COVID-19: 3 ways to engage effectively with schools
Widening participation (WP) has become the key strategic objective linked to promoting equity and social inclusion in higher education during the past two decades.
As equity practitioners, we have generally been delivering WP activities through in-school outreach activities, on-campus school visits, mentoring programs, tutoring programs and continuing professional development for school staff.
Responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19, a lot of equity practitioners are grappling with redesigning WP activities that meets these challenges.
Here are our top three tips:
Communicate with your school principals and teachers
- Liaise with your school contacts to get their advice regarding your WP activities.
- Be prepared – do you have the resources to support the changing school needs and revise your programs?
- Give your school contacts (and other stakeholders) some space – it’s a frantic time for schools, so balance your communications with them.
Update your program participants
- It’s an uncertain time for many people right now – don’t leave your stakeholders in the dark. Reach out to school students, parents/carers, community members, industry partners and volunteers or paid staff who are assisting you in program delivery.
- If you are still in the process of revising WP activities, let your program participants know that this is not yet finalised, and reassure them that you will let them know as soon as it is.
- Create or update information sheets to outline whether you are postponing, continuing or amending your WP activities.
- Some of your program participants will not have access to online modes of communication. Remember you can send letters via post.
Start ideation processes
- Begin conversations in your team regarding your WP activities. Generate ideas on how to effectively support schools and students during COVID-19.
- Talk to colleagues in your institutions and seek their suggestions and ideas. These colleagues might not necessarily be involved in WP activities but you can draw on their expertise and generate creative solutions.
- Connect with other equity practitioners in the sector and share ideas.
The reality is as equity practitioners we have to always ensure our WP activities are stakeholder-centred, context-specific and iterative. School engagement is built on trust, mutual respect and a spirit of collaboration. Open dialogue is going to be the key in these unprecedented times.