M&E specialist Lisa Zook shares insights on the role schools play in child protection and how a Talking Book program adapted during COVID-19 

In September, Amplio’s quality assurance manager Lisa Zook participated in a Global Washington webinar on the topic of Child Labor Increasing Amid COVID-19 Pandemic. Lisa joined Anne Goodard, CEO of ChildFund International, and Zama Neff, executive director of the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, to discuss how economies crippled by lockdown measures are putting children at risk. More than 10 months since the coronavirus outbreak started, 872 million students—or half the world’s student population—in 51 countries are still unable to head back to their classrooms. As families struggle to get by, child labor and sexual exploitation is a growing concern, along with lack of access to education.

Each panelist spoke to issues their organizations had encountered, how they are responding, and what the future holds for aid work. As an M&E specialist with a focus on public health and early grade education, Lisa emphasized the importance of schools.  

Save the Children’s recent article surveyed 17,565 parents/caregivers and 8,069 children from 37 countries. The study found that two-thirds of parents and caregivers reported that their child had received no contact from teachers since their school closed.  Schools are central to communities and often they serve as a resource to ensure child safety and protection. The pandemic removed that social safety net,” Lisa explained. 


“This shock to our system and the communities in which we live is leading to increased inequities, economic stress and, along with that, child labor is increasing.”


“Furthermore, 70 percent of the households interviewed reported that they had suffered economic loss due to the pandemic and did not receive government support,” Lis continued. “This shock to our system and the communities in which we live is leading to increased inequities, economic stress and, along with that, child labor is increasing.”

While it’s unclear at this point how many children have gone or will go to work because of strained economic conditions, the panelists agreed that emergency lock-down measures may have jeopardized systems put in place to protect at-risk children. They stressed the importance of supporting families with outreach and clear, consistent information. In some cases, false narratives about children being immune or more resistant to the virus have led parents to believe that it’s safer for children to leave the home to work.

When asked about Amplio’s response to the pandemic, Lisa described partnering with Ghana Health Service and Literacy Bridge Ghana on a COVID information campaign that launched in March of this year. Talking Books were not only used to share information on COVID-19 symptoms and prevention, but also to prepare listeners for the lockdown.

On September 25, GlobalWA hosted a webinar on child labor during the pandemic. Amplio's own Lisa Zook spoke on the panel.

In September, Global Washington hosted a webinar on the increase of child labor.

Adapting the Talking Book program to COVID-19 

Lisa emphasized the importance of providing access to accurate information in rural communities. She noted that the COVID-19 situation presented challenges to the typical Talking Book program models. For instance, Talking Book programs are most successful when listeners can participate through community dialogues and user feedback. However, due to the need for social distancing, conducting community meetings and recording user feedback was not an option. Also, the Ghana team was so busy with other aspects of managing the project during a pandemic that they wouldn’t have had the time to translate and process feedback in the way they normally do. So the team and Lisa developed an alternative: They planned a household survey for July, so that they would still be able to understand what listeners wanted to hear more about and how their lives had been impacted as the pandemic wore on.


Low COVID-19 numbers, but other emerging concerns 

Although the number of COVID-19 cases was much lower than expected in north Ghana, the household survey revealed that new concerns were on the rise. Survey respondents spoke about other social issues caused or exacerbated by the lockdown, including mental health and domestic violence. So the Ghana team got to work creating new messages. They wrote and recorded a drama about being kind to yourself and your family during stressful times. They also provided information on where listeners could access resources if they needed help. The message was incorporated into the next content deployment.

“The survey also showed that two of the seven districts were struggling with the stigmatization of people who recovered from COVID—community members did not want to welcome these people back,” Lisa said. To address this, the team recorded a message from a survivor who described their experiences and encouraged people to reach out to other survivors in their communities.

A visual representation of Visionary Evaluation referred by Lisa in her response to questions about the future. This work was pioneered by Beverly Parsons, Lovely Dhillon, and Matt Keane.

A visual representation of Visionary Evaluation.

Rebuilding from a public health crisis

Global Washington’s child protection panel wrapped up with thoughts about what’s ahead: “Can you share your outlook on the future? Are you optimistic for the future?” 

Lisa said that she’s cautiously optimistic. “There is a lot of work to do and the effects of the pandemic are going to reach far, to all facets of our lives, for many years. It’s likely we don’t even know all of the ramifications of the pandemic at this time.


“My hope is that out of this pandemic, we identify and address the ways in which our systems lead to inequities.”


“As an M&E specialist, I’ve been thinking about the effects of the pandemic through a lens of Visionary Evaluation. This work, pioneered by Beverly Parsons, Lovely Dhillon, and Matt Keane, explores the role of evaluation in transformative change—particularly with the aim of building a more equitable and sustainable future. They compare transformation to the infinite life cycle of a forest: birth, maturity, release, reconfiguration, leading to rebirth.

“Often the evaluation of development programs gets stuck between birth and maturity, focusing solely on pre-defined outcomes and goals. A release—like a wildfire, something that’s been on all our minds here out west—is required for the forest to reconfigure. So, my hope is that out of this pandemic, we identify and address the ways in which our systems lead to inequities. Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to reconfigure, think creatively, solve problems, and ultimately create a more equitable and sustainable future.”


About Lisa Zook

Over the last 10 years, Lisa has designed and implemented monitoring and evaluation systems that break down the complexities of the contexts in which we work and amplify the voices of local communities in development decision-making. She splits her time between Amplio and her consulting firm, InformEd International, that specializes in M&E and program design for early grade education projects. Lisa has worked with Save the Children, RTI, World Vision, UNICEF, World Bank, and Right To Play. She is a co-founder of Seattle Evaluation Association and enjoys translating data into action through effective data visualizations and communication. She has an MPH from University of Michigan and is a graduate of Davidson College.

Connect with Lisa on LinkedIn

Learn more on children’s rights and COVID-19:
Years don’t wait for them: 5 Things to Do Now to Protect Children’s Rights During Covid-19 by panelist Zama Neff 

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