THE COVID-19 pandemic has drastically hit the world since its outbreak in late 2019 with a lot of infections and death. Africa is no exception. The affected countries are facing enormous difficulties and have put in place measures to contain its spread. Education has been one of the most impacted sectors affected by the COVID-19.
A worldwide pandemic with regional impacts
According to latest data made available by UNESCO, 1.57 billion learners worldwide (91.4% of the world’s student population) are affected by schools and university closures, due to measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. In addition to facing an unprecedented health crisis, the World is also facing a learning crisis due to disruptions in Education caused by these schools and universities closures
In Africa, many governments have adopted nation – wide school closures which has affected millions of learners at all the school levels (pre-primary, primary, secondary through to university).
Added to the number of out of school children estimated at 250 million children, who were out of school before the Covid-19 outbreak.
According to UNESCO, these school closures are impacting over 90% of the world’s student population. Within the continent, only Burundi continues to open its schools, while Madagascar has chosen to close schools in certain localities only. The consequence of these measures is that millions of pupils were sent home. In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, more than 39 million pupils are affected and in smaller countries like The Gambia, nearly 600,000 students are at a standstill.
Distance learning: opportunities and challenges in the continent
In a bid to mitigate the short and longer term impact of school closures on learners and ensure continued learning, many countries have adopted distance learning mechanisms with the guidance/support of UNESCO, depending on the country’s infrastructure, connectivity and accessibility of Internet to the majority of the population.
The Global Partnership for Education has also come in handy to provide 250 Million additional resources to countries to support their COVID-19 Education response plan.
In Senegal, for example, where access to the Internet is limited, distance learning becomes hypothetical. The distance learning courses are not accessible to the majority of the learners.
In some countries like Cote d’Ivoire, the focus is mainly on the exam classes.
Some private schools use Whats App to inform parents of the exercises to be done. Again, this cannot be applied everywhere.
For some of the children from public schools in many countries across Africa, no learning at all is taking place. This is mainly the case of children living in remote rural areas that do not have access to Internet, TV and sometimes not even a radio.
In Eswatini, since February, the Government started virtual learning/ teaching using radio, TV and online uploads although it had its limitations. Other countries have not yet started distance learning programmes, as they are still in the process of preparing pedagogical material for the online courses.
In that case, the role of parents to provide oversight and ensure that the children effectively learn is critical. But how many parents have the capacity to do that? This has a potential to widen the inequalities and also affect negatively the quality of learning.
What should be done?
In this context, ANCEFA calls upon governments to:
- Ensure that any COVID-19 response Plan is inclusive of the Education needs of all learners, including the most disadvantaged children and the children with disabilities. All distance learning TV programmes should be available in sign language and paper versions.
- Ensure that the girl child receives special attention, as the pandemic diversely affects boys and girls, the latter being likely to be submitted to domestic chores, early marriage and early pregnancies, abuse and violence.
- Establish family support and accompaniment mechanisms to maintain learning at home and reduce domestic violence against children and women.
- Protect funding allocated to the Education system and increase sustainable funding to maintain the Right to Education for all learners.
- Engage innovative methods of sustaining learning for the students through new technology,
- electronic and digital media, and other creative approaches adaptable to the local context, such as community radio programmes on Education.
- Where some countries are planning school reopening, ensure that safety of learners and teachers is the priority, and the preparedness of the education systems is adequate in consultation with all stakeholders to ensure that learners and teachers are not at risk.
ANCEFA further wishes to urge African governments to prioritise EDUCATION in the country Covid-19 response across the continent – and with the support of Education stakeholders take appropriate measures that protect the safety of learners and teachers, families and communities and enhance sustainable learning for all learners.
(Source: Mame Codou Dieng, ANCEFA)