In Eswatini, online learning has become the new normal during coronavirus

A US$70,000 GPE planning grant is helping Eswatini minimize the disruptions to children’s education caused by the coronavirus pandemic. While the country prepares to reopen schools safely, children continue learning through TV, radio and newspapers.

July 16, 2020 by Nathalie Daries, UNICEF, and Carolina Valenzuela, GPE Secretariat
4 minutes read
Form 5 (Grade 12) Students at Ka-Schiele High school day 3 of school reopening, Mbabane Eswatini. Students were requested to show by raise of hand how many were able to participate in distance learning programs (radio, TV). Credit:Nathalie Daries
Form 5 (Grade 12) students at Ka-Schiele High school, Mbabane Eswatini. Students were requested to show by raise of hand how many were able to participate in distance learning programs. UNICEF with GPE financial support provided assistance to the ministry of Education to develop and implement distance learning programs through radio and TV. 13/17 said they participated in the program. The few that did not, said it was because of lack of commodities (TV or radio), or because they were working helping their parents. Those who participated really appreciated the program.
Credit: Nathalie Daries

In March, Eswatini declared a state of emergency and closed schools to contain the spread of coronavirus. As a result, 350,000 students and nearly 16,000 teachers were immediately impacted, and home has become their new classroom.

A few weeks later, GPE allocated a US$70,000 grant to the government of Eswatini– channeled through a global initiative with UNICEF. The grant aims to plan for activities to ensure children continue learning during this unprecedented time while developing safe practices for when schools reopen. The grant is playing a key role in helping the government minimize the disruptions to learning caused by the pandemic.

Lessons through TV, radio and newspapers

With GPE’s grant and UNICEF’s technical support, the government of Eswatini developed an education contingency plan and rapidly established alternative learning methods through TV, radio and newspapers to facilitate continued learning from home.

Partnerships with national TV and radio stations were developed to broadcast daily lessons on core subjects for grade 7,10, and 12 students. Less than 10 days after schools were closed, the first lessons were aired on the radio and TV. As of June 4, 216 lessons have been aired in English and 51 in siSwati, the country’s national language.

Lessons are aired for 10 hours a day on national radio stations; as more than 80% of the population has access to radios, this gives most children the opportunity to access learning.

Lessons on core subjects are broadcast on TV for 3.5 hours daily and, to ensure inclusivity, offer sign language interpretation. Newspapers also include a daily feature on “education at home” from Monday to Friday.

Pumla Dlamini is a grade 6 student at Usutu Forest Primary school in the Hhohho region. She is currently attending school virtually through google class. Credit: Kingsley Gwebu / Unicef / May 2020
Pumla Dlamini is a grade 6 student at Usutu Forest Primary school in the Hhohho region. She currently attends school virtually through Google class. She begins class at 8:00am with a 30-min. session interacting with the teacher, and then undertakes her school work, which is posted and graded on Google class. The teachers constantly communicate with parents and guardians to inform them of the work given to learners and how they can support learners. Pumla is one of few lucky students who have access to web-based distance learning. Moving forward, there is a need to build back better schools to give access to distance learning to all children in Eswatini.

Kingsley Gwebu / Unicef / Mai 2020

These programs are benefiting nearly 63,000 students, supporting them to stay up to date with their learning.

To help children cope with feelings of anxiety, while preventing stigma and discrimination arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, a mental health and psychosocial program for students is also broadcast weekly on the radio.

Preparing for school reopening

Starting on July 6, schools have slowly started to reopen in the country. Classes will first reopen for grade 12 students and will be followed by grades 7 and 10 after two weeks of observation and adaptation.

To prepare for school reopening – and ensure the safety of students, teachers and education officials – GPE is supporting the government to create a school reopening framework and learning catch-up plans. In parallel, GPE will also support the launch of a communication campaign to encourage students to go back to school.

With support from UNICEF and other partners, the Ministry of Education and Training has started to implement the school reopening plan by training over 850 staff, teachers and stakeholders.

Several partners have been engaged in supporting sanitation and hygiene activities in school and guarantee that water, soap, handwashing facilities and hand sanitizers are available when schools reopen.

Additionally, students and staff will be screened via temperature checkpoints prior to entering school; to combat a possible spread, isolation rooms have already been identified within facilities.

Despite this rapid response, challenges remain. Alternative ways of learning are not available to all children: children from the poorest households who don’t have access to technology like TV and radio are excluded from the program, which also only targets students completing classes.

Nonetheless there have been reports of out-of-school adolescents and young adults following the lessons, allowing them access to learning possibly for the first time, a positive spin-off of the remote learning program.

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