School’s out—but children are still learning in Côte d’Ivoire

Around the world, 1.6 billion children are currently unable to attend school in person due to the impact of COVID-19; some 120 million of whom are in west and central Africa. In her role as Country Manager in Côte d’Ivoire for TaRL (Teaching at the Right Level), Amujae Leader Aïda Alassane N’Diaye-Riddick is confronting a new type of challenge—ensuring children maintain access to education while schools in the country remain closed. We spoke with Aïda about the issues schools and their pupils are facing, and how the COVID-19 crisis could impact the delivery of education when schools are able to reopen.

Finding effective ways to deliver distance learning is now the priority in Côte d’Ivoire and many other countries across Africa, along with planning to safely reopen schools when the current restrictions are lifted. TaRL, in partnership with the Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of Education, is using its expertise delivering primary school curricula in math and reading to support the development and delivery of distance learning projects.

“Many of the Ministry of Education’s distance learning programs are targeting children in exam years—those in the last year of primary school and at some high school levels (grades 10 and 13). Having recognized that a lack of internet access means online learning isn’t feasible for all children, we’re helping to provide learning programs to all primary age pupils through radio content. There are two aspects to our support: using a combination of TaRL teaching methods and the national curricula to develop scripts for radio content and solve technical issues in their delivery; and using our experience producing campaigns to raise more awareness about the programing—it’s important that we don’t lose children from education during this crisis.”

Looking beyond the crisis, Aïda sees an opportunity for TaRL to continue using technology in its efforts—shifting the delivery model where appropriate and providing additional support to classroom learning. This includes combining radio content with SMS messages to share homework and educational content with families, and also helping parents understand how to provide an environment that is conducive to learning. Technology and costs are issues to resolve, as well as getting access to a sufficient number of parent contact details to make SMS an effective way to share content.

Aïda knows that a successful campaign will be key to getting more awareness about this exciting approach: “We want to make learning fun and interactive, and keep children focused and engaged with their school work. We can see this evolving in several phases. Phase 1 will be to continue with radio programs; Phase 2 is to use the data and contact details currently available to develop the SMS approach; and Phase 3 to work with the Ministry of Education to expand our reach. It’s an approach that has worked well in cocoa growing regions where a bigger database of contact details is available, so I’m hopeful we can make it work here, too.”

Prior to her role with TaRL, Aïda’s experience included roles in health development and alleviating poverty, giving her some professional insight into some of the challenges of containing COVID-19.  As with so many countries around the world, testing for coronavirus remains one of the biggest challenges for Côte d’Ivoire. Case numbers have remained low and the rate of recovery is good, but until testing levels are increased, it’s hard to know the real impact. However, lessons learned from previous Ebola outbreaks are being utilized: “Washing hands and using face masks have been applied quickly. And our country is also able to build upon the foundations laid during Ebola outbreaks with reporting systems and labs in major towns across the country.”

Reflecting on the inaugural Amujae Forum in early March, Aïda enjoyed the diversity of the Amujae Leaders, their different backgrounds, and the individual paths that they are now following: “It was interesting to see different people’s approach to leadership, and to have the opportunity to learn more about how to envision yourself moving forward through public life and making an impact with your work. It’s useful to understand more about how to navigate the crossover between philanthropy, private enterprise, and politics.”

Learn more about Aïda’s work with TaRL.

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