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Coronavirus Exposes Learning Inequities Attributed to Poor Internet Access

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Nearly all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have closed schools to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Closures in some places will last through the end of the school year and could continue into the next. While many countries are turning to distance learning strategies, it is difficult to ensure that these provide equitable learning opportunities for all pupils.

This is particularly true in Africa, where access to technology is low.  Internet access is below 5 percent of the population in Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Eritrea; mobile phone access just 36 percent in CAR; radio, 35 percent in Mozambique; and access to television, less than 10 percent in Burundi, CAR, Chad, and Madagascar.

A recent analysis finds that even after substantial growth in distance learning across the region over the past two months, only 4 percent of children here are accessing any form of it, mostly via television. This indicates that non-technology solutions are needed to reach many learners in the region.

The World Bank’s recent Facing Forward report highlights substantial differences in the maturity of education systems across Africa. It classifies countries into four categories based on their system-level development over the last 25 years – established, emerged, emerging, and delayed. Many established and emerged systems are better prepared to deploy fast-track information communication technology (ICT) interventions. Access to distance learning is high in established systems, including Kenya and South Africa, and disproportionately low in francophone countries, many of which have emerging or delayed systems.

The pandemic provides an opportunity to accelerate progress in delayed and emerging education systems, yet this requires solutions to align closely with system needs, capacity, and local preferences.

Emerging systems – diverse solutions to reach diverse populations

Emerging system countries require a strategic mix of responses, including distance learning via radio (accessible to 53% of the population here) and television (33%). Most countries in this category – including Ethiopia, Malawi, and Zambia – are developing response and recovery strategies.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education is advising that primary school students follow radio lessons and secondary students follow television lessons, while encouraging all parents to home school their children. Yet relying on online, radio, and television risks exacerbating already wide education divides between rural and urban areas. More than 40 percent of households in three of Ethiopia’s regions lack access to any form of technology, versus just 1 percent of families in Addis Ababa.v

In Madagascar, the government is leveraging existing infrastructure to offer French and mathematics lessons for primary school students via television and radio. However, plans are still needed to reach the more than 60 percent who have neither radio nor television.

Efforts to bring equity?

Efforts to ensure equity and mitigate learning loss will be particularly important in delayed and emerging systems to keep those at the bottom of the learning pyramid from being left further behind. As systems work toward reopening, learning loss will need to be addressed through solutions including simplified and accelerated curriculums, additional support to teachers and the broader education workforce, and the maintenance of education budgets.

The crisis also affects household expenditure on education. A recent survey finds 85 percent of people in Senegal (a delayed system country) have already seen a drop in income; more than a third report eating less food daily amid the pandemic.

Source: World Bank

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James Barnley

I’m the editor of the DomainingAfrica. I write about internet and social media, focusing mainly on Domains. As a subscriber to my newsletter, you’ll get a lot of information on Domain Issues, ICANN, new gtld’s, Mobile technology and social media.

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