CSO role in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic

Dear members

Greetings from GCE

We hope you are all well and safe, and that you are taking all precautionary measures outlined by the World Health Organisation and your Ministry of Health to safeguard yourselves and your loved ones. The COVID-19 is a worldwide emergency, and we hope you are giving it the seriousness it deserves. Even if your country is relatively spared for now, the past month has shown that everything can change in a split of a second. The World Health Organisation (WHO) measures on social distancing and rigorous personal hygiene have proven very efficient to stop the exponential thread of the virus. During crises, many communication challenges arise; remain calm during information black outs, be vigilant about fake news and only share verified useful information.

As a global movement, we would like to express our solidarity to those affected the most, and to reaffirm our commitment to support you and your members in these dreadful times.  We would like to encourage you to share your experience and thoughts, so we can all benefit from each other’s learnings, and ensure we remain strong together. We provided this platform and this email for all of us to share updates or ask  any questions, suggestions or information you would like to share with the network.

As a movement, we are in support of the decision by many governments to close schools, noting that over 800 million children and young adults will be deprived of their right to education. However, we should remain vigilant and continue raising awareness on the following issues.

The current crisis is an opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental role civil society organisations must play as a key partner in emergency contexts. We need to ensure that education in emergencies is taken seriously globally, and that new scenarios and contingency plans are prepared to rise to the level of the challenge. Solutions such as distance learnings should be explored, adapted to the requirements of your context and the varying capabilities of students.

We also encourage you to have a role in promoting health awareness and education, as well as circulating information to raise the level of health practices and behaviour change. Providing psychosocial and emotional support activities for parents and children will also be required.

We would like to particularly extend our appreciation to all of you for your efforts, and to our teachers as they stand at the forefront of the current crisis. They will be key to ensuring the right to education for all is maintained, and their creativity will be depended upon in finding solutions to distance learning in difficult contexts.

Furthermore, as a movement, we encourage all our members to work side by side with governments to provide alternative solutions to the crisis. We should not only come with recommendations, but engage with governments on alternative solutions to continue providing quality free public education for all. We advise you to remain vigilant to ensure that the right to education for all is protected by all actors. This is a critical situation which puts public systems under stress, and it is time to work side by side with them for strengthened collective efforts. We are aware of the local, regional and international challenges that all governments are currently facing as a result of this crisis, and civil society actors should support them as a valued partner.

Over the past 20 years, GCE has been advocating for strong links between education and health, and how these two fundamental human rights should remain public goods. We hope that this crisis will enable world leaders to develop better systems that can be effective and respond to crises in a timely manner.

In these trying times, we would like the whole movement to stay alert and present to the following important issues:

  • Ensure that governments and ministries include CSOs in the developing of contingency plans.
  • Pressure governments and international organisations working in health and education to allocate budgets for education activities in emergencies. Plans need dedicated budgets.
  • Play your role in evaluating the plans and ensure that support is well coordinated and harmonised.
  • Emphasise on the complementarity between health and education, and focus on assessing the school environment and WASH infrastructure.
  • Address governments and CSOs to equip schools and improve the readiness of school environments for students and the educational staff in the recovery period.
  • Play your role in pressuring the official and private media to carefully cover the matter in this circumstance, including ensuring that this information is accessible to persons with disabilities and those living in remote areas.
  • Hold governments accountable for their readiness and the quality of their preparedness.
  • Actively participate in the Education Cluster meetings and strengthen debates on the right to education for all.

We realise that the aforementioned are immediate steps that address the current situation, and we would support and provide solutions to governments in order to achieve this. When the crisis is over, we will assess our countries’ responses, and reaffirm that It is not reasonable to wait for a crisis to realise that civil society organisations are an integral part of the solution. It is time for integration and partnership to be an authentic practice, to be reflected on the entirety of the relationship between civil society organisations and governments. Stay safe, respect health guidance and take care of yourself and others.

In solidarity 

Samuel Dembele and Refat Sabbah

On Behalf of the Board



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