In African countries, there is a great demand for support to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in the school context: How can schools and other educational institutions safely remain open (or be reopened) in times of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The lack of basic WASH infrastructure in schools means that teachers and students are struggling to create a safe learning environment and to practice essential hygiene measures. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 38 percent of primary schools and 43 percent of upper secondary schools have basic handwashing devices, which are essential during a pandemic (UN SDG Report 2020).

At the same time, the prominent position of schools in their communities offers ample opportunities to better implement pandemic prevention across the board. Schools are the most important public institutions and widespread across all countries. They play an increasingly important role in the fight against the pandemic through hygiene promotion, vaccination campaigns and other measures.

Description of the Uptake

The Sector Programme Water Policy received COVID-19 funding from the BMZ to transfer the Fit for School approach to contexts of safe school opening in African countries. The Fit for School Initiative for Africa focuses on capacity development for pandemic resilient schools.

Measures are brought together with ongoing activities in countries: In Malawi GIZ is working closely with 8 Teacher Training Colleges, focusing on more than 5000 student teachers who will be sent to 800 primary schools as part of their training in 2022. Under the Fit for School Initiative for Africa, the Basic Education Programme is now providing campaign materials and trainings to increase the resilience within the colleges and provide student teachers with valuable knowledge they can mainstream at their practice schools.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), are being developed to support schools in Malawi and other countries to comply with their national policies for pandemic response. 

Success factors

  • The Fit for School approach provides concepts and tools that can be well adapted to the requirements of schools during the pandemic in African countries;
  • Implementation in model schools by GIZ projects and partner organisations based in the countries with strong links to the institutions and communities;
  • Aligning activities with national education sectors and key actors, e.g. UNICEF and the Hygiene & Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC);
  • Building on existing formats for Global and South-South exchange and using established platforms such as the Global WinS Network ( and the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance  (;
  • As a Sector Programme supporting the BMZ’s advocacy for the Fit for School approach and its contribution towards pandemic resilient education sectors through conference contributions (UNC Water and Health), articles (Going back to school in the middle of a pandemic – Healthy DEvelopments (, and other inputs.  

Stumbling factors

  • Implementing short-term funding comes with its own challenges. While the pandemic requires swift measures and support to schools, achieving sustainable WASH in schools calls for longer-term commitment. We therefore focused on selected elements of Fit for School for pandemic resilience and did not attempt to tackle all aspects of comprehensive WASH in school measures at this time.
  • Guidance, information materials and approaches need to be adjusted to national (pandemic) protocols and requirements while also trying to keep the messages simple and the required measures implementable and scalable. It is thus essential to involve experts within the countries, while the role of the Sector Programme is concentrated on facilitating and connecting actors across countries.

Replication methodology

The approach and the scope need to be tailored specifically to each country context and at the same time stay up to date on a global level (e.g. WHO guidance on pandemic resilience; WASH in schools approaches). A large part of the replication's success can be attributed to the close, long-term collaboration between the Regional programme Fit for School and the Water Policy Sector programme. Within and across countries, the active participation and commitment of organizations, partners, and colleagues who are part of the WASH in school expert community enriches the adaptation and transfer of Fit for School to African contexts.