To answer this fundamental question, let’s begin by inspecting Africa’s social, economic and political position prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Africa is the continent in the world with the highest proportion of Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs). LEDCs are countries classified by the United Nations (UN) as “least developed” in terms of their low Gross National Income (GNI), their weak human assets and their high degree of economic vulnerability.
Majority of African countries are characterized by high birth rates, high death rates, poor social facilities, high corruption and poverty, factors that have been contributing significantly to poor education systems. African education is characterized by high student to teacher ratio and high literacy rate.
In response to COVID-19 outbreak, most of the African countries introduced lockdown regulations that were meant to contain the COVID-19 Virus. One of the popular measures required all education facilities to close, regardless of level. According to UNESCO, nearly 100 percent of the countries in Africa had a total countrywide shutdown.
With all the lockdown regulations in place, the cumulative number of COVID-19 confirmed cases are still on the rise. The increase is deepening the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 on the poverty-stricken continent, hence the fundamental question, will African’s education system be able to recover from the effects of COVID-19 pandemic?
UNESCO made ten recommendations for engaging in e-learning as one of the alternative measures to combat the effects of COVID-19 on education, but the following problems are a cause for concern on the African continent:
- Provision of modern facilities such as computers and internet resource is far from reaching acceptable levels for e-learning services to provide an effective substitute for classroom learning for the majority. A mini-survey conducted in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Liberia and Nigeria by RCIEEN reviewed that less than 30 percent of students in urban areas have digital learning instruments such as computers, compatible cellphones, tablets and internet access at home, and nearly 100 percent in rural areas have nothing at all. A mega-investment requiring billions of dollars, which most African governments do not have to mobilize tools to connect schools, teachers, parents and students, will be required.
- Poverty amongst most Africans means the incapacity to buy digital learning instruments and internet capacity, even if everything is subsidised. With the battle to feed hungry families still to be won, buying e-learning instruments will fall bottom under the list of priorities. The only feasible way to ensure equity will be to make everything free of charge, which is highly unlikely unless there is a huge donor fund injected.
- Corruption in Africa is ranked the highest in the world, with the majority of the countries scoring the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) between 10 and 30. The CPI scale ranges from 100 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). According to the CPI results for 2019, that were published in January 2020, African countries such as Somalia and Sudan were cited as the highest corrupt countries in the world. There is therefore the substantial risk of public power being misused for personal benefit in Africa. This reduces the success rate of any strategic plan put in place to combat the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on education unless funds are managed directly from donor circles.
- The COVID-19 pandemic came when the format of the conventional curriculum was not designed for online learning. Both teachers and Students were caught unprepared to handle online curriculum education. The new online curriculum requires parents to work as temporary home teachers, assisting their children in setting up digital online platforms, but most of the African parents are not digital or online ready. It is therefore a fact of life that capacity building will be required for both parents and teachers before they start implementing the e-learning solution to students. Parents will also be required to sacrifice their time and energy and to develop patients, which is a difficult task for the majority.
- Isolation measures lead to psychosocial effects because of loss of social contact sacrosanct for learning and development.
- Absence of supplementary learning such as summer or revision class will have significant effects on the overall performance of students.
While online education is dominating the space in More Economically Developed Countries (MEDCs), with some countries reopening schools under strict COVID-19 pandemic safety guidelines, the successful reopening of schools in Africa remains a site of controversy.
Majority of African governments are slow to adapt to change and to make high-risk decisions, such as determining when, where and how to resume school activities. Although COVID-19 awareness campaigns are being held, mainly through mass media, penetration with impact to every citizen is not guaranteed. This means a higher possibility of students failing to comply with the COVID-19 safety regulations should formal schools reopen. Reopening of formal schools in Africa will put African nations at very high risk of escalating the rate of spread of Corona Virus.
The only workable way to resume education in Africa is to use a combination of the following;
- Extensive use of mass media to provide structured Television and Radio lessons.
- E-learning education to cater for those privileged to the facilities.
- Reopening of formal early childhood education under strict COVID-19 safety guidelines, with hot seating to prevent all children from coming to facilities at the same time.
- Reopening of formal adult education only for the physically challenged and those extremely disadvantaged under strict safety regulations.
With all the factors mentioned put together, African governments are presented with a significant challenge to make critical risk-taking decisions. Without a well-defined roadmap to take, most of the African countries are going to be forced to continue assessing the situation, while students continue being negatively affected by the extended lockdowns. In the worse case, learning is going to stop indefinitely and gained education lost. To those who lift their lockdown measures and resume education, it will never be the same.
In conclusion, Africa’s education system is not going to recover completely, regardless of the strategy used, unless the cure for COVID-19 virus is found early.