Across Africa, school doors have reopened. Students are flooding in to sit at their distanced desks and feel the thrill of a buzzing classroom. But for Guatemala and Peru, school doors remain shut. Students learn online while their countries battle a seemingly endless virus. The Dominican Republic braced for another virtual school year but has just announced it will reopen for in-person learning this month. However, this news hasn’t come without an entire year of learning to pivot, rise above challenges, and dig deep for hope. This last year ushered in a new level of advocacy and creativity to enable schools to flourish during the pandemic.
Lending More Than Money
Loan capital and repayments have continued to be a struggle for many of our partner schools. Loans help low-fee independent schools improve and expand. But because of the enormous shift in economies, especially for the independent education sector, lending and repayments have required more collaboration and support. In the Dominican Republic, one of our microfinance institution partners, ASPIRE, put our partner schools’ needs at the forefront.
“Many proprietors have called me and said they need support. They couldn’t pay their loans back. They wanted to make the payments, but they didn’t have the money,” Leandro Peguero, Dominican Republic Christian Transformation and Training Officer (CTTO), shares. Concerns were flying in from all sides. Several school proprietors had taken new loans to purchase computers and technology to adapt to online and virtual learning. Others were making repayments on newly built classrooms that were now sitting empty.
ASPIRE aims to financially steward its community and see the quality of the community change through its people. “We believe in people; that’s why we invest in them,” they affirm.
“Thankfully, we were able to negotiate longer loan terms, which alleviated [proprietor’s] monthly payments. Together, we cut 50 percent of their monthly repayment amount. Even though proprietors know they’ll have to pay more in the long-term, it’s been an enormous pressure that has lifted. Part of the renegotiation is that if their school financially recovers, their loan agreement will return to its previous terms,” says Leandro. ASPIRE wasn’t the only microfinance institution that put proprietors’ needs before their own. MicroAID, a lending partner in Burkina Faso, reduced interest rates by 50 percent for 40 schools partnering with Edify.
Leandro and others have been strong advocates on behalf of school proprietors. Our other 12 lending partners, across our countries of operation, also deferred or renegotiated loan repayments during the pandemic. These lenders, they’ve lent more than just loans. When we find mission-aligned partners who carry our same heart to see nations transformed from the inside out, the hope, especially in times like these, is limitless. It affirms the commitment of weathering life alongside one another, pandemics included.
Bringing Learning Back to Life
Inside virtual classrooms, learning has also been met with hurdles and challenges–one of them being creativity. While online education is still full of learning and collaboration, it can lack the synergy of hands-on methods. To fill this gap, during a school leaders meeting in the Dominican Republic, Edify struck an exciting new partnership with Ardora.
Introduced through a partner school in La Romana, Ardora is a tool to support teachers and students in designing online learning environments and creative classes. Ardora is a content creation app that lets teachers design curriculum based on learning goals and styles. Teachers can build interactive ways to teach subjects and classes, send notes, post or ask questions, and present homework.
For students, the program is game-like which gets them involved and engaged. For teachers, Ardora encourages creativity in teaching, which helps foster their students’ learning. It’s easy to build and easy to send via links in WhatsApp messages or attached to Google Classroom, where they can complete their homework. As a free, open-source application, Ardora changes the way virtual learning looks and feels for both teachers and students.
Edify created Ardora training modules for teachers so they can best utilize the platform. By completing the three modules, each teacher can receive a certificate for their professional development. Now, over 500 teachers are trained in how to use Ardora for online learning. Our partner schools can stay ahead of the curve in implementing tools like Ardora and Educaplay, another teacher-centric curriculum design tool popular in the Spanish-speaking world. Educaplay has gained traction in the Dominican Republic for its think tank-style resource sharing for teachers worldwide. They’re able to share lesson ideas, curriculum plans, and discuss what’s been working for their students.
Tools like Ardora and Educaplay bring life back into the virtual classroom and keep learning fun and engaging for students while trainings for teachers keep their skills sharp.
For the last year, our school proprietors have pivoted quickly with bravery and grit. Our local teams have been more creative than ever to find tools that work and meet our partner schools’ growing list of needs. Partnerships, being an advocate, and most of all, the affirmation of commitment has given way to a renewed sense of strength and determination. As school doors open, we’re eager to watch the seeds of hope they’ve sown lead their country into flourishing.