has similar experiences and has benefitted from a situation where most of the local authorities have welcomed the information and advice offered by civil society. “Our members, the community-based organizations and partners, are close to people and carry their voice. We have realized that civil society is even more important in times of crisis. In normal times, sometimes CSOs are not listened to, but in times of crises their views are welcomed, and their efforts are acknowledged by the government. By sharing the data and success stories we gathered, we became someone they trusted and listened to,” says Ram Gaire, program manager for National Campaign for Education (NCE) in Nepal.

Increased influence at the local level

While in Burkina Faso and Malawi the increased influence was at the national level, Nepal has seen notable changes at district and local levels, especially in relation to the implementation of various plans for alternative learning and the safe reopening of schools.

“We supported our local members to be very active and promptly engage in their communities and influence local planning and policies. We encouraged them to convey the realities that families are facing and suggested concrete solutions. Also, we advised them to pass on the success stories that was shared within the coalition and use them to inspire in their local setting. That really advanced our local influence,” says Ram Gaire.

His own experience from Nepal tells him that despite the general setbacks to SDG 4 that will follow the pandemic, it also carries valuable learning for civil society.

“We have seen a new potential in building the capacity of our members and scale up the advocacy on district and local level – e.g. by linking up with Community Based Organizations that are not necessarily specialized in education. And we learned how much influence we gain if we offer prompt and constructive solutions to support education authorities. Our strategy now is to continue along these lines and build our capacity to do so even better,” says Ram Gaire.

And similar messages are conveyed from Tahirou Traore in Burkina Faso and Benedicto Kondowe in Malawi.

“One year ago, we would pursue an audience with a minister and advocate our cause directly. With restrictions on physical meetings we decided to test radio and social media and it proved a very powerful tool to both reach and pressure politicians. This is just one thing we learned,” says Benedicto Kondowe.


Learning Torch

From one CSO to another. Sharing advice and learnings.

What NCE Nepal has learned:

NCE’s participation in the policy making process is backed up with its credibility as an educational resource centre. This credibility was earned due to timely and regular interventions in educational issues including educational plans and policies; evidence based advocacies; recommendations and alternative suggestions on issues around education financing, safe learning, monitoring of private actors in education, adult learning and education, lifelong learning etc. Apart from this, policy influence was also effective due to continuous coordination and communication with political leaders and parliamentarians regarding educational issues and through technical support with evidence and data to speak in favour of public education strengthening in parliamentary sessions. The involvement of renowned educationists and human rights activists in the organizational campaign as advisors was also effective in influencing policy. Government and media often are captive to the voices of the renowned educationists and leaders. Aligning them to the organizational campaign means having their ownership in the advocacy agendas of NCE.

In addition, representation from diverse marginalized groups in the organization’s campaign has been a major priority during this period. For this, winning the trust of the marginalized people mattered most. We taught the marginalized groups about participation, keeping in mind that they have a history of exclusion from participation in development, politics, and community. One of the biggest challenges engaging with marginalized communities is that they are often socially isolated disappointed by politics and don't believe change is possible. They simply do not have the luxury to participate because of their life circumstances. Thus, NCE tried to adapt their campaigns to their specific norms, traditions and in their own local context. This helped the marginalized communities have ownership on the advocacy initiatives regarding the issues that NCE Nepal advocates.

New approaches stemming from the pandemic employed by NCE Nepal:

The pandemic has challenged the education sector, especially in ensuring the continued learning of marginalized and vulnerable communities. However, this has also provided opportunities to restructure the education system and introduce new approaches for enabling communities and helping them participate in political discussions.