With the pandemic having paralysed and could continue to disrupt the education system for an inestimable length of time in the future, home-based and remote learning is indisputably here to stay even though schools are back to in-person class sessions.
This begs the question whether the government is doing what is necessary to adapt the education system, and more specifically address the digital inequalities that were laid bare by the prolonged school shutdown, as well as mitigate impact this had on learners from the disadvantaged families across the country.
Already, figures suggest that the shift to remote learning for the better part of schools closure last year up to date created a huge disparity in terms of learning, with learners from disadvantaged families bearing the brunt of the exclusion.
The World Bank’s latest economic update report for Rwanda specifically points to learning losses in more than 26 per cent of households without radios, and 90 per cent households without television across the country.
There are also losses attributed to the fact that only 27 per cent of households have continuous electricity while only 3 percent of households own a computer, and only 17 per cent have internet access.
In most instances, Rwanda Today established that the only device available in the poor households was a mobile phone with limited functionality. Access to electronic devices to enable children to follow broadcasted lessons implies costs which most are not able to foot in the wake of a pandemic that hit income and livelihoods.
Those that can access radio are still constrained with limitations around electricity, while in other instances learners lack revision materials or parents have limited ability to guide learners through remote class sessions.
As a result, the children spend much of their time out of school working to earn money, taking care of their siblings or doing housework, which in the end erodes their motivation to pursue academic dreams.
The evidence which have been corroborated with the world bank report findings seem to suggest that e-learning platforms has so far worked only for children from households with greater levels of connectivity, higher levels of parental education, greater availability of parental time for engagement, and in-home availability of books and other requisite materials.
This therefore calls for urgent interventions tailored towards equipping disadvantaged families across the country with access to the tools and knowledge to ensure the digital divide is addressed.
The government’s past interventions towards promoting learning using ICT has focused largely on equipping existing and new school infrastructure with smart classrooms, provision of laptops, and Internet connectivity.
In view of what transpired over the ten months of physical class shutdown nationwide, and new realities now requiring limiting the number of children physically present in classrooms, there is a need for a shift that makes parents partners in bridging the prevailing digital access gaps.