A Young 1ove TaRL facilitator explains a maths sum to learners. Photo: Young 1ove
The world is grappling with the spread of COVID-19, with over 1.3 million confirmed cases around the world. In addition to the direct health effects of the pandemic, education systems and student learning worldwide have been paralyzed. According to UNESCO, 188 countries around the world have shut down schools country-wide and over 1.5 billion learners are out of school. Botswana is no exception: the government has shut down all schools for at least the next six months.
We are rapidly adapting to the COVID-19 crisis and remain committed to connecting youth to proven life-saving information through our health and education programmes. We took decisive and early action to ensure our beneficiaries would not be left behind due to the pandemic. Shortly after the closure of schools, our team worked fervently to collect 10,000 student phone numbers across four regions of Botswana in just three days. This would enable us to engage students through mobile learning interventions for the foreseeable future. Our nationwide staff is excited to chart this new territory in conjunction with our partners including the Government of Botswana, MIT and J-PAL, Pratham and Brookings, and we’re currently hard at work combing through evidence in order to design effective mobile texting and calling learning interventions.
Young 1ove’s Regional Coordinator for the North-Eastern Region of Botswana, Katlego Sengadi, noted that the data collection process was not an easy feat to accomplish in 72 hours. However, she was proud that the team of approximately 20 field and office staff who “acted promptly to collect student contacts, and managed to collect close to 100% of the contacts needed: team work makes the dream work!”
In the Kgatleng region in Southern Botswana, our sub-regional coordinator, Kaone Kgope, echoed Katlego’s comment: “At first it was a lot of work with several hours spent collecting hundreds of contacts daily, but our passion and desire to continue making an impact kept us motivated.” Kaone stressed the promise of mobile learning both during this crisis, and beyond, since it “will give flexibility to the learner as they can learn at any place, any time.”
For many of our students, our phone-based interventions may be the only educational instruction they receive during the school-closure period. Figures from a recent Center for Global Development article, illustrate that only about 15-60% of households in low and middle income countries have internet access. Comparatively, 70-90% of households own at least one mobile phone. This suggests that phone-call and texting interventions have unique potential to reach the masses. We are also exploring radio and television programming and providing linkages between direct phone-based support and mass media.
As we innovate, we plan to rigorously test our interventions in Botswana. Evidence is needed now more than ever as the world grapples to find new, simple, scalable and effective models for education. We plan to share results publicly to enable as many students as possible all over the world to benefit from any innovations we try. Here is a call to action for anyone reading this: if you have ideas for effective interventions, please send them our way. If you want us to share what we learn with you, send us a note. Over a billion of out-of-school children deserve to continue progressing in their education and livelihoods during this challenging time. We plan to do our part.