Africa supports reading and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

In light of the current health crisis, today more than ever before, access to quality reading material and learning is key as millions of children throughout Africa can no longer go to school. A fitting celebration for World Book and Copyright Day.

April 23, 2020 by Lily Nyariki, Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and Stefano De Cupis, ADEA
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5 minutes read
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Two little girls read at home in Kenya. Credit: Copyright: Barbara Lee
Two little girls read at home in Kenya.
Credit: Barbara Lee

This is the 4th blog post in 2020 as part of the collaborative effort between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). This blog series was first launched in 2017.

Since its emergence in late 2019, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has evolved into a pandemic, heavily affecting the lives of billions of people across the world with an anticipated huge impact on the global economy, national budgets particularly in Africa.

Education is one of the sectors heavily affected, with the closure of learning institutions in many African countries likely to negatively affect education in terms of access, quality and investments.

To this end, as celebrating World Book and Copyright Day is a tradition that UNESCO has held since 1995. For Africa this special day serves as an apt reminder of the importance of reading as well as the need to establish distance/digital learning systems across the continent. This entails the creation, production, distribution, dissemination and use of home-grown literature.

The COVID-19 pandemic and effects on education

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on the world and while the African continent accounts for just over 23,000 cases and over 1,100 deaths from the disease, the numbers are increasing and unfortunately this has also had serious impacts on learning.

According to UNESCO, 1.5 billion learners worldwide (91% of the world’s student population) are unable to go to school or university, due to measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Most governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the pandemic, but thanks to advocacy and communication campaigns, there are a number of countries in Africa and worldwide as well as organizations and coalitions of education partners (e.g. The Global Education Coalition) actively working towards ensuring learners can continue to receive education and reading opportunities.

Africa’s education response to the pandemic: Some concrete examples

In the last few weeks, African governments and key education stakeholders have instituted some measures to promote the continuity of education from home. These have been successful in some ways, but challenges remain.

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 out their respective situation in terms of strategies, practices and challenges. The overall goal is to facilitate peer learning and knowledge exchange between countries.

Among the various country feedback, here are a few good examples of learning opportunity on the ground:

  • In Côte d’Ivoire, the Ministry of Education, Technical and Professional Training through the initiative named “École fermée, mais cahiers ouverts!” (Closed school but open notebooks) and in partnership with Eneza Education was able to allow reviewing all elementary school lessons for free by mobile phone. Online classes for primary school students are available at the following websites: ecole-ci.online - www.ecoleweb.mysonec.com and on the EducTV Facebook page. Lastly, education classes are also available on the national TVs as well as on some radio stations.
  • In Senegal, the Ministry of Education provided the Online Resource Platform; the main tool to make teaching and learning resources available online. In its first phase, the platform will collect and classify digital resources. In its second phase it will be opened to teachers, learners and parents. National TVs and radio stations are involved in this initiative as well.
  • In Kenya, the Ministry of Education has initiated a number of methods for children to learn online and through EDU-channel or Elimu channel. The Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development has issued KICD Broadcast to Schools Timetable on Radio Taifa as well as Kenya Education Cloud that has diverse digital content based on a variety of learning areas presented through interactive pdf, e-pubs, audio and visual. Lastly, learners at home can tune into KBC English Service radio to listen to interactive radio programs.
  • In South Africa, the Department of Basic Education has made available online resources to support learning at home during the lockdown. It has study materials, multimedia and reading materials.

Additionally, a number of African publishers and digital content providers have offered their materials for free in an effort to ensure that children continue to learn and to read during this unprecedented period. The following among others, have issued their digital content for free for use by schools, teachers, children and parents.

  • Worldreader’s BookSmart for home solution allows parents and caregivers to access a library from their mobile phones so they can support their children’s learning while physical schools are out of session. The books can be easily downloaded for offline reading.
  • African Storybook remains a good reading partner by offering open access to picture storybooks in selected national languages. Free apps for reading and making storybook are also available.
  • The Vula Bula series – developed by the Molteno Institute – is the first graded reading program in languages spoken in Southern Africa where progression from level to level is based on the phonics of each language.

ADEA in action!

Amid this pandemic, ADEA is fully supporting all measures, which are continually under review, by governments and partners to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread. We will continue to work closely with African countries and partners to identify and disseminate best practices and share lessons learned in delivering education and training remotely.

Presently, in order to make quality early-grade reading materials available in a variety of languages, ADEA along with African Storybook, Creative Commons, Global Book Alliance, Global Digital Library, Learning Equality, Norway, Pratham Book's Story Weaver, The Asia Foundation, UNESCO, UNHCR, and Verizon co-organized a month-long virtual translation initiative to make children’s storybooks available in a number of languages. The initiative begins at the end of April, so register today to #TranslateAStory and help bring quality reading materials to children in need.

Globally, education is in massive turbulence. From Liberia to the UK, millions of children are out of school. What started as a global pandemic has triggered and even greater education crisis. Many countries are trying to keep their children learning.

Let’s stay united and maintain solidarity because the only solution to ensure quality education for all children, even when they are not in school, is through effective partnerships and rapid collaboration!

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