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Community Champions

Remote training and coaching to equip educators as community based champions to keep vulnerable children's learning and well-being on track.

Photo of Deborah Kimathi
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  • Organization

Tell us about your idea

Like many other countries around the world, schools in Kenya have been closed since March 16th, leaving many children at home and desperate to have basic needs met. For the 60% of Nairobi’s population who are currently marginalized in urban informal settlements, this was the first in a series of steps that, whilst necessary, have significantly threatened the well-being of children and families.

Many children living in urban informal settlements are reliant on school not just for learning; but for protection, nutrition and many other aspects of their well-being. Moreover, children living in marginalized communities such as informal settlements are already furthest behind in learning metrics, and now risk being left even further behind. Risks to child well-being have significantly increased with concerns over basic provisions such as food and livelihoods, and additional risks such as child and domestic abuse.

Dignitas mapped 823 households in these communities in May 2020 and found that:

-79% of households have lost their pre-COVID19 household income

-48% of children have not received any kind of support from their schools

-Parents in these communities have stated barriers to supporting learning at home such as ‘know-how’ (39%), time (14%), and access to learning resources (72%).

A recent survey of more than 200 School Leaders highlighted that 70% of School Leaders believe it is their responsibility to support learner’s well-being, yet 68% recognize this as their biggest challenge during school closures.

Urgent action must be taken to secure the learning and well-being of these children.  Dignitas designed specialized training and coaching for community champions in response.

Trained Community Champions will provide six months of learning and well-being support for children currently out of school, which will include supporting their return to school, and recovery of learning losses.

Dignitas Coaches will support weekly training sessions for Community Champions, utilizing a bespoke Chat Bot to deliver mini training modules, video conferencing for follow up, and chat apps for virtual ‘Communities of Practice’ designed for peer learning, sharing and collaborative problem solving.

Dignitas Coaches will also provide individualized coaching via phonecalls once every two weeks.  All Dignitas training and coaching relies on feedback loops to tailor support and target impact.

Community Champions will distribute learning packs, conduct well-being checks, and provide remote support for learning to their assigned households on a weekly basis. 

Households will both give feedback, and receive further support through the use of an interactive USSD protocol, which will be free for user.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

Traditional Learning Models: First, everything we know to be schooling, our traditional learning models, have been turned upside down and inside out. There is no business as usual. From the poorest to wealthiest communities, from Nairobi to New Zealand, children are out of school. For some, learning continues in new and exciting ways. What’s exciting about this? We’ve known for a long time that traditional learning models don’t work for every child. Now we’re embracing the innovation and creativity we need to address this. Innovators, educators and policy makers are suddenly consumed with the urgency of reaching every child, keeping learning on track, and leaving no one behind. I hope this drives some long term benefit for the world’s out of school children, a group that was far too large even before COVID19. Many parents are engaging more in the content and method of their child(ren)’s learning than they have for a long time. Traditional learning models work best when parents are engaged and equipped to support their children’s learning. Although it is important to ask what happens when they don’t engage, whether because of inability or unwillingness, and how we can address this inequality? School Leaders are often an overlooked success factor in traditional learning models. However, schools that have excelled in offering physical, emotional and social support to teachers and learners during the COVID19 crisis have exemplary leaders. How do we make the season of crisis a season of fruitful learning and gains, so that when schools reopen, we provide better for all learners? -At the end of the COVID19 crisis, perhaps we need to see learning deinstitutionalized. Should learning happen in schools? Yes! But it should also happen in homes, in communities, in places of faith, and in families. -At the end of the COVID19 crisis, we need to see systems invest in School Leaders who can lead their teams to thrive through crises; by way of modelling, delegation, and collaboration, in and out of school as we know it. -At the end of the COVID19 crisis, we need to remember how much we value teachers & how much we have come to respect the professionalism and expertise with which they approach our children’s learning.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

Deborah Kimathi is the Executive Director of Dignitas, an education development organisation in Kenya. Dignitas uses an innovative training and coaching approach to empower schools and educators in marginalized communities to transform students’ opportunities. We imagine a world where schools are a vibrant place for all children to develop the skills and strength of character to thrive and succeed. To date, Dignitas has partnered with 300 schools, 1500 educators, and impacted the learning of 87,000 children.

What region are you located in?

  • Eastern Africa

Where are you located?

Nairobi, Kenya


Join the conversation:

Photo of Maike Gericke

Hi Deborah! I really enjoyed reading through your idea and insights, and can really see how leadership during the crisis is such an important factor. As part of a team that has been thinking a lot about community-based peer learning and tutoring for the last weeks, I would love to hear more about your approach and insights. We had some ideas about remote coaching and linking communities that might be complementary to your work - it would be great to explore if and how that could be relevant! Here is the short story writeup of our work:

Photo of Deborah Kimathi

Thanks for reaching out. Your project looks really interesting! Where have you implemented it so far?

Photo of Maike Gericke

Hi Deborah, thanks! We are still quite early, so no implementations just yet (we started during the crisis less than 2 months ago). We did some validation through interviews, testing our prototype and user research, are right now building our minimum viable product and in discussion with first test and pilot locations, mainly in Europe and South America. Having lived in Nairobi for a month last year, I would love to see if there are use cases we could explore together!
By the way, do you know Grassroots Economics and are you connected to them? They are doing some amazing work mostly around financial inclusion in rural communities in Kenya. I think their data and experience might give some great additional insights into the barriers parents are facing when it comes to their children's education, and they might be a great partner for holistic solutions especially in rural areas. Here are some of their stories related to Covid-19: