Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic: A RELI experience

By Doris Omao

“Stay home and keep safe” this message is on loop in our minds; we see and hear it everywhere we go. We live in uncertain times, and it is impossible to predict the future. The covid-19 pandemic makes us unsure what lies ahead and education has been hit particularly hard.

According to the global fund Education Cannot Wait, 184 countries have mandatory country-wide school closure resulting in 1.52 billion out-of-school learners; 87.6% of the world’s total enrolled learners. With children out of school, they are more vulnerable to abuse, including but not limited to family violence, child labor, sexual abuse, and the resultant mental health issues. Education stakeholders and policymakers are working around the clock to ensure learners are safe and engaged while learning from home.

In the wake of this pandemic, the Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI) network is keen to maintain its focus on improving learning outcomes for all children in East Africa. Since the disruption of learning in schools and on-ground member organisations and cluster activities, members have regularly convened intense virtual meetings to deliberate on strategies to ensure continuity in learning.

From the discussions, it is evident that learners and tutors require a great support system to achieve their education. For instance, the Kenya Learner-Centred Teaching thematic group identified Parental Engagement as one of the crucial pieces towards ensuring learning continues amidst the crisis. School-from-home positions parents as the primary educators and supporters in this season. However, parents may not be capable of fully taking on this role because most of them have to juggle work and caregiving. It is a quite overwhelming role, especially for parents raising more than one child balancing the attention and support needs of each child. Parents, therefore, need the help of school leaders, teachers, and teaching assistants. These are capable of supporting learning while also playing an essential role as champions of key COVID-19 messaging and interventions.

Several other strategies are also crucial to effective learning. Peer learning is a valuable strategy for learners to support each other and encourage accountability. Use of media – radio and online resources with printed materials to enrich learning are also useful tools. Community champions such as Kenya Red Cross, teachers, and local radio stations can be used to communicate key messages in local languages – a great step towards motivating learners. Members also established that with appropriate child protection, sanitation, and physical distancing protocols, community resources such as cyber cafes and community DSTV centres could serve as learning hubs. Community DSTV centres provide learners with digital satellite technology and free access to the DSTV education package, including documentaries, educational, and current affairs channels. The Kenya team has engaged the COVID-19 National Education Response Committee, constituted by the Ministry of Education on these strategies.

Across the border in Tanzania, the Teacher and Development Support (TDS) group is exploring the use of digital tools and platforms to facilitate connection, productivity and to make life easier during the global crisis. The team in Uganda continues to support the Ministry of Education and Sports framework for continued learning during the pandemic, such as through publicising the Ministry’s open-source self-study materials through text messaging to primary and secondary school teachers and learners in their networks. Some learners have been able to follow live lessons via television and radio platforms from their homes, thanks to the parents’ guide on learning from home’ included in this study package.

Amidst this pandemic, RELI members have prioritised continued learning through alternative learning pathways to ensure the disruption to education is as limited as possible, parallel to continued advocacy by members for disadvantaged learners.

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