Corona, education, and how to make virtue of need

By Marina Versluis

For us in South Sudan we are painfully reminded that we very much depend on foreign input, most importantly food and skilled workforce.

The corona pandemic rapidly made the world to stop. Everybody becomes more and more dependent on what they can do and produce within their geographical boundaries. Countries that have invested in a sustainable economy with a diverse mix of production and services are paid off now.

We are a mono-productive and importing country and are affected most.

The oil revenue has masked this reality and made us not to feel this so much. Just sell off some oil and import whatever you desire. Whatever was missing after that has been addressed by the hundreds of humanitarian organizations, which has made us even more dependent on foreigners, their knowledge and skills.

This pandemic makes it clear that somehow we have to address these challenges now, without delay. We need our own workforce with professional skills and knowledge.

The fact is that we don’t have them, and to develop them to the level of professionals will take several years. We pay for the many years that we have neglected education in South Sudan. Since a while more and more leaders and policymakers realize this and conclude that there is urgent need to increase our investment in the people of South Sudan, even UN and NGO’s shift slowly from humanitarian aid to institution building and education.

And now there is Coronavirus and the schools are closed. And this is not likely to go away soon, so what will we do? Will we go the wrong direction again?

While a large part of the world is paralyzed by the threat of the corona pandemic, others make virtue of need. Yesterday I saw an advertisement from Afritank Juba for a hands-free wash tank combination.

A beautiful product, locally made, and an important step to make good hygiene practice easy. This is the resilient spirit that characterizes the survivors, the winners.

And in that spirit we can make virtue of need, so let us not despair but think solutions and opportunities.

Let me give some examples:

Challenge: The schools are closed to avoid the spread of the virus.

Effect: Children are home, playing in the neighborhood and not getting any education. Teachers are idling at home.

Possible solution:  We make a learning environment where the virus cannot spread

Easiest would be by making a virtual school (through internet), Many countries do that already. Especially for the universities this should be possible to some extent, and a good step to diversify the services for the future as well.

We could also think of alternative furnace/arrange/organize the learning environment. For adult education this is quite possible as they can be easier disciplined; keep distance, washing, using protective gear etc.

Radio for teaching children (and their parents) is totally virus free, non-discriminating and relative cheap. Can work for primary and secondary. If this is supported with teaching materials for home use…. Yes, we believe radio can play an important role!

Opportunities: While class-rooms and schools are not in use for teaching and training….

               They can be used for other purposes. e.g. if we expect a large number of sick people we can use the schools for space for quarantine and/or medical treatment.

                       If the schools are not in use, then this is the right time for maintenance and renovation.

                       And if the teachers are not teaching….

                       Teachers have time for improving their own professional skills. Let us organize training for the teachers and trainers using the alternative learning environments as described above.

                       Teachers have time to develop the above mentioned radio programs and internet classes and this could remain an alternative educational trajectory for them who cannot attend school, for whatever reason.

                       Teachers can help to develop and improve the teaching materials; a huge workforce is now available for the ministry of education to improve with big steps, almost budget neutral.

                       Radio maker, film makers, internet and telephony providers, engineers, educationalist, NGO’s, Ministries, school directors…… use your imagination and you will find that there are many alternatives for whatever you find to be an obstruction.

This is our call for the High Level Task Force Committee to be aware of solutions and opportunities like the above, to stimulate these initiatives and to create space for such developments.

This is a call for UN and NGO’s not to delay training courses, but to increase efforts using all means and alternatives available.

This is a call for all professionals, directly or in-directly involved in education and training, to be creative and develop alternatives, solutions and exploit opportunities.

The future of South Sudan depends on education; we call upon all policy and decisions makers, all professionals in education, all direct or in-direct involved:

Let us be creative, flexible and turn this challenge into opportunities.

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