The COVID-19 pandemic might not have hit Africa as badly as other parts of the world, but with schools and universities closed because of lockdowns across the continent, many children are turning on the TV to keep up with their studies.
Home School, Teachers’ Room and School on TV are just some of the distance education programs that private channels have launched to try to compensate for the closures.
“This is to prevent COVID-19 from winning where it hurts the most, in the area of knowledge,” said Massamba Gueye, a teacher-researcher in Senegal.
In Burkina Faso, Burkinainfo private television broadcasts four times a day for students preparing to take qualifying exams.
“We record the lessons, which we broadcast on television, basically the core subjects — mathematics, physics-chemistry, philosophy and French,” Burkinainfo director Ismael Ouedraogo said.
Experienced teachers volunteer to teach the classes, he said.
Several private African institutes and universities are exploring distance learning via the Internet.
“We plan to finish the school year at the end of May,” said Burkina Faso’s Amed Moussa Diallo, chairman of the board of directors of the African Institute of Management, which has set up online courses.
Despite the optimism, distance learning faces several pitfalls, notably poor Internet coverage in many of Africa’s rural areas, as well as the cost.
“Most students do not have access to the Internet, especially since many have been asked to return to their homes, often in remote locations,” said Henry Tumwiine, a professor at the Mountains of the Moon University in Fort Portal, Uganda.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of learners do not have access to home computers and 82 percent do not have [the] Internet,” UNESCO said in a statement, noting a “worrying digital gap in distance learning.”
“I can’t afford a computer, so I’m missing online courses,” said Alexander Mubiru, a 29-year-old student at Makerere Public University in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. “We’re going to wait for the university to reopen.”
The General Association of Pupils and Students of Ivory Coast questions the practicality of trying to get students to do 1,300 hours for the year and is also worried about pupils who struggle to keep up with the lessons.
“Will they be able to master distance learning, especially those in the poorer districts where there is sometimes no electricity, no television, no radio or Internet?” the association said.
Students in Cameroon face chronic power outages.
“The city has been without electricity for a week,” said an official from Mozogo, a remote city in the far north of the nation.
“The children are distraught,” said Mozogo resident Gil Mahama, a father of eight. “Not everyone has a television. We are worried because our children do not have the same opportunity to follow lessons on radio and TV.”
Some are trying to make the most of the current arrangements.
In Burkina Faso, high-school student Khalil Nonguierma is delighted with being able to “keep in touch with the school,” but he is worried about the “lack of interactivity with the teacher, who just does a lecture or corrects homework.”
“If we understand, it’s good, but if we don’t understand, we can’t keep up,” he said.
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