In 2017, Dignitas was partnering with just 21 schools, with an ambitious goal of reaching 300,000 children by 2022. As I joined the team towards the end of that year, it was clear that we would struggle to reach our goal if we stuck at the same pace. We immediately got to reviewing systems and resources, seeking out places to drive efficiency in our operations, monitoring and program processes. We also embraced an external evaluation that sought to answer the question of what elements of our program drove the most impact for learners.
Armed with new learning, insights, and a passionate team, we began to design for impact at scale. We set out with a clear goal of scaling impact, not so that we could place a check mark next to a certain number, but so that we could confidently pursue what we knew would work for the largest number of children, all of whom deserve the opportunity to thrive and succeed.
After months of testing, trying, probing, reflecting, and refining, and of course 16 months of a global pandemic, we are working with our biggest ever group of partner schools in 2021. Just three years on, we are partnering with 340 schools across 7 counties. By the end of this year, the work of Dignitas will have impacted approximately 190,000 learners in Kenya!
Whilst we celebrate the numbers, what we’re really celebrating is the impact. Across school cohorts, we typically see 25-30% competency gains in critical mindsets and skills that school leaders and teachers need to improve student achievement. Indicative data shows that children in Dignitas classrooms learn up to three times as much in a lesson as their peers in non-Dignitas classrooms.
Covid-19 has pushed the global learning crisis over the edge. Based on projections by the World Bank, 10 months of school closures will amount to over a year’s loss in learning. 87% of African learners are already in learning poverty and the loss of another year will expand the gap between them and their global peers even further. According to a recent report by People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network (2020), Kenyan primary school students are already lagging behind their East African neighbours in literacy and numeracy.
The need is greater than ever. Every child deserves an excellent education, and the quality of teaching and learning should never be a barrier to success for those who make it to school. In March 2021, the Dignitas team were making final preparations for what we hoped would be our first in-person Leadership Academies since early 2020. As March went on, we watched the local covid numbers rising and asked ourselves if we should consider a blended approach to training, with a mix of in-person and virtual training and coaching. Whilst disappointed, we pushed on and prepared to pivot yet again, committed to supporting the learners who deserve every opportunity to succeed. By the end of March, Kenya’s President had announced a new lockdown, and our Leadership Academies were suddenly 100% virtual.
Having been on the rollercoaster of virtual training and coaching throughout 2020, it’s safe to say that our team were nervous about launching into yet another virtual season when schools so desperately needed quality support. We called the team together and focused in on the challenges we had previously faced with virtual training and coaching, and designed to mitigate every barrier we could. Our team was inspired and came up with a range of innovative actions that would see us bring to life virtual training in a way we had not been able to before.
I’ve asked some of our team members to contribute to a short series of blogs that highlight these innovations, and how they helped to make a difference.
In short, here’s what we did…
- We asked school leaders to meet in their teams, at their schools, to attend the workshops as a team (obviously only where they could do this safely, typically 3-5 people per team). This meant there was a level of accountability that bolstered engagement, and the group work and activities on which they could collaborate enhanced their learning.
- We distributed resource kits to schools in advance of the workshops so that they could feel all the benefits of training as if they were at an in-person workshop. These resource kits contained all the printouts they needed for the workshops, snacks to keep their energy levels high, flip charts and sticky-notes for their team brainstorming and sharing, and everything from spaghetti to marshmallows for the various team activities that would bring their learning to life.
- We recruited alumni from previous Dignitas cohorts as Peer Facilitators. Not only are these alumni powerful champions of transformation themselves, but they bring to light the reality of their schools and classrooms. They help to contextualise new mindsets, competencies, and strategies in their own recent experience and growth. They are powerful ambassadors of new possibilities. These Peer Facilitators were assigned to school teams, and supported these teams via breakout rooms.
- We leveraged our full digital toolkit – WhatsApp, bulk SMS, Zoom, and more to make sure no-one was left behind.
- We listened to the data. Each day, our monitoring and evaluation team shared insights that helped us to understand what was and wasn’t working, so that every day we became a little more effective in our mission.
And it paid off! We had up to 97% attendance at our virtual Leadership Academies, and 87% of participants said they would recommend the workshops to peers. As our team of Leadership Coaches engage in coaching in the coming months, we hope to track shifts in leadership and classroom practice as a result.
Enjoy the blog series, and the insight it offers into our amazing team!