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Education Reimagined with Inclusivity and Compassion

  • 1 July 2020

Across Africa, like elsewhere, schools are closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  UNESCO reported that school closures have affected 1.5 billion children and young people across the globe.  The measures to contain the spread of the virus put additional stress on African education systems, which are already struggling to provide quality education for all. 

While we lament the negative impacts of school closures, the coronavirus crisis has presented opportunities for reimagining education delivery.  But how do we do this in ways that are inclusive and ensure that no child is left out?   School systems turned to technology as an alternative; they have carried out online classes.  Already, many educators are talking of “reimagining” education, shifting it away from a classroom-centred model.

However, the move has exposed the glaring digital divide as many pupils and students in Africa don’t have internet access. This divide exists even within the wealthiest countries.  In California, the fifth biggest economy of the world, only 50 percent of low-income households have broadband subscriptions. The inclusive internet index shows that African countries rank in the bottom third of countries for internet availability and affordability. Clearly, online classes are not an option for most African children. 

Appropriate Technology

Internet-based ways of reimagining the delivery of education have so far exacerbated inequity.  Economist Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher proposed appropriate technology, that is small-scale, affordable, energy efficient, environmentally sound and locally autonomous.   Most countries in Africa have a simpler radio and television infrastructure. They have community radio and TV stations, which schools, communities might consider rather than expensive new education technology investments.  Why can’t African governments scale up community educational radio programming which has potential to reach a great number of students?

Here are some thoughts on how to make this happen:

Forming new partnerships

The challenge to keep children learning during the pandemic has opened up pathways to ensuring continued education.  In Africa, community radio stations could provide the infrastructure for reaching children in affordable ways.  New partnerships can be formed to bring solutions from community radio stations, religious organisations, NGOs, parents and teachers.

Let everyone in

Out of the current crisis, an opportunity has emerged for us to reflect on how we can bring more children into education.  We should focus on those with disabilities or living in extreme poverty and those that have not been reached by remote learning.

Many, especially girls have dropped out; they need to be brought back in

After the Ebola crisis, girls’ school enrolment did not return to pre-crisis levels in West Africa.  Children are already reported to be dropping out of school.  Since lockdown began, we have seen an alarming number of stories of girls being sent early to their marital homes and straight into domestic servitude and sexual abuse.  Experts worry the pandemic could roll back decades of progress on gender equality and girls’ education.

We need to pay particular attention to most vulnerable and marginalised children and bring them back into school systems.  We need to physically reach out in a targeted and caring way to children, families, and communities.

Fr. Charlie B. Chilufya, S.J. is the Director of the Justice and Ecology Office of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM).

Photos: School children in Zimbabwe, taken by Jesuit Missions