A monitoring and evaluation exercise recently carried out to assess the impact of distance learning system amidst schools’ closure due to COVID-19 pandemic has found several loopholes in the approaches taken by Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE). This includes inadequate sensitization and lack of effective consultations with parents as reasons for low participation by students.
The report obtained by The Chronicle indicates that “majority of the students and parents were aware of the distance learning program, but were not adequately sensitized on timetable, the importance of the program and the mode of participation. A good number of parents and caregivers felt that the program was imposed on them without due consultation.”
The document discloses that few students within these communities have access to radio while limited parental involvement was also experienced. Poor program schedule on the side of some community radios and the Gambia education tv, the tempo of some lessons was generally found to be fast, no available medium for questions and answers after lessons were also registered as constraints.
“Some communities have unstable electricity supply making it difficult for students to access the lessons, …majority of the communities do not have electricity supply making it impossible for the students to access the lessons via television.”
Conflict of schedule between the distance learning program and organized WhatsApp and other online classes was also experienced.
The monitoring and evaluation officials from MoBSE targeted 40 remote communities out of which they visited 37 to carry out the post-distance learning assessment. The closure of Gambian schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more than 674,000 children remaining at home.
The communities that were visited and assessed are Essau, Kerr Cherno, Keneba, Medina Angaleh, Salikene, Farafenni, Bambally, Budduk, Janjanbureh, Bansang, Njoren, Gambisara, Bajakunda, Misira, Diabugu, Sare Demba Toro, Basse, Bintang, Manduar, Kartong and Kunkujang Mariama, Bijilo, Brufut, Kanifing Estate, Serekunda, Fajikinda and Banjul.
However, the report also highlighted some positive impacts of distance learning concluding that a good number of learners have followed and benefitted from the distance learning program while exposing new teaching methods to some teachers from various presenters.
“Some of the communities greatly appreciated and applauded the distance learning initiative. There is a level of awareness on the program which could be built on. There is evidence of effective collaboration and participation of students, teachers and parents on the program in some communities where there is strong coordination,” according to the M&E report.
The officials recommended a vigorous sensitization campaign to create awareness about the distance learning program and the greater use of television since most of the students prefer television lessons to radio.
“More teachers to be identified and build on their capacities for the distance learning program. Platforms be created for interactive teaching and learning sessions. Schools be reopened giving priorities to examination classes (Grade 9 & 12) while observing physical distancing and other health precaution/guideline measures.
“All subjects within the curriculum be given priority in the distance learning program, to reorganize the timetable for the better understanding of all and the distance learning program be better organized for continuity to enhance quality.”
It was also recommended that the entire academic year be considered anee–blanc (cancellation of the entire 2019/2020 academic year) and the examinations be conducted for all the classes, promoting students who pass to the next Grade while those below standard be allowed to repeat. However, this recommendation was not accepted by the ministry.
The head of Communications Unit of MoBSE, Emily Gomez tells The Chronicle that their officials were dispatched across to monitor and evaluate in order to find out the loopholes for improvements. “They often go to all regions across the country to check on the outcome of the distant learning in order to know what area needs improvement.”