London — With the Kenyan Government closing public schools until 2021 and saying students will repeat a year, the focus is now really on how parents, pupils and teachers can ensure their children will continue to learn. Russell Southwood looks at some of the initiatives across the continent.
What follows below is a summary of some of the more interesting broadcast and online education initiatives. Some are new channels from existing broadcasters or programme producers but others are responses from organisations like Mediae and Ubongo who already have extensive experience in this field.
In terms of how African broadcasters might respond to this opportunity, there are at least three key issues that need to be addressed:
Access and interactivity: Radio and TV are great media for education because both are increasingly widely available. In several countries, solar TVs are becoming more widely available in rural areas. When the Federal Ministry of Education closed schools in Nigeria, it released a schedule of radio and TV lessons for students in public schools. There is a significant schedule of radio broadcasts covering all the main curriculum subjects.
The plaintive response of an Ivorian student to the education broadcast TV highlights a key problem with this approach:" Yes, I did understand the class but since it's on TV, I couldn't ask questions." If broadcasters are to really make this opportunity their own, they need to offer channels of interactivity, either using mobile phone in, SMS or online.
The same is true for providing supporting materials. As another Ivorian student responded:" The teacher showed us how to calculate the capacities of the soil but he was too fast so we couldn't take all the calculations." Teachers need to understand how to perform on television and those providing the programmes need to provide both online and paper support materials (that can be posted to students on request).
The shift from "talk and chalk" to self-motivated learning: For secondary students, an hour long programme needs to be the inspiration for the learner to go off and look for themselves. Now is the time to change the kind of teaching that prevails in most African classroom: teacher talks, students write down and later repeat.
The self-motivated learner finds inspiration from the teacher and then can go off and complete a project. The issue here is access to materials. Those with online access can have plentiful access, data prices willing. For those without these kinds of opportunities - the majority in most cases - the educations systems need to apply a little imagination and raise some funding. Online access points can be provided for a number of students in the now-closed schools and programmes of device distribution can underpin this gear-shift in educational ethos.
Who's going to pay?: The broadcasters - both public and private - have the studios, the production skills and the ability to host and present. The best teachers in the public sector have the knowledge and the skills to engage their learners. Also in some countries there are organisations that have been doing this for years: my personal favorites are Mediae and Ubongo but there are probably others.
Wider contributors have and will include mobile and satellite operators. Vodacom's e-School in South Africa had over 1 million registrations for a free curriculum-aligned service, as it also does in Tanzania: Shule Direct is zero-rated. In DRC it has a zero-rated learning platform called VodaEduc. In Lesotho it is already providing free data access to 101 schools and will add a further 59 schools by the end of this month. These are precisely the schools that can provide online access points while the school is formally closed.
I almost hesitate to say that there needs to be co-ordination if the several approaches and different players are to deliver the best. The nightmare scenario is that the education bureaucrats take over and that all that is provided is simply another version of classroom teaching by other means. Consortia of teachers, private and public broadcasters and online and offline partners could really develop learning opportunities in ways that fundamentally change the students' life opportunities. Everyone will become both more literate - both in a reading, writing and arithmetic sense and digitally.
So what is already happening out there and who is doing it?
-> In Ghana, Multimedia TV had already launched an education channel called Joy Learning and it is delivered in partnership with a digital platform and aimed at secondary school students. It has seen audiences ramp up significantly since schools were closed down in Ghana. The channel is available across the sub-region as part of the FTA direct-to-home (DTH) MultiTV platform on SES's Astra-2F, by using a standard decoder or TV with built-in DTH tuner. "While this channel was originally created to give Ghanaian SHS students access to educational content while they were away from school - as a result of the double-track system - it has recently proven useful to all English-speaking West African countries who follow the West Africa Examination Council curriculum."
The Joy Learning channel, which was officially launched on 30 December 2019, was part of a corporate social responsibility initiative undertaken by the Multimedia Group (MGL) through its Educare Foundation, in partnership with e-learning platform Wolo TV; service provider K-Net; and SES, a leader in global content connectivity solutions. SES provides the satellite capacity and broadcast services; K-Net provides local backhaul and teleport services; Wolo creates and supplies the educational content; and MGL runs the channel.
SES has replicated a similar partnership in Ethiopia on its Ethiosat platform working with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Regional Education Bureaus (REBs) with the support of UNICEF and Save the Children.
-> As I noted in an earlier issue, with the schools closed in Kenya but with the term starting, the crisis has opened the way for both broadcast and online educational content. Citizen TV is broadcasting Mediae's Knowledge Zone which follows the curriculum in real-time across the three key years in primary school. It is able to do this because it has 156 hours of Knowledge Zone already prepared.
Also as part of series 10 of its show Shamba Shape-up which is now airing, it will the week after next feature a Covid-19 animation film, getting across key information about the virus. It is also seeking funding for a Questions and Answers programme, with a doctor and a Ministry of Health spokesperson:"You can do production but you need a really good internet connection, a camera in a person's home and to be able to send stuff into the studio."
"The high end schools are all online but that's why we're going on TV with the Knowledge Zone revision programme. You can get it on Citizen or on our YouTube channel. And in about 8-9 days time there will be leaflets and booklets for exercises after each lesson. There's a real issue about parents needing to learn how to access content through the internet," said David Campbell, Mediae's Founder and CEO.
-> Ubongo's edutainment channels go out on 35 channels across 15 countries, both Anglophone and Francophone. A further three countries - Gambia, Botswana and Benin - will run their programmes on free-to-air channels. In addition its programmes air on over 20 radio stations. It has also been sharing daily lessons on verified channels on Facebook and Instagram: the posts have reached 2.6 million people in the last month. It has six active YouTube channels. It's also developing a Swahili chatbot to help parents and children find the content and support they need.
-> In Cote d'Ivoire the Ivorian Government has set up a project called "My school at home". The programme, which for the time being only benefits pupils in 5th grade, 9th grade and 12th grade, should soon be extended to all classes. But already, some students are voicing challenges like Kevin Attoubé N'Goran, a 3rd grade student: "Yes, I did understand the class but since it's on TV, I couldn't ask questions," he admitted. Another such student poses as different challenge: "The teacher showed us how to calculate the capacities of the soil but he was too fast so we couldn't take all the calculations," Assiata Koné said.From ÉducTV children can also watch films even download the films and the lessons. They can also replay them as many times as they want.
Ibrahima Kourouma, a top official at the Ministry of National Education explained the importance of the intervention and plans to boost student - teacher interactions: "From ÉducTV they can also go and watch the films that are on. They can even download the films and even the courses.
There have also been private sector initiatives that deliver lessons via the WhatsApp mobile application.
"They can replay them as many times as they want if they think they haven't understood. And very soon we are going to create an interaction between us and the students so that the teachers can answer their questions."
-> School in Senegal (EAS) is an educational support platform providing content to all students. Its stated objective is to use digital technology to reduce inequalities in access to quality education, to promote scientific subjects as well as female representation in the education sector.
The Government of Senegal, through the Ministry of National Education, covers part of the costs related to the production of content on the platform. The courses are posted online as videos.
"EAS has seen its statistics increase significantly since the schools were closed and has therefore committed to increasing its frequency of content production. Certainly not an alternative to conventional education which is certifying or qualifying, EAS turns out to be a precious, decisive support and very popular with learners, "said Chérif Ndiaye, founder of École in Senegal, during the presentation of the platform. with the authorities.
-> In Benin, Swiitch Design, an agency that supports companies in their digital transformation, has produced a series revision courses available in video format on YouTube and on DVD for students in exam classes. In the videos shot, teachers go back over course concepts to facilitate the revision of learners in exam classes. A total of 39 videos including 21 tutorials (TD) for the 3rd grade and 18 for the Tle (D and G2). The subjects concerned are mainly French, mathematics, English and Life and Earth Sciences (SVT). The initiative called Class-19 comes in response to the disruption of school curricula due to the Coronavirus.
According to what criteria are the teachers selected to guarantee the reliability of the lessons given? "All the teachers who run our video courses are certified and all of them work in Benin's general education colleges. So these are stakeholders who, until a recent past (before COVID-19), gave lessons to learners at least twice a week, "explains Roland Houngbadji, Lead designer and managing partner of Swiitch Design.
Thanks to the partnership established with MTN, the country's main mobile operator to allow learners to access all online videos without activating an internet package, more than 8,000 learners have already followed the video on the dedicated platform.
The DVDs are designed to be viewed where there is little or no internet access. 14,000 have been distributed:"Learners are currently in the midst of a review and we still have a lot of DVD requests because in reality, the number of DVDs produced is totally paltry compared to the millions of learners in need. We therefore continue to solicit various donations and contributions to multiply even more DVDs in order to meet all this demand, "confides Roland Houngbadji.
"A tata from my neighborhood gave me a Class-19 CD. It's very interesting. It helps me practice in English, Math and SVT. And when I don't understand something, I pause and go back to the passage in the video, "testifies Freddy Foyessou, pupil in 3rd grade. Robert Deguenon, a parent, remains "convinced that this DVD will continue to help learners even after this period of Covid-19, during the holidays and the coming school years. "