The Impact of Covid-19 on SET’s Literacy Pilot Project
Launched in September 2019, the SET literacy pilot project in six SET primary schools has advanced with promise. SET’s educational mentor, Jean-Paul Mlope writes in his reports that CP1 (grade one) teachers have worked eagerly to impart the reading competency skills they learned in their July 2019 workshop. (Please Click Here to Read ABCs of SET’s Mission posted under News and Events)
With remarkable dedication Jean-Paul visited 32 classrooms between January 13 and February 27. On each visit he demonstrated methods providing teachers opportunities to ask about the particular literacy competency they were teaching. Jean Paul also observed the teachers at work and made follow-up suggestions for next visits.
After these visits Jean-Paul assessed and recorded teachers’ demonstrated classroom skills. Through comparisons over various visits he planned to measure progress in new methods of teaching literacy. For example, Jean-Paul wrote of one teacher working on rhyme in phonemes: “Very encouraging result: good mastery of the class.” Of another he wrote, “Good receptivity of teacher to suggestions for improvement.”
“Informing the school principal around advances and difficulties in the implementation of the program was very important,” Jean-Paul reported.
From February 14 to 15 Jean-Paul held a workshop for teachers and principals to share their experiences and to provide their feedback. Teachers created name tags for each of their students. To meet the goal of their next literacy competency pupils must recognize their own name and those of their classmates.
Such good things were happening in the pilot project. All good, until the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in Togo.
As of March 21, 2020, the government of Togo shut the country down to prevent a viral rampage. Togo’s borders closed internationally and internally, between prefectures. Curfews were imposed on the country’s two largest cities, Lomé and Sokodé, while some towns were completely closed. All schools were shut with, Jean-Paul wrote, “discussions around redefining the rest of the school year, possibly reopening in May and running throughout the summer break.”
The implications for the SET literacy pilot project start with the most significant — its temporary suspension. The second concern is that when schools do reopen, what will the children remember?
Literacy coach and SET workshop designer Angèle Dadagan Aklah is assured that “If the work is well done, the students will retain their learning.”
The evaluations of the pilot project through student assessments, scheduled for the end of June 2020 cannot go ahead, even if schools do reopen. The children will have missed learning several key literacy competencies.
The SET Board has spent hours planning contingencies. Several ideas have been suggested. One has Jean-Paul and an assistant undertaking the evaluations six weeks after school reopens. Another idea is to extend the pilot project so that literacy specialists and SET volunteers, Angèle Dadagan Aklah and Serge Novignon Akpagnonite can fly to Togo in the future to undertake evaluations, as originally planned.
With so many unknowns, decisions must be postponed. However, the truth of a statement by CGIAR (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) on its website rings true with SET directors.
“Covid-19 epidemics are massive short-wave shocks that will generate long-wave impacts.These impacts will manifest in different ways in different contexts for many years to come.”
In its vision for the literacy pilot project, as in its work building schools, SET is flexible, creative and committed to success through the long wave.
 Phonemes are sounds made by one letter or group of letters, e.g. k sound in kit or scoundrel