Challenges Of Remote Learning In Africa In The Midst Of Covid-19
We are all witnesses to the huge impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on various aspects of our everyday lives.
Whether it be our professional or social lives, the pandemic has disrupted activities all over the globe.
Companies have collapsed and almost every industry, except some very obvious ones, have been negatively affected by the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the education industry was not exempted from the effects of this pandemic, and although governments all across the African continent have tried instituting measures geared towards mitigating the impacts of the pandemic on one of the most important industries worldwide, some existing and newly identified challenges prevented these measures from reaching its highest level of effectiveness.
And with most educational institutions going on lockdown, remote learning got thrust into the spotlight which came with its own challenges.
To help deliver lessons to learners, schools across the continent had to leverage devices and platforms like television, radio, and the internet.
Using these tools would help deliver content to some learners but unfortunately leaves some learners marginalized.
With the highest digital divide of any continent, Africa was ill-prepared for the intricacies of remote learning.
In our modern technological world, using television and radio for learning may seem like old school.
This may be true to some extent, especially with the growth of advanced technologies like virtual and augmented reality for training.
Nevertheless, this old-school technology still serves as a great means of content delivery. Lessons on television targets a broad range of people as it delivers content nationally.
Unfortunately, using this means of content delivery comes with some huge disadvantages. Providing lecture content through television assumes that most learners have some form of a television set or access to one.
Although it may seem like a device present in every home, the real situation in Africa is different as most homes, especially in the rural areas do not have access to a television set.
This means that learners in these situations are currently unable to audit these lessons and therefore left behind.
Internet access and hardware
Another technical challenge students face is access to internet connectivity. Lessons provided online have the added advantage of being available at any time for learners to access at their convenience.
Unfortunately, a major requirement to achieve this is to have access to internet connectivity as well as the devices used to access this content.
Although smartphones and computers have become common in some parts of the continent, not all students have access to these devices at any particular moment.
To top this up, the cost of data necessary to access content especially in video formats can be quite steep for students in Africa especially if it is continuously required.
Additionally, internet connection isn’t very stable in most parts of the continent even in urban areas where quality connection is presumed to be available.
With spontaneous power outages and load-shedding, lessons become difficult to follow.
This is especially worse in some rural parts of the continent where electricity isn’t very stable and in some cases communities have none at all.
Although online learning has been around for over three decades, most educational institutions in Africa are yet to fully adopt and integrate it into their curriculum.
These may have been due to multiple reasons ranging from the technological readiness of both users and administrators to the general reluctance of educational institutions to adopt modern technology.
Irrespective of the reasons, educational institutions were unprepared for an unforeseen scenario like the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore weren’t prepared to handle it.
The lockdown that followed the pandemic meant that educational institutions had to create content and supporting materials for all grades to be made available on remote learning platforms for learners to access.
Teachers became over-burdened as most had to put together lessons, prepare videos, and also answer questions from both parents and learners in addition to still taking care of their families at home.
According to a study by UNESCO, two out of three teachers worldwide lack the requisite skills to design and facilitate distance learning.
This ratio if anything can be seen as optimistic with respect to Africa. Although eLearning has been used in our educational institutions, it was still seen as only necessary for older adults busy too busy with their respective responsibilities, until recent events.
Teachers were found to be severely lacking the basic skills necessary to even create an email address, let alone navigate the complex nature of some learning management systems.
Current training processes in Africa provide teachers with the required skills but online learning had been marginalized.
The lockdown restrictions meant that teachers now had to learn to properly use learning management systems amidst the pandemic.
Not only were teachers inadequately trained to do this, but learners were also unprepared as well despite the modern learner being more technologically inclined.
As for learners at the basic levels, parents were also ill-prepared to provide their kids with the necessary training.
Another challenge that came with the adoption of remote learning by educational institutions across the continent and by extension across the world is distraction.
Being at home, especially with the family together means multiple activities happening every time.
Unfortunately, most learners do not own a home office and are therefore more likely to be distracted by a pet or even a knock on the door.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the necessity to leverage remote learning have revealed a lot about our communities and gaps in our educational systems.
And although its impact has been phenomenal, families in the lower earning bracket have felt its effects far more than those in the higher-earning bracket.
This is because these families have been more likely to have access to the technological devices necessary to successfully audit a remote learning class.
Although these differences preceded the COVID-19 pandemic, it has further exacerbated the digital divide, disproportionately impacting poorer communities with and across the continent.