A boy in northern Ghana listens to a Talking Book.
Sharing M&E insights on school, child protection, and Talking Books during COVID-19
Amplio’s monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) advisor Lisa Zook recently participated on a Global Washington panel to discuss the topic of Child Labor Increasing Amid COVID-19 Pandemic. The panelists were 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 that are crippled by the COVID-19 lockdown measures are putting children at risk.
More than 10 months since the pandemic, 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 are a growing concern, along with a 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.
“Furthermore, 70 percent of the households interviewed reported that they had suffered economic loss due to the pandemic and did not receive government support. This shock to our system and communities 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 poor 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.
In September, Global Washington hosted a webinar on the increase of child labor.
Adapting Talking Books to COVID-19
When asked about Amplio’s COVID-19 response, Lisa described partnering with Ghana Health Service and Amplio Ghana on a COVID information campaign that launched in March of this year. Talking Books were used to share public health information on COVID-19 symptoms and prevention and to prepare listeners for the lockdown.
To adapt, the Ghana 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 cases; other emerging concerns
COVID-19 cases were lower than expected in northern Ghana, but the household survey revealed new concerns. Respondents described other issues caused or exacerbated by the lockdown, including mental health and domestic violence. In response, the Amplio Ghana team got to work creating new messages. They recorded an audio 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.
“Additionally, 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.
The new messages were added to Talking Book in the next content deployment.
Rebuilding after 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.
A visual representation of Visionary Evaluation.
“Often the evaluation of development programs gets stuck between birth and maturity, focusing 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. 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.”
Lisa Zook splits her time between Amplio and her consulting firm, InformEd International. An expert 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. Connect with Lisa on LinkedIn.
Learn more on children’s rights and COVID-19: 5 Things to Do Now to Protect Children’s Rights During Covid-19