In Ethiopia: Keeping children learning during COVID-19
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
When schools across Ethiopia closed on 16 March to help contain COVID-19, many families found themselves wondering how to keep their children’s education on track. Literally overnight, some 26 million school children were no longer attending school.
Sisay Yilma, a father of six, found it difficult to manage his children’s time when six of them started staying home every day.
“I didn’t expect we will be staying for this long away from school, we were in an exams period and we were told we would be back to school after a week,” says 17-year-old Sihinemariam Sisay, who is the oldest of her brothers and sisters. She is in grade 12.
Following the school closures, the government developed a Distance Learning Plan, with support from UNICEF, Save the Children and other education partners to assist children to learn remotely through TV, radio and digital platforms.
Despite encountering several challenges in developing and broadcasting distance education lessons, the Ministry of Education and 10 Regional Education Bureaus have started the broadcasts. UNICEF is providing financial support targeting an estimated 5.1 million primary and secondary school children. In addition, with other partners, UNICEF plans to support education authorities in the regions to reach six million children with home-based distance education during COVID-19. Donors like Education Cannot Wait are supporting this effort.
UNICEF also helped the government to develop a quality assurance framework for radio learning and is supporting education partners in selecting and developing content across different grades and subjects.
The Addis Ababa Education Bureau was one of the first to implement distance education by calling on all partners in the education sector to support the initiative, with a view to minimizing the impact of school closures on children’s education.
Television and radio lessons are broadcast throughout Addis Ababa and digital platforms have been established to facilitate access to educational content and a learning management system. While radio education is for children in grades 1 to 6 focusing on six subjects, the TV education lessons are for students in grades 7 to 12.
The Addis Ababa Bureau has partnered with AfriHealth, a TV station, which has a wide coverage and is expected to reach households across the country and not just in Addis Ababa. The programme motivates learners to respond to questions using SMS and the learners are given an award for their efforts. UNICEF provided financial support to Addis Ababa education authorities towards the cost of the distance education plan as well as advice on how best to engage children and families for effective learning.
“Now that school is closed, it is really important that we get educated while staying at home,” says SiheneMaria.
Her parents understand that they need to support their children to continue their education. A humble father, Ato Sisay says “I am not supporting them to study, it is their elder sister who is helping them, but we have agreed together that they will use the television for learning when the lessons are on”.
UNICEF’s coronavirus guide for parents recommends establishing a routine that factors in age-appropriate education programmes to help keep children’s education on track.
Sihinemariam Sisay’s family used to follow the education programme using a small-size television set and their efforts were noticed by the Addis Ababa Education Bureau. The Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa, Takele Uma, rewarded them with an LCD TV to help the family with their education. To encourage the children to follow the TV and radio lessons, the Bureau established a reward mechanism for children who respond to the questions. Some 41 students who participated won laptops and parents who encouraged and supported their children received a television set.
Lessons are broadcast in English and Afaan Oromo, which are used as the medium of instruction for grades 7 to 12. Each session is broadcast for 30 minutes in six core subjects. Sihinemariam, however, says the education she gets on TV is not enough.
“I get only 30 minutes every day. When other classes and languages are in session, I will read books and notes on Telegram, or go over previous grade 12 exams,” she says. “If I were in school, I would be attending up to 10 classes of 45 minutes’ each and learning different subjects every day.”
Challenges also exist around children not having adequate technology, internet connectivity, and electricity. “Sometimes, I would eagerly follow a class and then the electricity goes off.”
The closure of schools has also denied children of access to school meals, recreational programmes, co-curricular activities, and pedagogical support by teachers. Sihinemariam misses her friends, “I realize it was not only for the education that we went to school; it was through my friends and peers that I understood some lessons better. I enjoyed playing with them and studying and solving questions together,” she says.
Distance education is not guaranteed throughout the country, especially for the most vulnerable. While 42 per cent and 61 per cent of urban households have access to radio and TV channels respectively, the proportion among rural households is as low as 29 per cent and 11 per cent for radio and TV respectively. Providing content to low-income children, those at risk of exclusion, those without internet access, children with disabilities, as well as refugee and displaced children, has taken on added priority. With funding from the UK’s Department for International Development, UNICEF and partners are investing in more than 20,000 solar radios and digital devices to be provided to vulnerable children including refugees and IDPs.
Guaranteeing the right to education for every child requires a partnership between different players at different levels. These partners have and will continue to work together to develop distance learning modalities that include online, radio and television content, reading materials and guided homework. More funding is required to expand the reach, including the procurement of additional solar radios. Simultaneously, UNICEF and partners will continue to work with the Ministry of Education on a plan for safe reopening of schools.