INSPIRASI and PEMIMPIN GSL: Ensuring Education Equity during COVID-19

by Valentina Ko and Johnny Tan

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the globe over the first half of the year, many industries had their operations come to a standstill as social distancing was the recommended short-term solution to slow down the spread of the disease. One of the first sector to experience this disruption was education. Two of APC’s projects, INSPIRASI in Indonesia, and Pemimpin GSL in Malaysia, focus on improving student outcomes through training school leaders. Both projects had to undergo drastic changes within a matter of months to ensure that their strategic objectives of helping school leaders address educational needs of the most vulnerable students, will still be met.

Country Director for Pemimpin GSL Cheryl-Ann Fernando shared that the nation-wide mandated school closure brings with it with heavy costs to children’s development, mental health and equality. Without interventions these adverse effects could prove to be longstanding. As they recognized this gap, Pemimpin GSL responded robustly by providing invaluable support to schools and students in their time of need. In the first month of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO), Pemimpin GSL, together with YTL Foundation raised funds for 77 of the most vulnerable children from the 45 schools they are based in. These are emergency funds to help the student’s families get supplies such as food and necessities and tide them over.

Pemimpin GSL’s outreach programme that worked to get supplies out to support communities. Source: Pemimpin GSL
One of INSPIRASI’s online workshops with their school leaders. Source: INSPIRASI

Similarly, Patrya Pratama, CEO of INSPIRASI also shared during APC’s Education Dialogue that, it is during this time where the community looks to their leaders. Patrya shared that while in day-to-day activities, there is more focus on teachers and their role, it is during the pandemic where crisis leadership is important and school leaders will need to exercise their power to meet community needs. In doing so, INSPIRASI’s cohort have learned the value of connectivity, and are creating communities online with students’ parents to ensure that their children will not fall behind at this juncture.

The issue of accessibility to education remains the same between both projects. Cheryl also shared that the shift to online learning has disproportionately impacted vulnerable students, including those from low income communities. Malaysia suffers from a significant digital divide, with the Ministry of Education finding that only 37% of students have access to data and devices. Aside from increasing the learning gap, rising child abuse cases and the lack of social interactions can detrimentally affect students’ emotional and mental well-being.

Pemimpin GSL has been working closely with school leaders to provide support and strategies to improve access to education for these impacted individuals. Pemimpin GSL’s workshops and community discussions have moved online to provide remote coaching for school leaders, guiding them through the challenges that they face. Leaders are now more familiar with technology tools and are able to use creative and innovative ways to reach out to their students. Furthermore, INSPIRASI have furthered this momentum by creating school management guidelines for school leaders, that have been adopted by the Indonesian government.

Pemimpin GSL making sure that students are supported during the pandemic. Source: Pemimpin GSL

COVID-19 also highlights where more philanthropic resources are needed, for example to ensure adequate access to data and devices. At the same time, reaching out to families who have lost their jobs will also be crucial to helping students get back on track. As a way to bridge this gap, YTL Foundation is working with FrogAsia and YES to offer free SIM cards with data plans to parents in public schools who apply. MYReaders helps vulnerable students improve their reading and writing in English.

While the situation stabilizes and both Malaysia and Indonesia government starting to loosen movement restrictions, both APC projects are also aware that the changes implemented during the pandemic can be integrated to their daily curriculum for a long-lasting solution. Given the likelihood of a digitization of education post-pandemic, enhanced collaboration is necessary to facilitate equitable learning outcomes for all, and both INSPIRASI and Pemimpin GSL are already working with their school leaders to continuously address new gaps and challenges faced by their communities.

For more information about APC projects, please do not hesitate to contact APC Secretariat.