Dreams at stake – 21-year-old Rose had just two weeks of school before lockdown hit
The covid-19 pandemic has derailed the lives of young people in South Sudan, a country recovering from a civil war. Rose, living in Yei, finally has a new opportunity to pursue her dreams.
WILD VEGETATION surrounds crumbled, abandoned mud huts. Scattered around, there are the remains of cars, stripped of wheels and other removable parts. Empty houses are missing their most valuable parts: tin roofs and windows.
The surge in returnees that accelerated prior to the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t repaired the damages caused by the 2016 civil war around the city of Yei. The sight is still stomach-churning for those returning to the region, says 29-year-old Viola Jabu. Life in Yei began completely anew, without a home or work.
“When we decided to return, I was afraid there’d be no one in Yei,” Viola Jaby says. She began the journey home from a Ugandan refugee settlement with nine children and adolescents in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit.
“I was relieved to see plenty of life on the streets. However, our home had been destroyed.”
Viola Jabu and her family have settled behind an abandoned petrol station on a busy street. The suitcases and bags, in which the family has packed their entire life, are neatly piled in the children’s bedroom. The parents sleep in a storage room, lit by the light coming in through a tiny window.
“We returned from Uganda because life as a refugee was tough. It was difficult to find food and work and the children were often ill. My husband lived here already and told us that it’s safe now,” Viola Jabu tells.
“We couldn’t have imagined that we’d have to face a pandemic, too.”
Over a year without school
Across the street is St. Joseph’s s School. There, 21-year-old Rose Night began her second year as an upper secondary school student. Rose lives with her uncle Woi Wilson, Viola Jabu’s partner. Rose’s parents abandoned her when she was a child; her father disappeared, and her mother moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Wearing her school uniform, Rose has patiently listened to our conversation for over an hour. Then she can no longer wait.
“When are you going to ask me something?” she asks. It’s uncommon for students to volunteer for interviews unprompted.
“School has taught me that one must be courageous and study a lot, so that it’s possible to make one’s own decisions in life. With the help of education, you can find work and look after yourself,” she quotes her teachers.
Rose started school at the age of nine with support from her uncle, and her dream is to become a lawyer. Uncle Woi Wilson hopes Rose will one day study at a university.
Rose’s schooling already came to a halt once when the family fled to Uganda. After returning to South Sudan, she was in school for just two weeks before the closure.
“We were told to stay at home and be patient, but there was nothing to do. I was sad.”
In South Sudan, the opportunities to switch to remote learning were non-existent, which is why numerous children and adolescents had their schooling suspended for over a year. In a country that has already suffered from a civil war, it is estimated that 2.2 million children didn’t go to school before the pandemic, and according to an estimate by UNICEF, the pandemic doubled the number to 4.3 million.
Viola Jabu and Woi Wilson organised home schooling for the children, so that they wouldn’t forget the importance of education in pursuing their dreams. Everywhere in the world, the lives of the young are full of temptations. Rose kept her chin up.
“Young people started to act up, run off from home at night, party and drink and consume other drugs. I didn’t do like the others and that’s why some distanced themselves from me,” Rose says.
“Young people no longer knew where their lives were headed.”
Viola Jabu’s family is building a kitchen garden in front of an old petrol station. In the city every plot that can be used for growing is utilised. Pictured also cousins Grace (left) and Rose.
Viola Jabu was home schooling children and adolescents when schools where closed because of the pandemic.
Rose dreams of university studies and becoming a lawyer.
A new kind of threat
Yei is the third largest city in South Sudan and strategically important for commerce due to its location near the borders to both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.
The county surrounding the city is known as the granary of South Sudan, and in peacetime Yei can ensure the availability of food in the entire country.
The current peace agreement has been in force for over three years, yet outside the city there are still armed groups that haven’t signed it. The residents can’t go to the vast fields in the villages, so it’s common to see corn planted on roadsides all over the city.
Finn Church Aid (FCA) supports food security for returning migrants and their opportunities to earn a living with, for example, cash assistance. Tens of thousands of people have already returned from Uganda to star over in life, says Moses Habib, humanitarian coordinator at FCA.
“We’ve supported returning families with cash, so in the beginning they’re able to buy food, repair their homes and cover the costs of their children’s schooling,” he tells.
For years the residents of Yei have persisted in the face of various threats. On top of war, there is disease. A poster on the wall of a centre that registers returning migrants encourages getting vaccinated against polio. South Sudan is one of the few countries in the world in which the disease has been resurgent in recent years.
Another poster explains the symptoms of ebola and emphasises the importance of hand hygiene in stopping its spread. It resembles a newer poster next to it, which explains how to avoid catching Covid-19.
The most significant consequences of the pandemic are linked to livelihood and education. Globally, the UN estimates that the pandemic has pushed tens of millions of families to the brink of extreme poverty.
“Teachers had to find other jobs for when the schools were closed, and many students have had to support their families by working. We’re concerned that some of them won’t come back,” says Habib.
School-related costs, such as learning materials and school uniforms, can be too expensive for a poor family.
Rose (right) and her classmate Vivian are lucky, because they had the opportunity to return to school.
Work instead of school
18-year-old Samuel Ayki toils away at a vegetable plot with his two brothers. It’s only been two weeks since the beanie-wearing young man returned to Yei. Samuel spent the early stages of the pandemic as a refugee in Uganda, where school closures lasted for 80 weeks, longer than anywhere else in the world. Because of the restrictions on movement, the local market at the refugee settlement was closed, and Samuel’s mother Mary lost her income. Samuel was due to finish comprehensive school in spring 2020 and now he’s supposed to study at upper secondary level.
“Covid ruined my schooling. It feels like my brain became blunt because I wasn’t able to learn anything new,” Samuel says.
In South Sudan, schools reopened in May 2021. When a friend of Samuel’s went back to school in Yei, he encouraged Samuel to return home. However, all related costs, such as learning materials and school uniforms, were such a huge expense for a poor family that Samuel couldn’t afford them. On top of this, the family needed the money Samuel was able to make doing odd jobs here and there.
Samuel plans to save money to return to school. Work is difficult to find, as he’s been away from the city for a long time and the pandemic has impoverished businesses. “I’m sad seeing my friends and neighbours go to school, when I’m just looking for work or sitting at home. Sometimes I try to study on my own using the notebooks I brought back with me from Uganda,” Samuel tells.
Peter, the friend of 18-year-old Samuel (right), goes to school. In Yei, students stand out because of their uniforms.
“Samuel buys food for his siblings with the money he’s saved for school. I feel sad seeing him go job hunting instead of school,” says Samuel’s mother Mary.
Rose is preparing for the first exam week in 18 months.
The schools in South Sudan were opened in May 2021. Rose and other students have their temperature taken and everyone must wear a mask.
Covid-19 puts girls’ schooling at risk
Having fewer and fewer opportunities for making a living has driven families to desperate decisions. Many girls have had to get married, because marriages benefit families financially.
Child marriages were a severe problem in South Sudan already prior to the pandemic; almost every other girl married underage, and now the number of child brides and teenage pregnancies has only gone up. Getting pregnant almost always means that the girl drops out of school, and the consequences are drastic when it comes to continuing education. Rose’s best friend didn’t return to the classroom when the schools reopened their doors.
“She decided to get married. Now she has a baby and can’t return to school. I don’t know what that means to her future, but I miss her,” Rose says.
Working as a grocer, uncle Woi Wilson’s livelihood has been dependent on the road running to the capital Juba and the neighbouring Uganda. Due to the pandemic, the traffic of goods slowed down, resulting in less income for sellers and higher prices for food. With the help of cash assistance from FCA, the family was able to buy food and support the continuation of the children’s schooling. After a long struggle, Rose is preparing for her first exam week in 18 months.
Many other enthusiastic students are waiting by the gates of St. Joseph’s School, where a guard takes their temperature and checks everyone is wearing a face mask. Fortunately, there’s one to spare for a girl who has left hers at home.
“At school I feel safe. Learning brightens my mind and give meaning to my days,” beams Rose.
Text: Erik Nyström Photos: Antti Yrjönen Translation: Anne Salomäki
Finn Church Aid (FCA) works in the most vulnerable communities in South Sudan, supporting the food security and livelihood opportunities for families. In autumn 2021, a programme was started to offer cash assistance to help children and adolescents who’ve returned from Uganda to cover the cost of their schooling. Comprehensive schools receive support in organising schooling. Emergency help is offered to disaster victims regardless of age, background or gender.
As I am writing this, the Covid-19 pandemic is dominating the news and daily politics for the second year running. In fact, this topic has overshadowed other news to such an extent that it is hard to remember what went on in the world before Covid-19 testing, vaccines and coronavirus variants. Climate change, protracted conflicts, swarms of locusts destroying crops – does any of that ring a bell?
The work carried out by Finn Church Aid focuses on providing education, securing livelihoods and building peace. The objective of long-term development cooperation is to help entire communities become stable and self-sufficient.
We also respond to more urgent needs. After a massive explosion in the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut in August 2020, we delivered emergency assistance to those affected. When Covid-19 stopped trade and food deliveries at state borders in several parts of the world, we continued to provide emergency food assistance.
Some of the areas where we promote development cooperation, humanitarian assistance and peace do naturally overlap, just as global crises are inextricably intertwined. Many of our programme countries faced profound challenges even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Changes in climate and protracted conflicts have caused food crises, health crises and displacement of millions of people.
In South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, devastating floods have left two thirds of the country’s 11 million inhabitants in need of some form of humanitarian assistance as they are suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition.
Syria also has a disastrous decade of suffering behind it. This conflict-ridden country has spiralled into an economic crisis that, for Syrian people, translates into a shortage of food and lost income opportunities. An entire generation of children has gone to school in emergency conditions.
The global pandemic has ruthlessly exposed the weaknesses of many countries. In Nepal, more than 25 per cent of the country’s GDP has in recent years consisted of remittances by Nepalese working abroad. With the pandemic forcing migrant workers to return home, families have struggled for more than a year, trying to cope without an adequate income to guarantee a decent living.
But the pandemic has not brought all progress to a halt, even if we sometimes feel like it. In a number of projects, the situation has forced us to take a big leap forward in technology. For instance, in Kenya we distributed radios to enable women to participate in peace dialogues. Our objective in such projects was to make communities better equipped to resolve conflicts involving natural resources.
Without a doubt, we will face more challenges in the future. Our climate is becoming increasingly harsh, and in these changing conditions, it is likely that more epidemics will circulate in the population. Natural disasters will force people to leave their homes in growing numbers. According to forecasts, a high population growth rate in Africa will result in massive migration within the continent.
But the good news is that resilient societies are able to take better precautions and prepare for disasters. In time, the Covid-19 crisis will pass, and this is when Finn Church Aid’s efforts to improve education, support livelihoods and forge peace will bear fruit and produce even more tangible results. Those who have participated in our projects have been building a stronger foundation for their lives, enabling them to pursue a brighter future.
Ulriikka Myöhänen, Communications Specialist.
This text twas originally published in our Annual Report 2020 that came out recently. Would you like to know more about what was done?
Distance learning, quarantines and travel bans. Lockdowns, cancelled events, and hundreds of online meetings. Remembered as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was an exceptional year for everyone, including Finn Church Aid, writes executive director Jouni Hemberg.
Conditions have been dire in our programme countries before; however, this was the first time that a crisis affected the entire organisation. Even though we have experienced conflicts, earthquakes, natural disasters and epidemics, none of us had ever experienced a global pandemic.
Although what happened during the year took us and everyone else by surprise, we weren’t entirely caught off guard. As our teams are geographically dispersed, remote working is not unusual. In Finland, our entire Helsinki office relocated to employees’ homes practically overnight. When I compare the ease of remote working now to what it was a year ago, it’s as different as night and day. Our country offices in Asia, Africa and the Middle East were also able to ward off coronavirus infections for a long time, which was crucial for our Covid-19 response in 2020
The pandemic has inevitably affected our education, livelihoods and peace programme work. Schools worldwide switched to distance learning, and some had to shut down entirely in 2020. While families in Finland agonised over remote school and remote work arrangements from home, people in our programme countries needed to be even more resourceful. Without access to internet or any infrastructure, teachers travelled from village to village teaching children, and radio lessons were provided.
Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on livelihoods. Unlike in Europe where governments have taken responsibility for helping people and businesses cope, people in developing countries have been left to their own devices. In countries where social safety nets are weak, an epidemic much less dramatic than the Covid-19 pandemic can make life difficult. Unable to earn a living, people are forced to leave their homes and seek opportunities elsewhere. Forced migration is not only a risk in terms of the pandemic, but it also increases regional tensions. Conflicts arise regardless of epidemics, and this has made our peace work all the more challenging.
Despite such challenging circumstances, we as an organisation have performed extremely well. A significant increase in our international funding shows that partners such as the UN, the EU and other public funding providers, have strong faith in us and our vision.
However, the Covid-19 epidemic diminished our church collection income. With various social restrictions in place, we have been unable to reach our donors as we normally would. Passing the collection plate online is very difficult, and our hardworking face-to-face fundraisers were forced to stay at home. But while our internal funding in Finland decreased, so did our expenditures, as travel-related costs shrank. With that being said, we were fortunate to not experience significant losses in 2020.
A year amidst the pandemic has opened our eyes to new opportunities. We must be able to grow as an organisation and learn how to make effective use of new digital tools. Going forward, a large part of our education activities will no longer take place in physical buildings despite a vast number of people in places like Africa will still need access to education. This is where digital learning could come into play. The fact remains that the way we work will never be the same it was before the pandemic. We need to contemplate on the lessons learned during the pandemic and adopt new working modalities in the future.
As the Executive Director of Finn Church Aid, it is my heartfelt wish that we will soon defeat the pandemic and begin our journey to recovery. Our post-Covid-19 work will focus strongly on sustainable development. We will continue our efforts to promote education, peace, livelihoods and equality. And now that remote working has proved successful, we can start pursuing more ambitious environmental objectives, such as rethinking what constitutes as necessary travel.
Although 2020 was an extremely tough year for us at Finn Church Aid, it was also a major success story, thanks to our employees, board members and other elected representatives and volunteers. You are our most significant resource, and your valuable input allows us to help those most in need.
You are also the best indicator of quality and trust in our activities. Thanks to your efforts to develop our operations, our funding has increased. We learned a valuable lesson from the pandemic: when all the parts of our organisation come together, we can weather any crisis.
Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director for Finn Chruch Aid
This text twas originally published as the preamble of our Annual Report 2020 that came out recently. Would you like to know more about what was done?
Covid-19 increases poverty and aggravates the education crisis in developing countries, but solutions exist
For more than a year, Covid-19 has dominated the news globally. In March 2020, when the first restrictions were imposed, nobody could have imagined that we would still be combating a crisis a year later. The global impact of this pandemic has been and will continue to be enormous.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased global poverty for the first time in twenty years. The World Bank estimates that up to 93 million people were plunged into extreme poverty in 2020.
“For poor countries, the outlook is grim,” says Saara Lehmuskoski, a Senior Adviser at Finn Church Aid (FCA). When the pandemic hit, she was working as FCA’s country director in Cambodia.
“Many are reaching a level where just getting food on the table is difficult. For them, moving out of poverty will take a long time. In recent years, we have heard positive news about how people are being lifted out of poverty. Sadly, we’re now taking a big step backwards.”
With less economic activity, tax revenue will fall, which then leads to cutbacks. The World Bank estimates that two out of three developing countries have cut their education spending due to Covid-19. Combined with a rise in poverty, families and children who are already poor will be the ones most severely affected.
“In Cambodia, distance learning is only available for the richest children. The poorest rural students, who have limited access to education anyway, don’t own a television or a smartphone,” says Lehmuskoski.
Children no longer have access to education because schools are closed. And due to rising poverty, some families need children to work to make sure that everybody gets fed.
“In the long term, this is a terrible risk for the children who are now at school age. We will be dealing with the aftermath of this pandemic for another 10 to 15 years. Right now, we need to make sure that children stay at school and continue their learning so that, once the pandemic is over, young people completing their studies will be equipped to earn a living and engage actively with their communities,” says Lehmuskoski.
Digital learning provides access to education
In poorer countries, the education budget is often small in comparison to other expenditure. When a crisis such as Covid-19 strikes, funds are needed for healthcare and other similar items. Deputy executive director Tomi Järvinen at Finn Church Aid points out that decisions about short-term savings should not be taken at the expense of education.
“Research findings show that education is a key to higher gross domestic product and, of course, improved levels of personal income. Each year at school will boost the student’s future earnings. For girls, this rise is even more marked.”
School closures in response to the pandemic raised concerns about whether children, especially girls, would return to school in the poorest countries.
“What we hear from the field is that the scenarios presented at the beginning of the pandemic have, at least in part, materialised. We have seen more teenage pregnancies and child marriages, and the concerns about young people not returning to school are real,” says Järvinen.
To prevent children from dropping out of school, it is important to develop ways of communicating with learners and preparing them for the eventual return to school. In Kenya, FCA has supported efforts to ensure that schools maintain contact with students and young people return to school as soon as possible.
Digital learning is part of the solution for developing countries. It contributes to enabling access to education and to providing high-quality education for all. Going forward, digital solutions will continue to make remote education possible, for example when children are ill or unable to attend contact teaching for some other reason.
“We shouldn’t think that developing countries will take up digital learning at some later date. They have already gone digital in fields such as communication and commerce, and now we need to extend these solutions to education,” says Tomi Järvinen.
In fragile countries where FCA operates, the first stage of digitalisation means low-tech solutions, such as radio lessons and WhatsApp messaging. For example, radio receivers have been distributed and radio lessons broadcast to families in refugee camps and rural areas in Kenya.
“The situation is never hopeless; there’s always something we can do. Now we need to invest in digital learning and its development, and analyse the lessons learned from the Covid-19 crisis.”
The Covid-19 outbreak in Nepal is escalating quickly. From reporting around a hundred cases per day a month ago, Nepal currently registers a devastating number of 9,300 daily cases. The rate of positive tests is now the world’s highest – around 49 per cent of all conducted test are positive.
Nepal has a fragile health system and already experiences a lack of hospital beds, oxygen supplies and ventilators. The vaccine rollout has stopped, while the number of new infections is rising fast. Finn Church Aid (FCA) is extremely concerned about the situation, and its office in Nepal closely monitors developments while considering different ways to respond.
FCA Nepal works with the country’s most vulnerable communities and is looking for ways to continue its support amid the health crises, says Country Director Sofia Olsson.
“The situation is incredibly difficult right now. Hospitals have been completely full and overwhelmed for the past ten days, and it is estimated that we have less than 10 per cent of the projected need for ICUs, ventilators and oxygen supplies. The death rate is increasing dramatically due to the lacking resources”, she says.
Olsson says that Nepal urgently needs support from the international community.
“All in-country development partners are already working on this, but what is also essential right now is for the outside world to open its eyes to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Nepal and look beyond the Covid crisis in India. The situation in India is awful, but as Nepal has much less resources and capacities than our big neighbour, we are bound to see a significantly worse development in Nepal unless aid starts flowing in now”, Olsson says.
FCA has worked in Nepal for several years and remains, with its local partners, committed to joint efforts in addressing the humanitarian consequences and the socio-economic impact of the alarming virus outbreak.
The Covid-19 pandemic closed schools in Cambodia, but in response to the growing need for face-to-face support, career guidance and counselling services went mobile.
The Covid-19 pandemic keeps schools closed and requires students to carry on their studies at home via tools and programs for distance learning. The challenge is that some 60 per cent of the families in Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) target communities do not have access to the TV lessons initiated by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, or to any online learning resources.
FCA had to create alternative approaches to help students get uninterrupted support and maintain their routine in career guidance and counselling activities.
Going through thick and thin when reaching out to support students and their families with distance learning.
The career guidance and counselling services went mobile o respond to the need for face-to-face support. Teachers and school counsellors travel to nearby villages by tuk-tuk to meet the students, conduct lessons, distribute learning materials and provide guidance in various personal and career-related issues. They also discuss with caregivers and other family members of the students and provide advice on distance learning and how they can support their children with home learning.
These Mobile CGC Centers also raise Covid-19 awareness by spreading information on preventive measures such as frequent handwashing, social distancing and advice on wearing face masks.
When the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp, the Bangladeshi government announced that education was a non-essential activity, closed all education institutions, and instituted a countrywide lockdown. Hosting teacher trainings remotely became a challenge for the workers of FCA and DCA. Internet connectivity and access to IT tools are limited in areas of Bangladesh. Because of the pandemic, teachers were dealing with the extra stress of living under a lockdown, in an already heavily crisis-affected environment.
DCA and FCA education team members wanted to transform what they had learned during the pandemic into a package that could be used by any other partner at Cox’s Bazaar and in different local contexts in the world.
“The focus is as much on the participants as it is on the content,” FCA’s Education Technical Adviser Andreia Soares says. She has been seconded to the Cox’s Bazaar team of Dan Church Aid since March. “When we developed the package we paid attention to the participants’ relevant learning as well as well-being, and the process was very interactive,” she says.
Input and feedback from participants was constantly gathered and the activities were developed based on their experiences. Also volunteers from the Teachers Without Borders network helped with moving the training to digital channels. The training was delivered using both Zoom and WhatsApp offering both flexibility and social contact.
Teachers around the world have played a vital part in the fight against the coronavirus throughout the pandemic. On World Teachers’ Day October 5, we want to appreciate all teachers for their tremendous efforts.
Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, and forced schools to close in most parts of the world. Particularly in vulnerable communities, such as refugee settlements, teachers have found themselves in the frontline of the pandemic response.
Teachers raise awareness on Covid-19 and measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. They have also adopted new ways of teaching in a situation where education must continue and distance learning remains the only solution. Countries like Uganda had to discover new ways of learning from home.
Due to limited internet access, refugee settlements in Uganda have relied largely on lessons broadcasted on radio. Finn Church Aid (FCA) has supported the government’s policies of social distancing and distance learning by distributing radios and home learning packages to learners and their families, also enabling them to follow updates on the Covid-19 situation.
FCA along with UNHCR Uganda, with funding from EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) and Education Cannot Wait, distributed 1,403 radios and 141,825 home learning packages to learners in refugee settlements in Southwestern Uganda and the West Nile region.
Godfrey Baryakaijuka and Annet Rukundo have conducted radio lessons on Radio Nyumbani and supported home-based learning in Rwamwanja refugee settlement. They support the learners at their homes with working on their home learning packages that complement the broadcasts.
Godfrey Baryakaijuka, teacher
Photo: Hugh Rutherford / FCA
I walk from home to home, checking the assignments of learners and helping them with what they may find difficult. I sometimes walk very long distances as there are learners that stay in villages far away from me. The weather is not always favourable. It can be difficult to move when it is either too hot or if we are having heavy rains. On radio, I have conducted lessons on English and Mathematics for Primary 3 learners.
Teachers work hard to maintain the connection between the schools and the learners and to ensure that learning continues. I find that some learners have resorted to agriculture during school closure because of staying home for too long. I take it upon myself to approach these learners and encourage them. Teachers follow the procedures set to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and also remind families of the importance of social distancing and wearing masks.
I love being a teacher, not even school closure has affected my passion. I enjoy giving guidance to my students and being a source of comfort for them. Many of them ask me if schools will ever open or if they will ever see their friends at school. I keep reassuring them that there will be a day when they can all return to school.
My biggest priority during this pandemic is to keep learners motivated and eager to continue with their education regardless of the obstacles.
Annet Rukundo, teacher
Photo: Hugh Rutherford / FCA
Most learners I interact with keep asking me when they can go back to school. It makes me very proud because I know that a lot of them want to return. Parents also show a lot of interest in their children’s learning. When there was a lockdown in the refugee settlement, most of the teachers also stayed at home. We were very happy when we were called back to teaching.
I have conducted radio lessons on English for Primary four and five over the radio. During my lessons, learners within the community would reach me via phone for further explanations while on air. Before the home learning packages were distributed and radio lessons conducted, I would see learners usually around the school playgrounds and compounds idle and doing nothing. The lessons have kept them engaged with learning at home.
One of the challenges of distance learning was that some learners had no access to radios. Some who did could not afford to buy airtime to their phones, and therefore could not call the teacher for further assistance. In addition, delivering lessons on the radio is teacher-centred and not learner-centred.
In a class, you are able to give learners more attention whereas, on the radio, you would not be able to know if what you are teaching is well understood or not. When it was time to receive calls on the live radio broadcasts, the lines would usually be busy. It was hard for learners to reach the teacher.
I am now conducting home-based learning within the community and reach out to learners in their homes. We teach from Monday to Thursday and on Friday, we teachers meet to review and discuss challenges and agree on a way forward. We also have inter-school meetings with other teachers to share experiences and work at improvising better teaching methods.
I am glad that schools gradually start opening on October 15 starting with candidate classes as decided by the government of Uganda. I know the learners are excited and this makes me happy.
Education remains key in any situation we might encounter.
The teacher interviews were conducted by FCA Uganda’s Communications Officer Sharon Shaba. FCA along with the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR supported learners in Rwamwanja refugee settlement with home learning packages and radios.
World Teachers’ Day on October 5 celebrates teachers in crises. The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly added to the challenges of teachers to protect people’s right to education but teachers like 27-year-old Obang Omot Oboya ensure no one is left behind during school closures.
Mr Oboya teaches mathematics and science in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Below, he explains how teachers stepped up to the challenge.
“The year 2020 brought along with it perhaps one of the biggest challenges that the world’s teachers have faced. Kenya is not an exception. Even teachers with decades of experience have had to learn something new: how do we support learners when they cannot come to school?
Finn Church Aid distributing solar-powered radios in Kakuma refugee camp.
Following the school closures, teaching in Kenya moved to radio broadcasts and virtual platforms. The first step for us was ensuring that learners in Kakuma refugee camp had access to the national broadcasts. FCA distributed radios to the families, and we worked together with agencies in finding new solutions to complement the radio lessons with recaps and homework.
Schools have assigned each teacher in Kakuma a cluster of groups with six learners per group. Six learners share one radio. The arrangement adheres to the social distancing guidelines of Kenya’s Ministry of Health as the FCA supported teachers accompany each group separately.
At the end of every lesson, the radio teacher usually gives assignments. We mark their homework, and this makes radio lessons more authentic.
As long as learners cannot come to school, we have to go to them.
Mathematical formulas need to be visualised
Mr Oboya visualises radio lessons on a blackboard.
The first days were challenging for both teachers and learners. As teachers, we are in the habit of being personally in touch with learners in the classroom, be it just going around and seeing what they are doing. This is not possible for the radio teacher. And for my part, my current role does not include, for instance, planning lessons. We rely on what the radio teacher prepares.
In the beginning, it was difficult to catch the interest of learners through the radio and get them into a radio class routine. We also had to help learners with tuning in to the right frequency.
To enable learners to be attentive during the radio lesson, I usually come with a blackboard and chalk for the purpose of demonstration. The learners have to see the mathematical formulas while they follow the radio lessons on math. This helps learners to be attentive.
I also break down lessons into segments and achievable goals, and I attend to each student individually to ensure that they grasp the concepts. By now, everyone has got the hang of it.
A fruitful collaboration between teachers and parents
The new ways of learning have also provided relief to both teachers and learners, compared to our usual setting. I can now attend to each learner’s needs differently compared to a classroom. It is easier to listen to a group of six learners at the time than to the 80 learners I used to teach in a classroom. Teachers can quickly identify and support, for instance, slow learners.
I now teach 48 learners per day, divided into eight groups. There are eight radio lesson per day, 35 minutes each, which means I give one lecture per group. The remaining 32 learners from my class are taught by parents who volunteer as teachers after training with FCA.
What has been most important is that the parents are also involved in their children’s learning process. We collaborate more with parents since they join us in accompanying the pupils during the radio lessons and ensure that their children do their assignments. Parents and teachers collaborate in motivating the children and monitoring that they do their homework.
We also collaborate more with the parents on WhatsApp for the children’s learning, for instance, by recording learning materials on our phones and sharing them with parents in WhatsApp groups that we have established. The learners have to use their parents’ devices.
Girls at risk during distance learning
There is, unfortunately, one function that the distance learning arrangements cannot fully address: schools typically constitute a safe space for children and youth, particularly girls.
When girls are in school, they are less likely to become victims of sexual abuse or be forced into marriage. During this pandemic, the school buildings cannot protect the girls.
Some of the learners I used to teach have become pregnant during the time schools have been closed. We conclude that our homes and camps are not safe when the children are idle.
The affected girls need psychosocial support and assistance in continuing with their education.
Teaching is a call and a passion. The best World Teachers’ Day gift I can give my learners in this year of the pandemic is my time and spirit of adapting to the distance learning.
I hope that my pupils will not let this episode blindly, that they will be more resilient and take the new norms as a way of life and achieve their goals.”
Teacher Obang Omot Oboya was interviewed by FCA Kenya’s Communications Intern Elizabeth Oriedi. FCA works with education in Kakuma refugee camp together with Unicef and UNHCR.