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Covid-19 and the non-state education sector

Originally published


Executive summary

This study examines the impact of Covid-19 and associated restrictions on the non-state school sector in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Drawing on a survey of GSF member organisations across 17 countries, and surveys and in-depth remote interviews with schools in India,
Nigeria and Kenya, we explore how schools were impacted by the pandemic and the ways in which they coped with the disruption. We highlight areas for policy intervention and areas for potential peer learning and scaling up of best practices.

This summary focuses on the areas of disruption. For case studies of creative, agile and innovative responses by schools, see relevant boxes in each chapter of the report.

Impact on school finances

Our survey shows that schools across all three countries have experienced significant financial difficulties because of the pandemic. This has been the case for all three categories of non-state schools surveyed (NGO, low-fee non-state schools, and community). Approximately half of the schools surveyed struggled to access financial support to help them cope with these difficulties. The cost of using new modes of learning has further added to financial distress, especially for smaller schools.

The effect of school closures has not been uniform. Smaller schools, networks with fewer schools, schools with lower enrolment, and schools that charge lower fees have reported the greatest impact on their income. Schools with stable student enrolment and greater ability among caregivers to pay fees were more likely to recover. Being part of networks, alliances, or groups can provide schools with some degree of protection and access to valuable resources when crisis strikes.

Most schools relied on existing reserves, loans, and parental and community donations. Very few schools in the survey indicated that they have received stimulus packages from the government.

Impact on teachers and teacher development

Many teachers did not receive their full salary during the pandemic. 28 (of 33) schools in India, 20 (of 59) schools in Nigeria, 36 (of 47) schools in Kenya and 12 (of 22) GSF member organisations reported either pay cuts or no salary payments during the period of disruption caused by the pandemic. These cuts were more likely to affect smaller schools.

The pandemic led to teacher attrition, with smaller schools most affected. Some schools were forced to lay off staff, others saw teachers leave. In total, 16 schools in India, 24 schools in Nigeria, and 29 in Kenya reported losing teachers. It remains to be seen whether teachers will return to schools after the pandemic or whether this will have longer-term implications for the teaching workforce in LMICs.

Teacher development activities have been very significantly disrupted by the pandemic – 60% of GSF member respondents indicated that teacher development has been affected. The rapid shift to remote forms of learning added to the need for professional development for staff, but this additional need coincided with severe restrictions to schools’ ability to support staff and continue or add provision of professional development activities.

Learning continuity and student wellbeing

A very significant amount of instruction time has been lost because of the pandemic. At the time of our data collection in April 2021, schools estimated that this ranged from five to nearly eight months. Schools were generally not prepared to shift rapidly to remote education delivery, with the exception of several higher-fee schools.

The picture is mixed when it comes to learners’ access to education while schools were closed (See Table 6 for more detail). While most respondents to the survey of GSF member organisations and among our Indian sample reported that over half of their students did have some access to learning, this was not the case everywhere. Only three schools in Kenya and 11 schools in Nigeria reported that over half of their students had access to learning.

Distribution of printed learning materials and the use of mobile phones and laptops, where available, were the most common methods employed by schools in their attempts to adapt to remote learning. Disadvantaged students were affected most, in that they were the least like to access remote learning provision.

Policy implications

Governments have a clear interest in ensuring the non-state sector does not shrink, now more than ever. If financial difficulties were to lead to large-scale permanent closures of non-state schools, the displacement of large numbers of pupils into the government sector would be highly disruptive.


  1. Governments and development partners should focus on the availability of financial support for the non-state education sector, including through subsidised loans and credit.

  2. Governments and development partners should support educational recovery in the non-state sector, including through the inclusion of non-state schools in remedial programmes aimed at mitigating learning loss.

  3. Governments and development partners should also build the longer-term resilience of the non-state education sector, particularly among smaller networks of schools and standalone schools.

  4. Governments in receipt of donor funding, especially from multilateral funds, should indicate in their Education Recovery Plans how disadvantaged students in non-state schools will benefit from the investment and how they are targeted in planning.