The COVID-19 global health pandemic has illuminated disparities experienced by children across the world. These disparities are more pronounced in Africa where millions of people have limited or no access to basic socio-economic rights.
The first case of COVID-19 in Africa was reported in Egypt in February 2020. As the scourge spread in Africa, governments closed schools and sent children home. Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and Rwanda swiftly developed COVID-19 rapid response strategies to enable learning continuity.
Teachers were called on to adapt to teaching via text message and social media, including through YouTube and WhatsApp. In Ethiopia for example, the government partnered with a local television station, AfriHealth, to broadcast education programs for children across the country. Governments in Rwanda and Kenya embraced the use of radio programming featuring curriculum topics on education for children.
Upholding the right to education during the COVID-19 crisis
However, managing learning continuity has been difficult: Save for Tanzania, schools across the region remain closed and the transition to digital platforms has been fraught with challenges. Public schools struggle with lack of infrastructure and limited understanding of online pedagogy.
Similarly, households grapple with inadequate access to electricity, internet or even access to televisions and radios as has been found in Ethiopia, where the majority of the population live in rural areas. According to one study across 10 African countries, less than 15% of school leaders were keeping in touch with at least 80% of their pupils.
Children across the continent are therefore not learning optimally or consistently with ‘access’ favoring the digitally literate and privileged, as in Ethiopia or older students and those attending private schools, as in Kenya where 24.6% of households with learners are unable to have their children continue learning.
School closures have come with higher incidences of teenage pregnancy, female genital mutilation, early marriage, child abuse and child labor across the continent. Similarly, the Joining Forces Coalition noted the increased vulnerability of children in Uganda and further observations were made of vulnerable populations, such as Uganda’s 30,000 street children, becoming increasingly marginalized during this period.
State responses to these emerging challenges have been varied: In Kenya, the government responded by launching a Community-Based Learning Program. However, even this has had its hurdles with the rollout stalled due to a court ruling that halted implementation.