Living with COVID-19, Challenges on Teaching and Learning: The African Perspective
The Inception of the Deadly Virus
What started in late December 2019 as a virus in a market in Wuhan Province in China was declared a pandemic by WHO in March 2020. The novel coronavirus nicknamed “COVID-19” is a different virus connected to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and certain kinds of common cold (Bender, 2020).
Image from UNICEF, Kenya
It is spread through direct interaction with respirational drops of an infected person (either by means of coughing and sneezing). One could also be infected by touching virus polluted surfaces and in turn touching their face (e.g., eyes, nose, mouth) (Bender, 2020).
This deadly virus has spread to almost all countries across the globe affecting economies and every facet of human life. Education is not an exception, institutions ranging right from nursery/kindergarten to tertiary education, have their teaching and learning disrupted. Governments had to close down schools in order to contain the spread of the virus and also to protect the lives of future generations.
According to UNESCO (2020), about 40 million teachers and 1 billion students and youth worldwide have been affected by the closure of schools due to COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers are learning effective online teaching mechanisms and strategies whilst students are also adjusting to having online classes, interactions, instructions and examinations.
Challenges on Teaching and Learning in Africa
African countries are already facing a myriad of challenges when it comes to teaching and learning before the inception of COVID-19. Some of these problems are scarcity of relevant textbooks and classroom resources, irregular in-service training, infusion of ICT into teaching methods, and quality teaching environment just to mention but a few.
In order to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus through the educational institutions, and also, to protect children and the youth from contracting the virus, governments ordered the closure of all schools. Some countries like Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria still have all public schools closed, hoping to re-open in 2021. However, other African countries like Ghana and Liberia educational institutions at all levels adopted teaching and learning online to complete the syllabus for the term.
Online Teaching and Learning
Both teachers and students used technological tools like smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktops to access online platforms (Google classroom, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Youtube, WhatsApp and Skype). The University of Ghana for instance is using Sakai Learning Management Systems for teaching and examining students’ performance. Accra Technical University on the other hand, created a virtual classroom with registered courses and lecturers uploaded learning materials for students. In addition to that, lecturers teach on the Zoom platform. In the University of Development Studies (Ghana), on one of their campuses, (Wa campus) they used WhatsApp for lectures.
However, online teaching and learning brought its own wave of challenges. As Dr. Neelam Parmar of ViewSonic Education states “the integration of mobile technology in classrooms is no longer just a nice-to-have option in teaching and learning. Indeed, it has now become part of the educational process for the 21st century generation.” Teachers who were used to the traditional face-to-face teaching have now been asked to teach, deliver course materials and interact with students online. Educational institutions have to hold Webinar sessions across the globe (including Africa) to equip teachers with soft skills.
The major hurdles are now firstly, how teachers can quickly adjust to incorporating technology into their teaching practices and learning objectives, as well as how students can integrate technology into their learning experience. Moreover, these issues are particularly challenging because the cost of bandwidth or internet connectivity is very expensive for an average African and internet coverage in Africa is not comprehensive with full of challenges. Most towns and communities are not connected to the Internet and telecommunications networks. Students in such communities may find it difficult to access online education and may be excluded from the learning process.
Furthermore, there are problems with online assessments. I recounted one student in one of the public universities in Ghana, expressing concern about difficulties in using a learning management software. During an assessment of a course, it took time to transition from one question to the other and after two and a half hours, the system automatically restarted, meaning that the student had to start answering the multiple-choice questions all over again. There are also ethical concerns: without adequate monitoring, students might easily cheat during exams because they have access to their reading materials, lecture notes and older siblings who are knowledgeable could even solve some of the questions for the student who only has to copy and submit the answers.
Another challenge peculiar to Africa is the irregular supply of electricity. This inadvertently, has a direct impact on online teaching and learning since the Internet depends on a constant and reliable supply of power to function effectively.
Some teachers and students are not computer literate. Such would have to be trained on how to use digital platforms for instructional purposes. Again, some of the apps or digital communication channels (Zoom is a typical example) have no built-in security systems and therefore, in a worst-case scenario, intruders might usurp the system. Some of the online tools are not user friendly (example, wiki technology). Meanwhile, some of the laptops used by students during online studies either had no cameras or the students turned off their cameras, making interaction with teachers or professors difficult. Some professors complained of not feeling fulfilled after class sessions due to lack of physical contact. Finally, courses like Physical Education, Computer Application Software and Home Economics are difficult to teach online.
Last but not least, not all students could afford laptops, smart phones, tablets or even buy data to connect to the Internet. These students may be left out of digital education altogether if positive steps are not taken to ensure they are included.
Other Types of Teaching and Learning
Students at primary, junior and senior high schools have benefitted from radio and televised school lessons of all courses offered at their level by the government on dedicated channels. Examples of such African countries are Liberia, Ghana, Uganda, Madagascar, and Mauritius, just to mention but a few.
In conclusion, as COVID-19 pandemic persists, educational institutions across the globe and particularly in Africa would have to integrate digital teaching methodology, technology and learning management information systems into their educational curricula since these now form integral aspects of the 21st Century educational system. Governments across Africa need to prioritise digital teaching and learning programmes to increase the technological literacy level of both teachers and learners. This, in turn, would help maintain or increase the number of future graduates and teachers who are technologically advanced enough to keep up with current developments and bring Africa into the limelight of the advanced economy.
Bender, L. (2020). Key messages and actions for COVID-19 prevention and control in
schools. Education in Emergencies UNICEF March.
Parmar N. (2017). Digital Teaching and Learning, available at
UNESCO, (2020). Global Education Coalition. Available at
World Bank (2020). How countries are using edtech (including online learning, radio, television, texting) to support access to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic
Article Writer & Content Contributor
Dolores Mensah Hervie
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