Children learning During COVID
Inherent inequalities in accessing
the internet and other tools to allow children to continue their studies, threaten
to deepen the global crisis in learning, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned
UNICEF data reveals that in 71
countries worldwide, less than half the population has internet access. Yet,
nearly three-quarters of governments in 127 reporting countries, are using
online platforms to deliver education during the pandemic.
In Uganda, schools in the urban centres are using zoom, WhatsApp, the google e-classroom, and Khan Academy, among
others to create classes, distribute assignments, grade and send feedback to
learners. However, the country’s Internet penetration is estimated at 19 per cent, a share of only 0.2 per cent
of the world Internet users.
The government is also using
radio and television to deliver educational programmes despite disparities in
TV and radio ownership both across and within regions. Across Uganda, a sizeable
number of the population has no access to the gadgets, yet even those who have,
are limited by the lack of electricity for rural households.
Although almost all technologies
used to deliver education while schools remain closed require electricity, only
65 per cent of households from the poorest quintile in the 28 countries with
data have electricity, compared to 98 per cent of households from the
UNICEF reported that in 40 of the
88 countries with data, children living in urban areas are twice as likely to
have a TV than their rural counterparts with the largest disparity found in
“Access to the technology and
materials needed to continue learning while schools are closed is desperately
unequal. Likewise, children with limited learning support at home have almost
no means to support their education. Providing a range of learning tools and
accelerating access to the internet for every school and every child is
critical”, said UNICEF Chief of Education, Robert Jenkins.
Education experts have already
warned that gains made in increasing access to learning in the previous decade
are at risk of being lost, or even reversed completely.
Last month, UNICEF announced a
new partnership with Airtel Africa aimed at providing children with access to
remote learning. Under this partnership, UNICEF and Airtel Africa will use
mobile technology to benefit an estimated 133 million school-age children
currently affected by school closures in 13 countries across sub-Saharan Africa
during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The benefiting countries include Chad, Congo,
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger,
Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In all these countries, airtel will be zero-rating
select websites hosting educational content, to provide children with
remote access to digital content at no cost.
“COVID-19 is affecting access to
information and education at an unprecedented scale,” said Fayaz King, UNICEF
Deputy Executive Director for Field Results and Innovation. He added that by being
out of school, children are facing increased vulnerabilities and setbacks.