To address the barriers that marginalized students in rural Zimbabwe experience, the IGATE-T project engaged with community leaders and caregivers to support students’—particularly girls’—education. Prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns, this focused primarily on formal education options. After the lockdowns began, these engagements encouraged leaders and caregivers to support students’ participation in community learning circles while schools were closed. This took place through several simultaneous interventions.
The first involved establishing community champions, who acted as mentors within the community to demonstrate how community members can support student learning. This included working with local leaders and village heads to encourage parents and caregivers during community meetings (discussed below). After COVID-19 closed schools, the network of community champions was mobilized to ensure learning continued during the COVID-19 school closures. Many community champions began facilitating the community learning circles and distributing learning materials to students in their communities who did not have access to learning resources at home. In total, 1,929 people became community champions over the three and a half years the project operated (89% female).
The second intervention involved facilitating community meetings to encourage caregivers to send their children to school. In these meetings, community champions and community leaders (such as the village heads) led discussions to identify issues surrounding education and child protection, particularly for girls and struggling students. In addition to making participants more aware of the barriers students face, community members were encouraged to consider their own attitudes towards girls and marginalized students, and to consider how these influenced their behaviours towards marginalized students. Across the 238 IGATE-T communities, the project set up these meetings in community centres and schools directed at traditional leaders, religious leaders, school development committees, teachers, heads, case care workers (who work for the Zimbabwe Ministry of Social Work and provide support to abuse victims), village health workers, caregivers, school heads, and any other community members that had a role in student education and welfare in the community. These meetings were held quarterly with school development committees in the form of Community “Indabas” (Forums). Additional meetings were held monthly amongst community members and the community champions. Participants were encouraged to share what they learned and discussed with other community members. 29,448 community members participated in the monthly community meetings (65% female) over the three and a half years the project was operating and 3,552 individuals participated in the quarterly Indabas (49% female).
The third intervention, referred to as the “Whole School Development” model involved providing teacher training to school teachers and headteachers on how to use gender-sensitive and participatory teaching methods and how to help address some of the barriers students experience in classrooms to establish a more inclusive learning environment. The training was delivered every other month by education experts from Zimbabwe and the UK working with World Vision. Like the community meetings, teachers were encouraged to share what they learned from the training sessions with other teachers in their school. In total, 1,717 teachers were trained through the IGATE-T training (52% female) and 319 head teachers were trained (18% female).
The fourth branch of the intervention, which constituted the main part of the project’s response to COVID-19 and the subsequent school closures, leveraged the community champions network and the teacher training that had been ongoing between January 2018 (when the project began) and March 2020 (when schools closed due to COVID-19). This took the form of community learning circles (CLCs), which provided communityled informal education options for students in the IGATE-T communities. The CLCs provided an inclusive learning environment to support students who may not have had support for learning at home. The learning circles were run by community champions or teachers who had been trained through the Whole School Development intervention. Teachers and community champions provided support for learning during COVID-19 school closures by offering literacy and numeracy activities, reading cards, and study guides in addition to providing them with tailored instruction to support individual students’ learning efforts.