2020 review: how Theirworld helped to unlock big change for education

Greece Report 1
Despite the pandemic, Theirworld helped to deliver education - including for refugee children at the Tapuat Centre on the Greek island of Lesvos (Theirworld / Yorgos Kyvernitis)

Justin van Fleet, Theirworld


Theirworld President Justin van Fleet set the scene for 2020 with a blog that looked ahead at the challenges and opportunities in 2020. He wrote: “The scale of the global education crisis is so large that everyone has a role to play – and technology makes inclusion more possible than ever before.”

Little did he – or any of us – know what lay ahead in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic and how big a role technology would play in delivering education to children whose schools were closed by the virus.


When Nicola Haxby heard about Theirworld’s mission to help Syrian refugee children into school, she was inspired to go out busking to raise funds. We featured her Song for Theirworld in a video to say thanks to players of the People’s Postcode Lottery in the UK, who have raised more than £5.3 million to support our work with Syrian refugees.

We had the first hint of the mayhem to come, with news that the coronavirus had put millions of children out of school in China.

Theirworld and Heriot-Watt University’s Edinburgh Business School teamed up to offer full scholarships for refugees and Lebanese nationals living in Lebanon. In August, we reported on the 20 people selected to take their MBA degree.

A team from Theirworld visited Lebanon to see how our support is helping schools to pilot an innovative approach to inclusive early childhood education for refugees. The project is conducted in partnership with SKILD (Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences).


Ngozi Okonjo Iweala Gets Award At Theirworld Iwd 2020 Event

(Theirworld / Heathcliff O’Malley)

How we can all work together to Unlock Big Change for girls and women was the theme of an inspiring International Women’s Day event hosted by Theirworld. There was a special award for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Managing Director of the World Bank and currently Chair of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.

Theirworld received 1.35 million euros ($1.14 million) towards our work on education in emergencies – thanks to players of the Dutch Postcode Lottery. The award was to help fund new education centres for refugees in the Greek Aegean islands and our work in Lebanon supporting children who attend double-shift schools.

The pandemic was sweeping across the world and more than 1.25 billion children and youth from pre-primary to higher education were affected by school closures in over 120 countries. By the end of March, that rose to 1.5 billion – almost 90% of all students.


Tapuat Centre On Lesvos Opens 3

The Tapuat Centre on Lesvos had been refurbished but was closed during the lockdown (UNICEF/Greece/Iliaktida)

Theirworld was among 25 organisations who called for increased funding for education as a core part of the world’s response to the coronavirus crisis. It included a plea for $50 million in new funding for Education Cannot Wait – the fund for education in emergencies.

We looked at how the closure of schools was adding to the misery for thousands of children trapped in refugee camps on the Greek islands. Theirworld had helped the Tapuat Centre near the Moria camp to refurbish a building and provide non-formal education to hundreds of children – but the centre was closed by the lockdown.

A report from Theirworld warned that vital education services for thousands of refugee children on the islands would end in June without urgent action from the international community.

Thousands of children from low-income families in the United States were given free computers to learn at home as part of a project by the REACT (Rapid Education Action) programme. REACT is run by the Global Business Coalition for Education, an initiative of Theirworld.


Theirworld Ambassador Nick Sharratt – the renowned British illustrator and author of children’s books – invited families to share their children’s drawings on social media to show how they are #StillLearning at home.

Two of Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors – our network of young activists – recorded videos to share their fears that many girls are in danger of being left behind by the pandemic.

Theirworld called on European countries to act urgently to end the plight of 1,600 unaccompanied children stranded in overcrowded and dangerous refugee camps on the Greek islands.

Youth for Technology Foundation began delivering programmes supported by Theirworld using digital skills while schools remained closed in Kenya and Nigeria.


Justin Van Fleet Greece Trip

Theirworld President Justin van Fleet with children during a 2019 visit to the Greek islands last year (Theirworld)

Theirworld urged the Global Partnership for Education to aim to spend at least 10% of its funding for lower-income countries on pre-primary learning.

The Dutch Postcode Lottery awarded us another 1.35 million euros ($1.53 million) to fund emergency education for thousands of refugee children on the Greek islands during the pandemic.  

Ahead of the Brussels Conference on Supporting Syria and the Region, campaigners from leading organisations, including Theirworld, urged the international community not to give up on the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children who remain out of school.

Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown hosted a special section on education during WOW (Women of the World) Global 24 – the first female-focused worldwide online festival. 


Brac Classes Restart In Tanzania

(BRAC Tanzania)

A busy month began with a coalition of global children’s charities – led by Theirworld – accusing world leaders of displaying a “gross failure of political leadership” after they failed to prioritise education at the Brussels conference on the future of Syria.

A Theirworld project funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery provided inclusive learning materials for more than 500 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon whose schools were closed.

A report by the Global Business Coalition for Education – released on Youth Skills Day – said stress management, critical thinking, problem-solving and tenacity will give young people the resilience to deal with the shock of Covid-19 and other disruptions to come.

Teachers with BRAC Tanzania – as part of the Theirworld-backed Skills for Their Future programme – told how they reached scores of families with advice, health flyers and educational materials to help them deal with school closures caused by the pandemic.

The Tapuat non-formal education centre on the Greek island of Lesvos opened a second building thanks to support from Theirworld. The centre provided lessons and play opportunities to hundreds of children until it was closed by the health crisis.


New Intake Of Gyas 2020

More than 500 new Global Youth Ambassadors were welcomed into Theirworld’s network of youth activists, later rising to nearly 600. 


A new series of Better Angels – a podcast for the activist spirit, hosted by Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown – ran for 12 episodes leading up to and during the UN General Assembly. The series began with an episode featuring Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. 

A major report in 2018 was supported by Theirworld and Save the Children as part of the Inquiry on Protecting Children in Conflict. This month a new executive summary was released to mark the first International Day to Protect Education from Attack. 

Theirworld created a new Snakes and Ladders game to highlight the education crisis facing millions of children around the world. Keys and Locks: The Education Game was launched ahead of the UN General Assembly. 

Theirworld and the Global Business Coalition for Education launched The Key – a comprehensive information toolkit to help anyyone make a clear and robust case for education. The digital report is crammed with messages, statistics, taking points and infographics about subjects where education plays a key role.

Two thousand global leaders, business figures, innovators, youth activists and changemakers gathered to take part in a virtual event called Unlock Big Change – hosted during the UN General Assembly by Theirworld and the Global Business Coalition for Education. It was opened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. 


Skild Making Video In Lebanon


When fire destroyed the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos, the Tapuat learning centre and its staff went straight into action to help children and families

As part of Baby Loss Awareness Week, Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown spoke about the death of her daughter on the award-winning Griefcast podcast, hosted by Cariad Lloyd and about how the tragedy led to the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory and the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort.

Theirworld was part of a global coalition of organisations that called for urgent action to prevent an education crisis becoming a catastroph. The Save Our Future campaign launched a roadmap for increased investment in education.

We reported how support from Theirworld allowed the SKILD Center in Lebanon to make a series of educational films to provide families and teachers with creative ways to help children who are at home and unable to access schools or specialists. The videos have now reached 100,000 people.


When lockdown closed classrooms across Lebanon, teachers who had been trained in digital technology – through a DOT Lebanon project supported by Theirworld – were ready to deliver learning to their students at home

Theirworld joined almost 200 UK humanitarian, development and domestic charities in calling on the UK Government to reconsider plans to cut foreign aid. 

Infants’ brains may be shaped by levels of stress their mother experiences during pregnancy, a study by the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory revealed.


A Theirworld-funded project with Maya Vakfı in Turkey means vulnerable refugee and local primary students are coping better with isolation and uncertainty as their schools remain closed. 

Emmanuel Sani from Nigeria was named as our Global Youth Ambassador of the Year for 2020 from among almost 1,000 young activists in 87 countries.

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