Source : ADEA
In order to obtain a clearer view of the status of learning during this period, and to better support countries in the immediate, short and long term, ADEA engaged some of the most affected African countries in March 2020 to map the national situation in the education sector. Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zambia provided a large range of elements in terms of national strategies, platforms and tools or applications, gaps and challenges, partner engagement, good practices and lessons learnt with some recommendations. This will enable ADEA, together with other partners, to formulate relevant support strategies and share with other African countries for peer learning and experience exchange.
National strategies put in place to ensure continuity of learning from home
Establishing multi-sectoral Presidential COVID-19 committees, national committees, and working groups at the sub-national level for the management and pedagogical continuity of education.
Diversifying the use of traditional communication platforms such as radio and television, digital platforms like public and private portals and the social media, and digital as well as audio-visual resources and didactic kits for diverse educator and learner needs.
Negotiating with mobile telecommunication providers to allow educators and learners to access distance/online learning platforms and resources free of charge or at reduced rates using mobile telephony networks.
According priority to the provision of solutions to learners in the examination/certification classes at the different levels and to the classes with the highest number of enrolments; and organizing preparatory remedial lessons.
Establishing a system that reviews and validates the education program content from private and public television channels offered to learners, as part of the standardization and quality assurance.
Postponing school holidays to ensure pedagogical continuity and minimizing the weight of the negative impacts that the interruption of courses could have on academic performance.
Providing an "electronic listening service" via a toll-free number and email address to support learners, teachers and parents who can send questions and suggestions for advancing the distance learning process.
Teaching and learning platforms and tools/applications
Most of the countries consulted have teaching and learning platforms and tools/applications in place and operational. These include public, private and community radio and television channels with clear lesson schedules, ministry of education and related institutional websites and portals, interactive audio and videoconferencing platforms and tools, and various learning applications.
Comprehensive content coverage within the allocated lesson durations, however, remains a challenge with some learners and parents finding the television classes ‘too fast’ to be assimilated. These learners are sometimes forced to record the broadcasted lessons on their mobile phones in order to listen or watch again later for a better understanding. The learners also find it difficult to pose questions to the lesson presenters (educators) and have to seek answers from their parents, some of whom are unable to assist.
All countries indicated that they are working with a diversity of stakeholders, including technical and financial partners, at different levels of government administration.
Within the public sectors, strategic engagement is with other supporting ministries and government institutions, such as Finance, Internal Security, Health, Planning, and ICT. The various ministries of education also collaborate with the national radio and television stations for live broadcasting and replaying schedules of education content.
The ministries of education also engage with other stakeholders such as private sector, teachers’ unions, school management committees, parents’ associations, development cooperation partners, civil society that includes NGOs and faith-based organizations. For the private sector, this includes the private radio and television media houses, telecommunication companies, as well as ICT and EdTech companies, among others.
The development cooperation partners involved include internal and external traditional education partners as well as new players in the education landscape.
Beyond the use of the radio and television for airing lessons across all the countries, with the addition of sign language, there is little evidence of deliberate initiatives aimed at addressing the issue of inclusion.
Specific interventions include Burkina Faso where NGOs and community associations are providing different interventions in non-formal education to be reach all groups, Morocco where courses are re-broadcasted during the weekends (Saturday and Sunday) and the provision of financial support for households in difficulty; and South Africa that has zero-rated educational content to ensure that poor communities also benefit from the solutions without incurring data costs for accessing educational content, in addition to having agreements with network providers to offer education solutions, including assistive devices, to learners with special educational needs.
Thus, the issue of inclusion seems to be still challenging, including for households without TV or radio and where parents or guardians are not literate. There are also cases of learners with an increased load of household chores and learners with visual impairment. It is good, however, to see that some countries are using local languages for distance learning.
Gaps and challenges in implementation
Despite the gallant efforts by countries to ensure the continuity of education, gaps and challenges are bound to exist due to the abrupt and necessarily urgent need to have a strategy and plan in place. These include inclusion (not only in terms of coverage and 'all-level' sector-engagement, but also in ICT uptake and radio and TV coverage), lack of time for adequate preparation of educators for online lesson delivery, inadequate funding, weak parental supervision in some households, weak quality assurance in assessments and little or ineffective monitoring and evaluation (M&E).
The challenge of accessing ICT tools is recurrent in terms of adequate tools and low coverage of the internet, with only a few countries mentioning support from the government on a plan to provide free internet package to vulnerable households.
Very few of the countries are referring to the use of mobile applications for educational content.
Educators have not been adequately prepared to work from home as this requires a different pedagogical approach. There is a lack of clarity on how the countries will capacitate the educators in adopting and using ICT solutions, neither are there adequate guidelines to assess learners, beyond the homework/assignments.
There appears to be no clear format provided for monitoring learners to ensure completion of assignments. For learners in private schools, however, things are different, and the educators can get online feedback.
The monopoly of radio and/or TV in some homes is a real challenge: there is only one TV in most households. Thus, if the head of the home is not keen on education, it will deny the learners the opportunity to learn as there will be a scramble for TV time. In some homes, the use of the radio is a preserve of the parents, especially for listening to the news.
Finally, this kind of education largely benefits those who have access to ICT and smartphones; it hardly caters for those in informal settlements and low-income homes where electricity is not available. Thus, learners will not be at par in terms of syllabus coverage since there are those who will not do the work because they are unsupervised, and others cannot access the online lessons and notes.
As much as it is still early days to know the full impact of the measures that countries have instituted for the continuity of education during the COVID-19 period, a key strategic policy approach that ensures country ownership of the process is the establishment of state-led multi-stakeholder educational committees at the national and sub-national levels. This is in addition to the use of diverse media and tools to provide distance and online education through interactive communication between teachers, learners, and the community. Some countries have developed their own platform to provide educational content.
Secondly, due to the sudden and unplanned change in the mode of education delivery, a good number of countries prioritised their initial focus learners in examination classes.
A third good practice is on partnership. All the countries have indicated that they formally collaborated with a diverse number of stakeholders, both within the government and externally, in providing education from home. These include technical and financial development cooperation partners, the private sector (e.g. private radio and television media houses, telecommunication companies, as well as ICT and EdTech companies), civil society (e.g. NGOs and faith-based organizations).
The establishment of a system for validating education content offered by stakeholders by the relevant government institutions and successful agreements with telecommunication providers for access to online resources free of charge or at reduced rates using mobile telephony networks is also a good practice.
In some countries, learners, educators, and parents also have access to a central forum where they can engage with their peers and education experts via a toll-free number and email address.
Finally, a few countries are reviewing the schedule for school holidays and planning compact tutoring and remedial lessons once normal learning resumes.
Below are some of the good practices and lessons that can be shared to inform future advance preparations for eventualities such as COVID-19.
In general, the present health crisis has highlighted the ability to pool the skills and resources of different players in the public and private sectors, both national and international. Specifically, it has made it possible to experiment with new learning approaches and new avenues for disseminating knowledge (e.g. online dissemination of filmed course modules, use of mobile and smartphones, televisions and radios).
Optimizing the use of dedicated national radio and TV channels helps to reduce inequalities and enhances inclusion in the provision of digital learning. The expectation is that stations of the two media will recognize their key role in supporting national education goals and strive to improve the quality of their programming, as part of their social responsibility.
Commitment, general mobilization and responsible civic involvement of all actors in the education and training sector and other sectors of socioeconomic development are necessary ingredients for the success of any national distance education project.
Prior development of great expertise in the field of distance education is of necessity. In Morocco and other African countries, for example, distance education does not date from the beginning of COVID-19; several functional portals have existed for a long time and cover all levels of education.
Intensive use of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) tools and the use of remote mechanisms to access education content are essential in times of crisis; they require significant investment.
The need for a strong collaboration is also critical because governments alone cannot manage the expansion of education provision through online platforms and other tools.
There are important issues that require further interrogation, going forward. These include the potential increase in the out-of-school children and youth population, the need for increased investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and research to spur home-grown innovation, adequate educator preparation, a potential rise in child abuse due to increased domestic abuse, exploring new ways of administering examinations and assessment, addressing practical courses, including in vocational training, conducting guidance and counselling remotely, exploiting the use of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OERs), and financing.
Conclusion and recommendations
The COVID-19 experience has shown that Africa’s education sector is not ready to embrace a ‘business unusual approach’ in the face of situations that diverts the sector from business as usual. African countries should, therefore, put in place robust education response plans for disasters and emergencies, and commit resources to the plans, for learning to continue without disruption. The ongoing measures are more-or-less reactionary and have not yet considered that this situation could last for a longer period.
Forward planning: Establish an early warning system for effective strategic monitoring of the education sector in order to anticipate changes in the educational environment and avoid disruptions – a kind of “Ubuntu or Utu1 Education Plan.”
Leveraging the use of technology: Ministries of education should invest in virtual learning even though it can be an expensive venture, to prepare for unpredictability and provide an alternative plan, as part of regular teaching and learning.
Taking advantage of MOOCs and OERs: More and more institutions and individuals continue to share digital learning resources over the internet openly and without any cost, which should be explored. The caveat is that there should be proper quality assurance provisions on the contents.
Regional pooling of resources for home education: In line with the ongoing harmonization of education and training to promote greater skills and workforce mobility within the continent as part of regional integration, African regional and sub-regional bodies should take the lead in harmonizing course contents in education and training as well as pooling technical and financial resources and skills to support home education.
Improving hygiene: Countries should also improve on the general hygiene of the citizenry – more so of the learners – through daily sanitization of the school areas. The provision of water, soap, hand sanitizers, toilet paper, sanitary towels should be a priority in our learning institutions.
Data utilization: Ministries of Education should consider incorporating critical aspects emerging from the COVID-19 related distance education in their national education management information systems (EMIS) to capture essential data that informs decisions on reforming the education sector to cope with future crises and avoid any form of disruptions and discriminations, and to sustain quality, equity and relevant education.
Finally, capacity building for the management and teaching workforce for all aspects of distance and online approaches in education and assessment is also essential. This ensures that their proficiency levels are high enough to support the use of educational technology in the management of learning institutions and the delivery of content.
 ‘Ubuntu’ (I am because we are) is a philosophical concept from southern Africa that refers to the inextricable interconnections between all human beings. ‘Utu’ is a similar concept in Swahili referring to the inner being; the state of being human and acting humanely.