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Resuming education in the face of COVID-19: The Advance program in Guatemala, Honduras and Jamaica

August 07, 2020

virtual graduation ceremony during pandemicIn 2015, the Advance program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by FHI 360, embarked on transforming higher education and technical training institutions in Guatemala, Honduras and Jamaica into relevant, responsive service providers for youth. Five years later, the Advance program has produced results: Nine universities have new technical degree programs that respond to labor market demands, address the hiring needs of private-sector firms, and most importantly, equip young people with skills necessary to join the economies that have often shut them out.

In March 2020, COVID-19 brought the three countries to a halt. Universities shut down, students were sent home and traditional learning delivery was suspended. To mitigate the disruptions, the Advance team undertook rapid response interventions to ensure that students could continue their education.

Keeping universities on the cutting edge of distance teaching and learning

In Honduras, the Advance team reconfigured training for university staff and faculty, working with career and labor intermediation services to prepare them to connect with students virtually. The team helped faculty to adapt career services to virtual platforms, allowing them to conduct mock interviews, use Facebook and Zoom to provide feedback on resumes and simulate workplace problem scenarios with students through Facebook Live and Jamboard. These pivots also challenged students to practice resilience and critical-thinking skills, which are key for workplace success.

Keeping industry and university relationships thriving

In Jamaica, all in-person program activities have been replaced with virtual dialogues and digital materials. For example, FHI 360 employed its World of Work model virtually to prepare students for job searching and entering the labor market. One session was designed to help students find new or better employment in the animation industry. Students learned about animation trends and opportunities in Jamaica, practiced aligning their own skills and competencies with industry-specific job descriptions, wrote application letters and resumes and prepared for job interviews. They also discussed challenges and tips with an industry representative. The model was so successful that FHI 360 is now producing digital, self-directed World of Work courses for other industries.

The Advance team is using webinars to connect industry experts, students and faculty members and to maintain connections that existed before university shutdowns. In addition, the team is digitizing a work-readiness training for faculty professional development.

Keeping students connected

In Guatemala, the Advance team is helping students stay connected to each other and to their courses. We are providing them with additional data plans so they can access online learning, check in with career and student services and attend virtual trainings. Students in all three countries who previously did not have the resources to invest in connectivity were able to attend their graduation ceremonies virtually in May.

Keeping the program on track

In all three countries, we adapted monitoring and evaluation processes to virtual modalities to allow for continued data collection on program outcomes and impact. For instance, with the program’s assistance, university staff in career and student services will administer an online survey of graduates of technical degree programs to gather information on their employment outcomes, to identify supports they need and to gauge their learning outcomes. Building capacity to administer an employability survey is part of Advance’s effort to improve the quality and relevance of career centers, their interactions with the labor market and their student support services.

The Advance program’s ability to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic is opening new pathways for learning and teaching, for universities to become nimbler through virtual services, and for students to complete their degrees and secure jobs. It provides the stability that youth need to continue their education and secure employment.

Photo credit: Maydelin Lara/Centro Universitario Tecnológico