This blog is written by Dr. Belay Hagos Hailu, the director of Institute of Educational Research at Addis Ababa University and team lead of the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) programme in Ethiopia. This blog is part of a series from the REAL Centre reflecting on the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic on research work on international education and development. This blog has also been published on the RISE Programme website.
How can basic education be implemented in Ethiopia during the COVID-19 pandemic? Through this blog article, I aim to outline five possible strategies for doing this.
Situation in Ethiopia
Schools in Ethiopia closed due to COVID-19 on 16 March 2020, following the declaration of the virus as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 12 March 2020. The Ministry of Education of Ethiopia developed a ‘Concept Note for Education Sector COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan’ on 3 April 2020. The objective of the response plan is to ensure the continuity of general education, which was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and contribute to the effort of containing the spread of the virus. The core strategies of the response plan of the Ministry of Education are as follows: “The strategies provide recommendations for the continuity of learning at all levels while schools are closed due to COVID19 including the use of digital technology such as e-learning secondary education and multi-media channels for primary schools” (p. 5). In addition, the plan recommends providing school feeding for vulnerable children.
Following the school closures and the response plan set by the Ministry of Education, the respective regional education bureaus have initiated the continuity of education using various media, including using educational radio programmes and television learning programmes provided by the Ministry of Education. In addition, some private schools, mostly in urban areas, have been focusing on engaging parents and their students in learning through a mobile application called Telegram, which is similar to WhatsApp but more widely used in EthiopiaOverall, there are practical challenges in how distance learning programmes can be accessed by students during such emergency contexts.
- Availability of devices
Providing lessons through educational radio programmes, educational satellite television programmes (plasma TV), and online education, for example using Telegram, all assume that parents and their children have at least one of these gadgets. Yet in the Ethiopian context, the majority of households do not. In addition, physical distancing and staying at home to protect oneself and others from spreading the virus limits family members from sharing devices, which is common under normal circumstances. In a context where neighbours are not expected to meet and share electronic devices, the majority of families are left without access to electronic media. In addition, although the majority of families may claim to have mobile phones, I believe, they do not have smart phones that can receive messages through Telegram.
Taking into consideration the limited access to devices available to the majority of the population, there appears to be a very big gap for disadvantaged groups – especially those in the rural agrarian and pastoralist communities, economically disadvantaged segments of the society, persons with disabilities and students with non-literate families or first generation learners. Therefore, there is a very visible issue of inequity. As a strategy, I suggest all learners need to have at least a solar-powered tablet, which they could purchase through a long-term loan if families cannot afford itSchool grants could be used to subsidise the purchase of these gadgets. The availability of such devices seems a necessity rather than a luxury for teachers and students, to help with narrowing the inequalities in learning. Unless efforts are put in place to create more access to electronic gadgets and the associated infrastructures, it would be impossible to practically implement the stated strategy by the Ministry of Education.
- Providing a coordinated response
The various efforts of providing lessons to students in an emergency situation have been scattered and remain uncoordinated. The public and private schools’ responses, across rural and urban areas, are varied in terms of how lessons are managed in the effort to prevent the spread of the virus. There should be a strong taskforce that could virtually meet and share good practices and generate efficient ways of facilitating learning for all. Many students from private schools in Addis Ababa, for instance, are expected to follow their lessons with the help of technology (i.e. radio, TV, email, and/ or Telegram). Table 1 below shows diverse response patterns for private schools. But what about students from public schools who have no access to devices? Critically, there is no mechanism of synthesising good practices from all actors. Had there been a coordinated response, lessons learnt from one another could be used to improvise the modalities of implementation. The response plan of the Ministry of Education does not spell out how to coordinate the various education actors, public or private. I believe it is not too late to re-organise the scattered responses to COVID-19 in the education sector.
- Monitoring engagement and learning
For the private, mainly urban, schools using methods such as Telegram to send out lessons, there seems to be less emphasis on monitoring whether students are engaging in the lessons and worksheets sent out. Similarly, many of the students from the public urban and rural schools are expected to follow the lessons from TVs and radios. Many of the education managers, including school principals, I guess, assume that parents would follow up with activities of their children’s lessons. Such an assumption does not hold in most cases due to several reasons: they might be stressed themselves; they might not have the pedagogical content knowledge; they might not be able or want to replace the teachers. In Table 1 below, I show that there is one school (Hillside) that not only delivers the lessons on Telegram and guides parents to follow up, it also connects the students with the respective teachers via Telegram links. This school has defined a feedback loop where students work on various assignments and quizzes have been channeled individually to the right teacher for feedback. However, many public schools do not have such a monitoring mechanism. Devising a monitoring tool and providing feedback on students’ engagement is a major pedagogical strategy for achieving desired results, which could be considered in the response plan of the Ministry of Education.
- Inclusion of pre-school children
The lessons provided appear to overlook pre-school-aged children, especially those who enrolled in public primary schools. As Table 1 indicates, good practices from some private schools could be emulated on how to address O-class and kindergarten children. However, parents need to be guided on how to stimulate, play and communicate with their kids in age-appropriate ways, so that they could at least be mature socio-emotionally and be protected from any forms of abuse and neglect. As a strategy, I suggest developing a multiple media approach to learning including TV, radio, online and on paper for parents of pre-school children on how to interact, facilitate play, communicate and stimulate children’s socio-emotional skills. Visits to families by community health workers could be used as an opportunity to support children.
- Coping emotionally with the effects of a pandemic
Teachers, parents and students are vulnerable to the shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – managing and coping with fear, stress and anxiety is necessary. Parents and children need to be reassured that fear of COVID-19 is normal and not seeing any danger in it is not normal. However, fear can turn out to be abnormal due to disturbances caused by the unknown. When people have the right information about COVID-19 and preventive measures from reliable sources, the fear serves as energy for seeking important coping strategies.
The Ministry of Education sent official letters to all Ethiopian schools about preventive measures in January. However, this may not have been enough to deliver information to communities and parents – more active strategies to reach out to parents and communities are needed. Parents and children need to know how to prevent catching the virus themselves by following the instructions provided by the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO): frequent washing of both hands, covering the nose and mouth with masks or cloths; physical distancing of about 1 metre apart from another person; and covering your nose through your bent elbows or using tissues when coughing and sneezing. In addition, people are advised to report to health officers whenever you or someone you know have shown symptoms related to a dry cough, fever and tiredness. More detailed information than this, as indicated on the WHO website, could be used to increase the awareness of people about COVID-19 and its preventive measures. Such awareness reduces the fear of the unknown and increases people’s readiness to cope with the pandemic. As a strategy, a stress management toolkit should be developed on how to cope with the stress caused by COVID-19 and the associated crises. In addition to improving the Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) issues of COVID-19 among teachers, parents and students, the toolkit should contain fundamentals of coping strategies with stress such as appraisal-focused coping strategies, adaptive behavioral coping strategies, emotion-focused coping strategies, reactive and proactive coping strategies, social coping and humour.
To sum up, this reflection underlines that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic school closures, there could be significant learning loss in general and huge inequalities against disadvantaged segments of the population. Establishing a national taskforce from diverse actors in the education sector and revisiting the existing response plan and its strategies and adopting additional strategies, as well as monitoring and evaluating the implementations process should all be given immediate attention.
Table 1.Sample technology-assisted lessons to ensure continuity of student learning(collected through phone interviews with some parents from mainly private schools in Addis Ababa)
|Schools||Media||Sample Links||Tasks||Feedback on Student Engagement|
|Addis Ababa Education Bureau [PUBLIC/ GOVERNMENT]||Telegram, YouTube||https://t.me/wwwAddisAbabaeducationbureau
|Audio, radio, video, plasma TV, handouts, worksheets||There is no feedback loop on student engagement and submissions|
|Cathedral (Nativity Girls’ School) [PRIVATE]||Telegram||Grade 8:https://t.me/ngspri/122
|Notes, handouts, worksheets||Guidance to parents provided; BUT no guidelines on student work submissions; no feedback loop on student engagement|
|e-fanos Ethiopia [PRIVATE]||DVD||https://www.facebook.com/efanosScholarePublisher/
|Audio, video||Commercially available supplementary teaching materials
|Hillside School Ethiopia [PRIVATE]||Telegram||https://t.me/HSSETHIOPIA
For Nursery & KG http://t.me/joinchat/AAAAAFDF63BelcGJyJ4F5g
For Grades 1&2: http://t.me/joinchat/AAAAAFbnHVujkRk_HBaJlw
|Notes, handouts, worksheets,||Guidance to parents and links to teachers available; student engagement is monitored through submissions of students’ activities|
|iTutor [PRIVATE]||Website, DVD||www.itutor-et.com||Audio, video||Commercially available supplementary teaching materials|
|Kidist Mariam School Gerji [PRIVATE]||Telegram||Grade 1:
|Notes, handouts, worksheets, quizzes||Guidance to parents and links to teachers available; student engagement is monitored through quizzes; submissions of students’ activities are sent individually to teachers (to control sharing of answers)|
|School of Tomorrow [PRIVATE]||Telegram||Grade 7:
|Notes, home works, exercises, handouts, worksheets||Guidance to parents provided; BUT no guidelines on student work submissions; no feedback loop on student engagement|