African educators see COVID-19 as ‘wake up call’ to adopt more blended learning

A major survey by eLearning Africa and EdTech Hub reveals that African edtech and education professionals see the pandemic as ‘an opportunity’ for the sector

African educators and edtech professionals see the coronavirus crisis as a “wake up call” for the sector, viewing it as a vehicle that will drive the uptake of blended learning and new forms of tech-assisted teaching across the education sector.

The Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on African Education, published on Wednesday 16 September by eLearning Africa and EdTech Hub, surveyed around 1,650 responses from 52 countries in Africa, 50% of whom said COVID-19 presents ‘significant’ or ‘very significant’ opportunities for the sector.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said that the use of technology would be far more widespread post-COVID, as the African Union, along with other influential bodies from the continent, sees edtech as key to the rapid expansion of the sector, and thus an engine for economic growth.

One survey participant, Joice, who has worked in the industry for more than two decades, believes in edtech’s “fundamental role in society”. Joice commented on the current global situation, saying: “We have the opportunity in the face of the 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.

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

One teacher from Burkina Faso emphasised that the challenges of the crisis also spur considerable long-term benefits, saying: “As 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 part of evolution.”

Results unveiled the effectiveness of various technologies at different education stages, with TV and radio confirmed to have the greatest impact at primary level, and online learning being most effective at secondary.

However, the survey also highlighted the sector’s concerns over the continent’s growing digital divide, as well as a rise in general learning inequalities due to imbalanced and unreliable access to technology. Connectivity was pinpointed as the biggest hurdle to the development of tech-assisted learning – specifically, a lack of “available and affordable connectivity”.

Ninety-five percent of respondents said that all schools in their countries had been ordered to close in response to the pandemic; 92% of whom said the closures were essential.

Shockingly, the majority of educators claimed they had not received any financial support for edtech tools and devices that enabled learning to continue as the pandemic progressed, and stressed that they were inadequately prepared to adapt to the demands of distance learning. This was elevated by a severe lack of infrastructure, including electricity, connectivity, devices; and a lack of appropriate learning materials, including books, TV and internet-enabled devices.

Rebecca Stromeyer, director of eLearning Africa, said the survey provided “plenty of evidence of ingenuity and innovation at all levels in many countries”.

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

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