Distance learning in Africa goes distance
PORTSMOUTH, Ohio – The pandemic has seen a rapid shift towards distance learning as schools shut down across the world. Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of people did not have easy access to distance education resources, whether online or over the air. Distance learning in Africa has become a priority throughout the pandemic. Now, many must learn to adapt to live with the pandemic in order to survive. As a result, distance education has become part of a larger conversation about Africa’s development.
Examine Egypt’s approach
Based on current resources and past successes, countries, in various circumstances, have implemented a series of distance learning initiatives in Africa.
In Egypt, where the Internet is more accessible, distance learning initiatives have focused on the delivery of online study programs. In March 2020, the Ministry of Education and Technical Education authorized online access to the Egyptian Knowledge Bank. Kindergarten to high school students have access to it. This has provided online multimedia programs for students and teachers. In addition, Egypt has established online education platforms for communication between students and teachers.
These platforms are accessible via a desktop computer or a mobile device. To make access to online education more equitable, the Ministry of Communications and Informatics has teamed up with mobile operators to distribute free SIM cards to students. However, these students must already have access to a device. In some cases, senior students were given tablets for assessments.
Kenya’s distance learning efforts
Further south, Kenya has used several distance education pathways for 15 million students. Authorities have gone to great lengths to provide online education for students, partnering with Alphabet, Inc. and Telkom Kenya to float 4G base stations over Kenyan airspace. These balloons provide a wireless network to Kenyans on the ground. Similarly, Kenya has partnered with mobile network providers to secure mobile data deals.
The Kenyan authorities have also explored the possibility of offering distance education to students who continually lack access to the Internet. The Kenyan government has partnered with television and radio broadcasting groups to provide distance education on a weekly basis.
Sierra Leone uses its own strategy
Sierra Leone has relaunched and adapted its own sweep radio education strategy from the 2014 Ebola outbreak to COVID-19 closures. The World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education, UNESCO and UNICEF assisted in the implementation. In addition, educators experienced in radio education since the Ebola outbreak have proven to be essential in orienting newcomers to the media. Overall, the initiatives have benefited from lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak in terms of programming and training. Sierra Leone was able to improve its radio educational resources to accommodate students throughout 2020 by doubling its number of studios.
Despite all these efforts, many students found themselves without an education. According to UNICEF, 463 million students Globally lacked access to distance learning resources amid COVID shutdowns. Africa is home to at least 121 million affected students. These students did not have access to the technology or tools, including the Internet, television, radio or educational programs, that would have enabled them to learn.
Charting a path forward in distance education
Distance learning initiatives in Africa have taken many forms, enabling creative solutions to fill gaps in student access throughout the pandemic. But even with these initiatives, millions of students still do not have access in 2021. In particular, UNESCO warns against impact on girls, students with disabilities and students in rural areas, all of which can exacerbate existing inequalities.
The Global Education Coalition prioritized education in Africa at the onset of the pandemic in 2020. As of May 2021, there were 66 active initiatives in 39 African countries “with 38 additional projects currently under discussion.” Speakers at the Africa Digital Learning Coalition 2021 forum highlighted the need to leverage technology in education. They also highlighted a holistic approach to bridging digital divides in Africa.
Assessing the future of learning styles
The pandemic has âaccelerated digital transformationâ and the adoption of new educational strategies in Africa. In the short term, distance learning initiatives in Africa are likely to take a back seat to reopening schools, organizing âcatch-up programsâ and bringing technology to the classroom. In the long term, however, new initiatives in infrastructure and local resources in the fields of education and technology should be priorities in regional development.
Distance learning initiatives in Africa are likely to remain active for the foreseeable future as the pandemic persists around the world. However, the situation looks promising as fair Internet and technological access are becoming development priorities. The move to distance education has left many students behind, but there is hope that everyone will be caught up with their education.
– Mckenzie Howell