CHICAGO, Illinois — Senegal, just like the rest of the world, is experiencing the secondary consequences of COVID-19. For eight months, schools were on lockdown. Among other barriers to education, the limited distribution of resources meant that students were not able to receive educational resources, such as laptops for online remote education. As a result, for more than half of the 2020 school year, students in Dakar, Senegal, lacked books and other educational materials.
Senegal is suffering from a severe technological divide in a time where remote educational options are vital to continue students’ education. In August 2020, 200 tablets were donated to teacher trainers in Dakar schools, showing the pressing need for equitable laptop and tablet distribution to students in Dakar. The impact of COVID-19 on schools in Dakar elicits the overt reality of the digital divide in the capital. Fortunately, in late October, schools reopened, allowing students to renew their education, albeit with restrictions.
Dakar Schools in the Age of COVID-19
Dakar has many schools running during this time of the novel coronavirus. In some schools, students must wear masks, and in others, they may not, depending on the area where they live. Private and public schools in Senegal are both running along with primary and secondary school systems. However, social distancing rules may be lax and inconsistently enforced from one school to another. An example of this can be seen in schools in Mbao and Yoff, which are neighborhoods within Dakar.
Additionally, some schools are still waiting for their supply of hydro-alcoholic gel and masks to distribute to students entering the school buildings, according to a teacher union official and anonymous faculty. In Dakar, some schools waiting for these essential supplies include Lycée Abdoulaye Niass, SABS, Dakar Academy Central, Lycée Limamou Laye, Enko International School, Ecole Etoile Brillante Du Matin and Les Sourds Du Senegal.
Mixed Results Regarding COVID-19 Measures
However, Senegal is not letting COVID-19 prevent it from furthering the education of children and is continuing to educate students during regular school hours. Many people understand the statistics and implications of the novel coronavirus on the African continent. Yet, other deadly viruses and illnesses continue to severely impact vulnerable communities, such as respiratory infections, diarrhea or malaria. Moreover, with the limited distribution of vital resources, medicine and aid, populations suffering from these viruses are not receiving the care they need.
At times, Senegalese authorities have applied strict COVID-19 safety measures. The January 2021 curfew at 9 p.m. was one of them. Following this curfew, many protested in the streets at night. This resulted in a show of force from the military and the police to contain the discontentment and frustration. Many heads of household were reacting to the ineluctable reduction of their livelihood as taxi drivers, street vendors or other informal night jobs. These hard times have had ripple effects on entire families, especially school-age children.
Depleted School Budgets
The impact of COVID-19 on schools in Dakar has exacerbated school finances. In addition, some teachers have not returned because they were not remunerated for grading state exams during COVID-19. Teacher strikes are a recurrent problem in Senegal, and this issue heightens the impact of COVID-19 on implementing the school curriculum.
Most high schools now offer tutoring to restore students’ educational levels. Senegal’s private entrepreneurial sector had been booming before COVID-19, which have allowed the private schools that survived the disastrous consequences of the pandemic to reopen. However, newly established private schools have a severe lack of funding and cannot rebound from the losses caused by the pandemic. This is a problem small private schools in Senegal share with private schools in other African countries.
Bridging Senegal’s Digital Divide
Even with the resurgence of COVID-19 in 2021 and its impact on schools in Dakar, there is hope that the shortened school year will be salvaged. The youth are resilient as they have strong past leaders to whom they look up to, such as poet and president Léopold Sédar Senghor, who set the example for educational excellence and morality for Senegalese children today.
International humanitarian organizations are urging the governments of developing countries like Senega to take the lead in improving national education systems. Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 on schools in Dakar has exacerbated problems that already existed. The silver lining is the possibility of new partnerships with local technology entrepreneurs, provided they receive grants, to develop innovative technologies such as the Rumie Tablet, a free digital education resource for underserved communities.
Equally important are the logistics and support of USAID programs in Dakar, such as the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), one of four programs in Africa. YALI is a Dakar-based center that fosters young leaders to work together in public management, entrepreneurship and civic engagement. These key components should create a platform for true change in education.
– Elhadj Oumar Tall