Since Coronavirus was declared a pandemic at the beginning of April 2020 countries all over the world including those on the African continent declared national lockdown and schools, universities and colleges were closed and declared as non-essential services. Across the African continent, an estimated 297 million students have been affected by school closures as a result of the pandemic.
Globally, school closures due to COVID-19 have affected 1.29 billion students in 186 countries, which is 73.8 per cent of the world’s student population, according to the UN Education Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Despite the challenges of limited access to internet connectivity, electricity or computers, countries are keeping learning actively through various remote learning methods such as radio and television programmes, in addition to online platforms and social media.
In Egypt, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Nigeria, Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa and others, several schools and universities have moved some of their programmes to online platforms and have encouraged students to get connected.
In Zimbabwe schooling resumed through virtual learning. Pupils learn from home using the Google Classroom application, WhatsApp, e-mail and other such internet-based platforms with google classroom being the most popular choice app.
In Nigeria and Morocco, the governments have created online repositories with education materials for teachers and parents. In contrast, the Rwanda education board has set up a dedicated website to support learning and provide educational content, as well as assessment tests. The site also enables teachers and parents to communicate.
However, due to weak internet connection, expensive data and an urban-rural digital divide, online classes alone are unable to cater for all students. This creates the risk of leaving millions of students in Africa behind. In sub-Saharan Africa, UNESCO says 89 per cent of learners do not have access to household computers and 82 per cent lack internet access.
At the launch of the Global Coalition for Education in March, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We are working together to find a way to make sure that children everywhere can continue their education, with special care for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.”
Countries are also increasingly promoting remote learning through traditional mass communication tools such as radio, and sometimes television. Radio’s extensive reach and relatively low need for technical know-how makes its deployment faster and easier than scaling up internet connections.
Zimbabwe is one of the many African countries that recently reintroduced radio lessons with its three major media companies, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, Zimpapers and AB communications at the helm of the project.
Ghana’s public broadcasters have rekindled dormant programmes on tv and radio for high school students. Similar programmes are running in Madagascar and Côte d’Ivoire.
In Senegal, the government’s efforts are encapsulated in a catchy slogan: “Ecole fermée, Mais Cahiers ouverts,” meaning “school is closed, but learning goes on.”
Radio Okapi, an UN-sponsored radio network in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), launched Okapi Ecole (Okapi School) – a twice-daily remote learning programme for primary, secondary and vocational school students.
In Rwanda, UNICEF is working with the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency to produce and air nationwide basic literacy and numeracy classes. UNICEF identified more than 100 radio scripts from around the world, focusing on basic literacy and numeracy that could be adapted to align with Rwanda’s school curriculum. The same support is being provided to Malawi.
In Côte d’Ivoire, UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Education on a ‘school at home’ initiative that includes taping lessons to be aired on national TV.
Looking beyond COVID-19, the Association of African Universities (AAU) sees an opportunity for local universities to explore expanding “technology-based platforms for teaching, learning and research.” Still, challenges such as network infrastructure, data prices and access to adequate digital equipment will need to be addressed for this to be a continent-wide success.