Every two years, the Jacobs Foundation awards the Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prizes to trailblazers seeking evidence-based solutions to education’s biggest challenges. In this series, Annie Brookman-Byrne meets with the finalists of the 2022 awards. In part 9, Annie talks to Mya Gordon from Save the Children.

Annie Brookman-Byrne: What are the biggest challenges facing children around the world today?

Mya Gordon: I see three main challenges. First, there’s the aftermath of COVID-19 and related learning loss. In extreme cases, such as Uganda and the Philippines, schools were closed for two years.

Then there’s conflict and its aftermath – half of people experiencing extreme poverty live in conflict zones and fragile states. Conflict and insecurity disrupt education and undermine longer-term investment in schools.

“More extreme weather events are fuelling humanitarian crises and disrupting children’s access to education.”

Finally, there’s climate change. More extreme weather events are fuelling humanitarian crises and disrupting children’s access to education.

ABB: What is your vision for the future of education?

MG: My vision is for children to be able to exercise their right to learn and enjoy high-quality, inclusive basic education. Everywhere, thriving school communities made up of children, parents, community volunteers and leaders are ensuring that schools are hubs for learning and related support. Every child is valued and no child falls through the gaps when lessons are too challenging or when poverty, discrimination, disease, or violence disrupts their education. Children thrive in clubs that complement formal schooling and love to play an active role in their education.

MG: At the forefront of our response is our Catch-up Clubs initiative. This innovative approach supports children in upper primary school who have fallen behind in their learning owing to COVID and other challenges. It helps them to rapidly acquire foundational skills, especially in reading, so they can engage with the full school curriculum. These clubs provide fun activities for gaining those foundational skills and also help improve social and emotional skills.

This is combined with wrap-around supports, including snacks during club meetings and cash or vouchers for children living in extreme poverty. In addition, child-protection case management services are provided for children facing barriers to learning, such as child labour and violence. This additional support is a response to a range of effects of the pandemic and its aftermath, as families’ livelihoods continue to be compromised. Among the consequences of the pandemic are pressure to permit child labour and parental stress, which can sometimes lead to violence against children. These challenges can prevent children from attending school and the Catch-up Clubs, and our wrap-around supports play a crucial role in keeping them in education.

ABB: What other solutions are needed?

It is important for national governments and multilateral actors such as UN agencies to scale up efforts to promote catch-up learning and provide related support, which can take the form of cash and voucher assistance, school meals, and child protection support. This will enable children to return to school, maintain consistent attendance, and catch up with their learning. It is vital for governments and other actors to scale up Catch-up Clubs, and we need to gather better systematic evidence so that we can persuade governments to adopt the model.

“It is important for national governments and multilateral actors such as UN agencies to scale up efforts to promote catch-up learning.”

ABB: Which of the other Best Practice Prize finalists are you keen to learn from?

MG: I am very impressed by the range of organisations among the finalists. I am excited to see a number of smaller organisations with strong connections in the Global South. My colleagues and I are eager to learn from Youth Impact, a grassroots, youth-led, evidence-based movement in Botswana. We’d like to know more about their use of research in pursuing innovation and improving quality.


Mya Gordon has worked extensively in programme evaluation in Tanzania, Uganda, and South Sudan, and is currently coordinating education research and evaluation for Save the Children International. She holds a master’s degree in Social Anthropology of Development and is especially interested in the application of social research in seeking to improve programming and advocacy work. She is currently leading evaluation and research for the Catch-up Clubs.

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