Distance learning strategies: an opportunity to build resilience in the education sector
Ensuring that Education never stops for children in Cameroon during crisis such as COVID-19 pandemic. “UNESCO’s distance learning initiative in Cameroon is not only a COVID-19 measure but also an opportunity to fill the gap that existed between rural and urban population” declared Mr. Evang Assembe, Inspector of Pedagogy in the Ministry of Basic Education in Cameroon.
Since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic in Cameroon, learning has been disrupted for young people who are part of the 1.6 billion children and youth affected worldwide by the pandemic. UNESCO Cameroon has been working to ensure that continuous learning and teaching during COVID-19 is a development priority and a means to ensure equity in education so that learning never stops for young people even those in a hard-to-reach part of Cameroon.
UNESCO heightened cooperation with the government and education practitioners to develop urgent response measures against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education in Cameroon with funding from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
In Cameroon the measures involved; strategies to ensure a continuum of learning during pandemic; strategies to maintain social distancing and prevent the spread of the virus in school and out of school; and finally, strategies that consist of building resilience to various disasters or conflicts.
The Central African Republic, Chad and DRC have also received financial envelopes from GPE through UNESCO to build the resilience of their respective educational systems to external shocks such as COVID-19 and conflicts.
Ensure a continuum of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic
Together with the government of Cameroon, UNESCO has developed different learning tools that use various communication channels like TV, radio, and the internet to deliver school lessons and education.
School lessons for primary school have been adapted for radio and television by working with selected school teachers and experienced journalists to prerecord lessons in video and audio formats that are diffused over the national radio and television.
The project activities also prioritize investing in digitalization and improvement of the quality of e-learning, as well as enhancement of teachers’ skills to deliver integrated learning that includes distance or e-learning.
In March 2021, the Prime Minister of Cameroon, H.E Joseph Dion Ngute commended UNESCO’s efforts, "UNESCO has done great groundwork in the extremely useful distance learning program that others can easily build upon. Not just in access but more in quality." He was speaking during an audience with UNESCO’s Director Salah Khaled at the Prime Ministry.
Besides making lessons available on radio and TV, school lessons are equally available on an online multimedia platform called myschoolonline. This multimedia platform which is a website/mobile application, offers opportunities for teachers and learners to access educational resources and services to improve knowledge and gain practical lessons on varied topics.
Distance learning opportunities have come to also resolve a lingering problem in the North West, South West, and Far North of Cameroon where schools have been closed in some localities years before the COVID-19 crisis.
According to Mr. Ousmanou Amadou Garga of the Regional Delegation for Basic Education, Far North of Cameroon, “Since 2004 some schools have been closed as a result of insecurity in my region (Far North) so, distance learning could be a solution for education in this region.”
However, this form of learning is still new and access to these platforms remain limited for some Cameroonian population as explained by some actors in this sector.
"Distance education is conditioned by several factors such as electricity which is not common in my region (Far North). Also, the channels used, do not have a large audience in most rural communities" A worry expressed by Ousmanou Amadou Garga.
Even though access to radio, television, and the internet remains limited to many communities in Cameroon. UNESCO and the concerned stakeholders have been working on scaling up these efforts and finding new solutions to ensure that every child benefit from the right to be educated.
"We have sufficiently done groundworks in our laboratories through workshops and reflection groups and we are ready to implement the next phase of the distance learning component of the project." Amadou Garga added.
A national platform that includes professionals from the ministries of education and UNESCO has been working to manage various distance learning conceptions and working on scaling up learning opportunities to reach communities with little or no access to TV, radio, and internet facilities by producing school lesson booklets that will further be distribution to these localities. To further enhance the resilience and versatility of education delivery and increase access to quality learning materials for those who are in remote areas and from poor households.
More radio stations shall get on board as audio lessons shall also be distributed to community radio stations found in rural communities and lessons shall be further vulgarised via radio listening clubs that already exist in these localities.
Preventing the spread of the virus in school and out of school, while also building resilience to various disasters.
An important aspect among these response measures has been the putting in place of various barrier measures to prevent the spread of the virus in and out of the school milieu. These measures also fall in line with the national response strategy of the government of Cameroon that includes among others:
-Compulsory mask wearing for all in public places and schools
-Reducing the number of students in classrooms
-Educating students and teachers on the dangers of COVID-19 and also using various learning tools to integrate teaching on how students and teachers can build resilience to any sort of catastrophes.
Mr. Evang Assembe, of the Ministry of Basic Education further explained that these learning tools do not only respond to the present COVID-19 crisis but also offer long term opportunities for teachers, learners, and parents to participate in the integration process of different life skills in the education of children in Cameroon.