Education is a public good and a fundamental human right with the state as its custodian. It’s therefore the duty of the government to ensure that equitable, inclusive quality education is availed to its people all the time. As the COVID-19 contagion confounds the world, it is essential to avoid education losses for learners during the crisis. In such unprecedented time of school cessations, there is definitely a growing reliance on technology-based solutions but the challenge is that they do work for those children who have access and for teachers who know how to use them.
Uganda, like other developing countries which are affected by inadequate technological infrastructure, low internet coverage and reliability, devised alternative means for education continuity during the lockdown. Among them were standardized self-study lesson packages in the core subjects for primary and secondary levels, distributed to all learners and airing lessons by model teachers on Radios and Televisions.
The president and cabinet at one time proposed the procurement of television sets and radios to distribute to households or local councils countrywide for individual or group listening and watching, which has not yet come to fruition. What is clear now is that besides lessons being aired on different TVs and radios, self-study materials were also distributed regardless of lack of a clear monitoring mechanism.
Uganda has a diverse media sector. According to BBC media action report in 2019, Uganda had nearly 300 licensed radio stations and 30 (free to air) TV stations. Radio is more popular than TV mainly due to poverty and lack of electricity. In 2017/18, according to the National Information Technology survey; 34% of total Uganda population watched TV and 87% listened to radio. Half (52.1%) of urban people watched TV compared to only a third (33.9%) of rural population and slightly more males (44.2%) watched TV compared to females (39.2%).
The Uganda National Household Survey 2016/17, found great variation in television ownership across regions. Kampala had the most households (42%) who owned television individually. The situation was worse in rural areas; for example only 3% of households owned a television individually in Kigezi; 2% in Bukedi and Acholi; 1% in West Nile and no household in Karamoja reportedly owning a television individually.
The question that lingers in most people’s minds is whether effective learning is happening as planned through the devised means, amidst the numerous challenges like domestic violence, starvation, children abuse, and early pregnancies among others.
Radio and TV teaching can be useful; radios in particular, besides being economical, readily available, conveniently listened to in the comfort of one’s home and reasonably cheap, can reach a wide audience. Since already the current generation of youngsters enjoy learning using technology, many would enjoy learning by watching televisions at home. However, the challenge is that not all households own television sets and radios besides being off the electricity grid. Based on the above statistics, teaching using television and radios in Uganda seem to compromise quality, inclusiveness and equity as underpinnings of a good education system.
The gap in learning outcomes between rich and poor, urban and rural and male and female is likely to be high. Besides the challenges of learning from home, broadcasted lessons lack cemented student-teacher-parent relationship. Radio can be impersonal and students listening for long to a voice from a box can lose interest quickly in addition to the limitation of learner’s feedback.
Lessons on Radios do not offer visual help and therefore, there is a limitation on the variety of subjects which can be taught. For example, teaching mathematics and other science subjects which require visual as opposed to auditory method of acquisition is complex. In certain parts of the country, radio programme reception can be interrupted thus causing loss of continuity.
While the COVID-19 education framework aims at an inclusive and equitable approach for all learners, irrespective of their social and economic status, geographical location or disability status, living the reality of its implementation is what matters. Perhaps, a bottom-top approach would have been helpful in the education response design.
As proposed by the education framework for COVID-19 lockdown, the learner-centered and problem based learning approaches are the ideal for effective learning. However, with lack of supervision, guidance and face to face-physical engagement between the teacher and the learner, experiential learning remains abstract to learners who are used to lecture methods of learning and cram work to pass examinations. It’s clear that with televised and radio lessons, we are likely to breed cram work ever than before.
In fact, with less motivation for some learners to engage in active learning because of lack of both formative and summative assessments, parents and guardians have a big role to play in supervising self-made notes and assignments for learners. If this is not done, we might be swimming in a river we will fail to come out of.
By Tumwesigye Michael
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