COVID-19 and education in sub-Saharan Africa: 5 actions for the way forward

The advent of COVID-19 has worsened the state of global education, but the hardest hit regions will be those with less robust education systems such as sub-Saharan Africa. It is time for governments in the region to reform their school systems to prepare students and ensure they are able to contribute to their countries’ economic development and be competitive globally. Here is how.

January 07, 2021 by Peter Anti Partey , Institute for Education Studies
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5 minutes read
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Mr. Peter Anti in a Data Analysis lecture with Level 400 students of the University of Cape Coast pre-Covid-19. Credit: Peter Anti Partey
The author in a data analysis lecture with Level 400 students of the University of Cape Coast pre-Covid-19. Ghana
Credit: Peter Anti Partey

According to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has low learning proficiency and the highest rates of education exclusion, with more than 20% of children between 6 and 11, about 33% of those between 12 and 14 and 60% of youth 15 to 18 years old out of school (UIS 2019).

In terms of gender, the exclusion rate for girls (36%) is 4% more than boys (32%). The region has seen a marginal increase in the literacy rate to 65.5% in 2018 as compared to the previous year (UIS 2018), which is still low when compared to the world average of 86.3%. These statistics paint a picture of the urgency to improve education systems in the region.

Covid-19 has highlighted education difficulties in SSA

The advent of Covid-19 has worsened the state of global education, but the hardest hit regions will be those with less robust education systems such as sub-Saharan Africa. Robust systems are identified by their high literacy and numeracy rates, which can be used to predict the future human capital of the country.

According to the World Bank, the effect of Covid-19 on education could be felt for decades to come. The impact transcends learning loss, which is a short-term issue, to a more long-term issue of diminishing economic opportunities.

The challenge of learning poverty, which has intensified as a result of the continued closure of schools, should engage governments and education ministries in the region. In high-income countries, mitigation measures such as e-learning helped to ensure continuity of education of students, but in SSA, the adoption of similar measures seems to have widened the inequality gap.

This is partly attributed to the extent of the digital divide in the region and also the level of disparities between urban and rural children. The level of investment of African governments in education, which according to the African Economic Outlook (2020) stands at 5% of GDP, is also the second-highest of any region and should yield good returns.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case, and with Covid-19 coming into the picture, we are not going to have any tangible benefits any time soon if drastic and innovative policies are not pursued as early as possible.

Covid-19 as a springboard for necessary reforms

To start with, governments and the managers of education in the region should embark on education system transformation. There should be a conscious effort to improve learning outcomes and make learning relevant to the student.

It is time for governments in the region to reform their school systems to prepare students and ensure they are able to contribute to their countries’ economic development and be competitive globally. This requires a complete overhaul of the school curriculum to reflect the needs and aspirations of the society in the 21st century and beyond. Ghana has taken the lead in this direction.

Again, educational policies in this region are more exclusive than inclusive. An inclusive education policy allows all children, especially those with special needs, to develop and succeed. One of the strategic measures needed by governments in the region is therefore inclusive education. Students should not be denied basic educational resources due to their location, socio-economic status, family background, or physical or psychological deficiencies.

Furthermore, to be able to bridge the learning gap and ensure that teachers are up to speed with the level of learning loss of their students, assessment techniques that are more informative and ipsative should be adopted by educational authorities and implemented in schools. Countries in the region should implement a nationwide assessment during the early weeks of reopening for basic and secondary levels to inform various education decisions (instructional, pedagogical, etc.) at all levels, from the teachers to the ministry of education.

The efficient and effective use of instructional time is a big issue in the region. Research has shown that there is always a discrepancy between actual and intended instructional times due to teacher absenteeism, breaks, lack of textbooks which results in teachers writing comprehensive notes on boards for students, etc.

According to the Human Capital Index (2018), a child in Ghana spends 2.7 more years in school than a child born in Sierra Leone if they both begin school at age 4. However, 5.9 years of the child in Ghana’s education life is wasted, implying that the child learns for only 5.7 years out of the total 11.6 years spent in school.

In the case of the child in Sierra Leone, 4.4 years are wasted years and learning occurs only for 4.5 years. This is unacceptable and governments in the region must find ways to eliminate this waste and ineffective usage of instructional time.

Finally, increasing teachers’ capacity must also be pursued by SSA governments. Covid-19 has exposed the inadequacies in our teacher preparation and continuing professional development programs. Most teachers in the region are not technologically savvy, making it difficult for the smooth implementation of e-learning and EdTech programs and policies.

The lack of or inadequacy of knowledge in using modern technology to deliver education should be tackled head-on in pre-service and in-service teachers’ training.

Workshops, training programs and special courses should be organized for teachers to upgrade their knowledge on e-learning systems and EdTech. Educational digital devices should be made available to all teachers during these training sessions.

A wake-up call to improve education systems

In conclusion, Covid-19 could be a blessing in disguise and a wake-up call for the education systems in sub-Saharan Africa. The pandemic has revealed the inadequacies in our education systems when compared to other regions and exposed the need to make them more robust to stand the test of time and face future crises.

It is our responsibility to face the challenges that Covid-19 present and reset our education systems to respond to the needs and aspirations of our children and make them relevant and competitive globally.

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Comments

Very important topic and well addressed. In my recent experience in Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic and Nigeria. The level of commitment towards child educational development is encouraging except in Nigeria. The situation in Nigeria is a disaster. Only few of both public and private schools have the structure in place to accommodate this policy. The public schools is a complete failure while most of the private schools have turned to money making avenues.

In reply to by Ibrahim Sani

Thanks for the comment.
We need our leaders to sit up and address these challenges wholistically

Wonderful article. I just wanted to add the fact the sub Saharan Africa’s problem can not all be solved by improving teachers alone. In terms of online We can have all the facilities but poverty and limited resources on the parents part drastically reduces the education of their children. Things like access to internet. Cost of internet. Access to equipment. Makes a huge difference

Govt must demonstrate commitment by supporting and incentivize IT firms to help implore Massive Open Online Learning infrastructure across our learning space.
By this comment call for swift action as schools reopen this month.

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