SEATTLE, Washington — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to close around the world, leaving 80% of students without access to in-person instruction. In Uganda, where about 25% of all primary school students continue to secondary school, this disruption threatens to keep even more students from continuing their education. As a result, the government and organization are pushing for remote learning in Uganda to continue children’s education.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), although nearly all children in Uganda enroll in primary school, only 67% complete all seven years. The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reduce attendance further, as students who lack access to educational resources at home are less likely to return to schools once they reopen.
On June 15, 2020, UNICEF Uganda provided the Ministry of Education and Sports with $800,000 to distribute printed learning materials to 2.5 million students. In addition to supplying published content, the Ugandan government and UNICEF have collaborated on multiple initiatives to make remote learning more accessible and useful for students across the country.
Radio as a Learning Tool
School closures caused by the pandemic have left about 15 million children in Uganda without the ability to receive in-person instruction. While only 18% of the population has access to electricity, more than 80% of households own a radio. The Ugandan government and UNICEF have, therefore, supported the use of local and community-based radio to help students develop numeracy and literacy skills from their homes.
The lack of high-quality primary education in Uganda leaves many young students without basic numeracy and literacy skills. In fact, according to UNICEF, literacy rates among students who have graduated from primary school are approximately 40%. These radio broadcasts include communal readings, which encourage students to continue reading books while their schools are closed. Broadcasts tailored explicitly to improving literacy may help students be more prepared for similar lessons when schools reopen.
Digital Learning Tools Keep Students Engaged
Students who can access the internet, as well as a computer, smartphone or tablet, can learn remotely using Kolibri, a digital learning platform introduced by the Ministry of Education and Sports, the National Information Technology Authority of Uganda and UNICEF. This platform is available to students at no cost and allows students in both primary and secondary school to learn at home using content approved by the National Curriculum Development Center.
Students can use Kolibri to learn about mathematics, science, humanities and other subjects with reading materials, videos and games. They can also learn at their own pace while tracking their progress and goals. By allowing for self-paced remote learning, this technology accommodates students facing common barriers to education, such as a problematic commute, the need to work or care for siblings during school hours.
This educational technology also includes accommodations for students with disabilities. In 2016, UNICEF reported that only 9% of Ugandan children with disabilities were enrolled in any level of education, most likely due to a shortage of special needs teachers and resources. The Kolibri platform addresses the needs of students with disabilities by providing audiobooks and videos in sign language for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as e-books designed for visually impaired students.
Radio broadcasts and digital learning tools allow students in Uganda to access critical educational resources during the pandemic. By preventing students from falling behind after recent school closures, widespread and effective remote learning in Uganda can increase the likelihood that children will continue their education when schools reopen. This is crucial in fighting poverty in developing countries, as studies show that education and economic growth are linked. Therefore, it is likely that higher attendance rates after the pandemic could bring about higher employment rates, reduced income inequality and a healthier and more equal society in Uganda in the post-COVID-19 world.