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New Voices in Africa - Towards a New Education

ARTICLES - 1 October 2020

After having zoomed in on energy, digital transformation and the media, we turn to how Covid-19 has affected education in several African countries. Multiple challenges combine as education shifts online, not least due to access to the internet. Using Senegal as a case study, Kamil Senhaji, 2019 French-African Young Leader and Vice President of Emerging Markets and New Territories at Galileo Global Education, explains the roadmap needed to make a new model of education successful. There is remarkable will by both students and professors to carry on this transformation, but it will not be done without the commitment of all the actors of the sector.

Africa will probably reach 2 billion inhabitants in 2050, a figure that is likely to double by the end of the century. The African continent is very young (a median age of 20 years in Africa vs. a median age of 43 years in Europe). Needless to say, education is of utmost importance for the young generation. This will certainly be the most important challenge African governments will need to overcome in the coming decades.

Covid-19 has had a major impact on the education sector. Due to sanitary measures, campuses with a large number of students have had to close at short notice and find immediate solutions to ensure educational continuity.

The consequences of Covid-19 on education in Africa

While schools and universities are just restarting this month, a new reality resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic is reshaping the way education is delivered. Technology remains a key enabler alongside an inclusive and equitable approach.

The pandemic has shown how the current education system has further increased inequalities and how socioeconomic status is important. However, governments can turn this "new normal" into an opportunity with the right ideas and strategies, for instance by deploying a multi-pronged approach to "leave no learner out of the system" as education is a fundamental right.

Countries such as Senegal have deployed a combination of strategies, like the use of radio and television channels incorporating sign language, coupled with the distribution of teaching materials for self-learning in non-urban and poor areas without access to new technologies.

ISM Group in Senegal, a leader and pioneer in education and now part of the European Leader in Higher Education, Galileo Global Education, has implemented a resilient and innovative online learning platform since March 2020, only one week after schools closed. The strategy was effective for continuing learning in an inclusive way as much as possible, in particular through awareness raising, the involvement of stakeholders (students and teachers), parental buy-in and lastly the contribution of the Research Department that published 11 articles related to Covid-19. The responsiveness and agility of a "first-mover" like ISM Group has been a source of inspiration and a model for several stakeholders in the education sector in Senegal.

Beyond the positive response to the crisis such as the one described above, this new situation has shed light on a number of issues of the education sector in Africa.

Facing the new challenge

In Africa and globally, the gradual reopening of learning institutions started in June 2020, in particular for students taking their graduation exams. However, some countries are planning to reopen later in the year or in January 2021, thus considering 2020 as a "void year" for students. In all the scenarios, the situation continues to widen the gap of exclusion and inequality. The national strategies put in place for distance learning have produced mixed results. Countries such as Senegal have deployed a combination of strategies, like the use of radio and television channels incorporating sign language, coupled with the distribution of teaching materials for self-learning in non-urban and poor areas without access to new technologies. At pre-primary level, no learning has taken place in some countries while others used different methods such as introducing pre-reading activities for parents to supervise students at home, deploying TV lessons based on cartoons and the distribution of weekly Covid-19 lessons to parents. Learning in primary and secondary schools has continued through radio, television and online platforms and will have major consequences in the coming years for the students that will leave school forever due to this lost year.

For the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and higher education sub-sectors, countries used different strategies for learning continuity, ranging from digital courses to the use of radio broadcasts and television. However, many learners still have no access to education (electricity shortage, living conditions, digital divide...). The field of non-conventional education continues to be a challenge in most African countries, made harder by the current situation. It is therefore important that governments put in place appropriate responses to current and future educational challenges. The use of new online and offline learning tools, platforms and materials is positive, but only reaches a relatively smaller number of the learning population. Overall, students and teachers in educational institutions expressed a certain degree of satisfaction, enthusiasm and commitment to adapt to the new model of education. Within ISM Group, a quality unit produces weekly data based on surveys of students, teachers and parents. The results have been extremely positive: an 87% connection rate in the Bachelor's degree and 92% in Masters. The satisfaction rate was over 80% for Bachelor classes and higher among MBAs, who are more used to tech tools and to remote working as professionals. ISM Group also had to find new ways of communicating with its stakeholders, through social media and webinars.

In general, most African teachers and students have limited internet access, coupled with the challenge of remoteness and poor access to electricity. The provision of reading materials helped reach vulnerable groups and helped raise public awareness regarding the importance of TVET, notably through the involvement of NGOs, Ministries of Education and private companies like Telecom companies and internet providers supplying tablets or internet at a reasonable cost.

In general, most African teachers and students have limited internet access, coupled with the challenge of remoteness and poor access to electricity.

Additional financial support to the education sector to manage the impact of Covid-19 largely came from various national stimulus packages, special funds, or foreign aid. In fact, most African countries rely on external funding already used or under negotiation, mainly for the pre-primary, primary and secondary education sub-sectors.

The complicated reopening of schools

Most countries are trying to find the right balance between saving the economy and avoiding more infections when considering reopening different sectors. Opening up the education sector is more likely to pose a risk of infection. Thus, reopening the education sector requires careful planning. It is a major dilemma for countries considering the resources required to adhere to rigorous measures and protocols set by ministries of health. A phased approach may be required, enabling governments to put in place whatever is necessary for a full reopening, based on the readiness of their health systems to cope with a potential spread of the pandemic. There are no specific policies for reopening learning institutions. They are instead drawn from basic education policies, with procedures and protocols in place aligned with sector policies. The challenge lies in their implementation.

In addition to government measures, private institutions had to implement their own procedures. At ISM Group, preventive measures have been taken, such as:

  • regular disinfection of the school, respect of social distancing, the supply of masks to teachers, supervisors, and students;
  • raising the awareness of parents, students, teachers and communities;
  • reducing the size of classes;
  • disinfectants for hands and shoes, forehead infrared thermometers, liquid soap, gloves for cleaning agents, as well as cleaning and total disinfection of the school.

It is time to focus more on assessments, and less on exams, as a means of demonstrating knowledge, skills and competence.

Governments have developed standard operating procedures for educational institutions, including two-team systems with one-meter social distancing inside and outside classrooms, setting up equipment for hand washing at the entrance of educational institutions, wearing masks and disinfecting classrooms.

Lastly, the strategies for exams and assessments require a review based on the Covid-19 experience. It is time to focus more on assessments, and less on exams, as a means of demonstrating knowledge, skills and competence. The regulators should allow for more flexibility and authorize online assessments.

Planning for a new education

Africa should turn the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity to accelerate its digital transformation. A key sector like education should be a top priority of this transformation, as there is an urgent need to improve the Gross Enrolment Rate (GRE) in Higher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (currently around 9%). This new roadmap could include many aspects, including having a framework for remote education such as the existing framework of UVS (Université Virtuelle du Sénégal) or NOUN (National Open University of Nigeria).

Strategic partnerships remain essential for launching effective distance learning projects. Strategies to integrate critical aspects of the Covid-19 experience related to distance learning are needed to launch a shift in the education sector. Governments should build on experiences learned from successful partnerships and collaborations in the private sector, such as the synergies developed by ISM Group, Galileo Global Education and Blackboard, to improve their future engagement with stakeholders in times of crisis.

Firstly, it will be crucial to meet the educational needs of poor communities exposed to the crisis. Secondly, public-private partnerships are of critical importance in this type of emergency (for example to help meet the cost of ICT infrastructure and internet access for teachers and learners).

Among the main recommendations for the new model of education delivery are a review of general policy and regulatory guidelines to integrate digital technology, hybrid models of education with online classes and onsite ones. A useful example is that of Latin America, where online education is very well established, with greater parental involvement, especially for young students, and strengthened capacity and professional development for teachers. The new model will also involve adapting new programs and evaluation models. It is important to explore other funding models while promoting better peer learning and knowledge exchange between African countries. Galileo Global Education believes strongly in this trend: we believe Africa is the continent of youth and hope.

Is Africa ready for a leapfrog in education?

 

 

Copyright : Seyllou / AFP

 

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