COVID-19 “an opportunity” say African Educators in major new survey

Pupils writing at a desk

Fifty percent of surveyed African teachers, trainers and education technology specialists think the COVID-19 pandemic will turn out to be a “significant” or “very significant” opportunity for African education.

The results of a survey released by eLearning Africa and EdTech Hub show that many African educators are optimistic about the future.

They believe that COVID-19 has served as a “wake-up call” that will encourage greater use of blended learning and new forms of technology-assisted education and training in the continent’s schools, colleges and universities.

The survey, ‘The Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on African Education’, is based on interviews with more than 1,600 education and technology professionals across Africa, who were asked about their experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications. 85 percent of respondents thought the use of technology will be more widespread as a result of the crisis.

As the African Union, among others, considers that technology is the key to rapid expansion of education – and thus to future economic growth, this is clearly good news.

One respondent, Joice – who has worked in technology and education for over 20 years and believes in the “fundamental role in society” of educational technologies said: “We have an opportunity in the face of this pandemic to improve the uses and access to technologies aimed at learning, at a time when students and teachers can become protagonists of a new model of education”.

Isso of Burkina Faso, a teacher, believes it is precisely the difficulties of the current crisis which will ultimately create real, long-term benefits: “As he COVID-19 becomes a worldwide problem with no good solution, everybody in the world becomes involved in seeking solutions for their own survival that will lead to creativity, new ideas and new opportunities, and be part of evolution.”

And from industry, corporate planner Sisu of Zimbabwe said: “This is the opportunity for long-term evolution of the education system”.

The survey however also pointed to considerable nervousness about the development of a digital divide and a rise in inequalities among learners, because of uneven access to technology.

Respondents felt that learners in rural communities are most likely to be disadvantaged as a result of lacking access to technology.

They also felt that connectivity is the biggest obstacle preventing the development of more technology-assisted learning – specifically, a lack of available and affordable connectivity.

Overall, respondents reported that school closures have been widespread across Africa (95 percent said that all schools in their countries had been forced to close); and while this had had many negative consequences, 92 percent said they thought the closures were essential.

However, the survey showed that most educators received no financial support for tools to help them continue teaching in the crisis, and felt they had insufficient preparation to adapt to the demands of distance learning.

The survey also pointed to the effectiveness of different technologies at different levels – with television and radio seen as working well at the primary level, and online learning at the secondary.

eLearning Africa Director Rebecca Stromeyer said the survey showed that there is “plenty evidence of ingenuity and innovation at all levels in many countries,” in responding to the crisis.

“The crisis has been a real challenge for Africa; but it has not, by and large, been the catastrophe that was predicted. Africans have used the technologies available to them to carry on teaching and learning. People have learnt from this crisis, and they now know how important technology is to education.”

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