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Homeschooling, Ethiopia's Parents Not Ready


May 16 , 2020
By Ravi Sreenath ( Founder of Accelerated Learning )


Ravi Sreenath is the founder of Accelerated Learning, a social enterprise that supports teachers and educators in Eastern Africa to deliver lessons every day to over 35,000 students. He recently launched the free Telegram channel, Accelerated Homeschooling. He can be reached at ravi@accelerated.co.



Parents across the world are at their wit's end trying to school their children at home during this COVID-19 crisis. In Ethiopia, parents are having a much tougher time than their counterparts elsewhere.

Schools are providing minimal support, internet availability and usage is limited, and quality materials in local languages are scarcely available. On top of all these resource constraints, parents have to be responsible not only for their daily tasks but also for keeping their children productively engaged throughout the day. Parents need support, strategies and resources to help them successfully school their children at home. The alternative is grim, and Ethiopia as a nation could risk a huge gap in child learning and development.

Homeschooling is one of the top trending social-media topics in the last few months and has garnered wide coverage in international media. Yet homeschooling is not a new idea. Families have been homeschooling kids in many countries around the world. This is mostly because of religious reasons or in cases where the children require special-needs care and education.

For instance, Bingham Academy in Ethiopia has provided a homeschooling option for a few years now. However, homeschooling has never been practised at such a scale as it is now at any other point in modern history, and parents and students are facing the brunt of this new reality.

Successful schooling at home needs three key elements: learning materials; skills and capacity; and willingness and motivation.

Primarily, parents in Ethiopia have limited access to high-quality, structured learning materials and resources. These learning materials include curriculum-based content, worksheets, quizzes and assessments and learning games and activities. Apart from standard-issue textbooks that are designed for in-classroom use, there are not many supplementary materials that can be adapted for at-home use.

As many schools have also been caught off-guard by this sudden closure, the support they can provide remotely to parents is nominal. Though schools have created various online groups to distribute materials and worksheets, these resources are not well designed to meet learning objectives. Parent-focused guides are a rarity, and there are no instructions to parents on how to use and administer these worksheets.

Parents' readiness in terms of skill and capacity is also very low. In many countries, including Israel, South Africa, India and even Sweden and Italy, we observe the same trend: parents are underprepared and lack the necessary skills and tools to support their students.

Parents are struggling to complete simple tasks like managing time and schedules, setting up learning routines, and organising an effective learning environment, while also dealing with complex issues such as managing their own mental health and well-being as well as that of their children in these times of extreme uncertainty and stress.

Finally, parental willingness and motivation to school at home is in short supply. While this is mostly a result of the above two factors, other reasons also contribute to low parental motivation. Most working parents these days are also working from home or have limited their external activities. Adapting to this new paradigm of lockdowns and telecommuting is already a huge shift and needs considerable habituation. Educating children with limited external support has become a further complication and its understandable that parents might opt for the path of least resistance and let their children play or watch TV most of the time.

It is mothers who are mostly involved in and are responsible for educating their children at home. Fathers, siblings and other family members come a distant second, third and fourth. Even if this finding seems fairly obvious, it is a vital observation for policymakers and education service providers. These stakeholders need to take into account their primary users and understand their needs while designing new learning materials and types of messaging they build around at-home schooling. Mothers are already heavily involved in various aspects of home management, including meal preparation, hygiene and sanitation, and shopping for groceries and supplies. They also act as primary caregivers to children and senior family members. Over and above all these activities that they regularly perform, mothers are now tasked with homeschooling their children. The quality time they can dedicate to education will be minimal at best.

What all of these challenges point to is that parents everywhere are underprepared to meet this new reality of homeschooling. Parents need frequent and practical advice and solutions to manage this transition effectively. A few educational video broadcasts and a few hastily designed worksheets will not cut it. If we do not commit ourselves to addressing this issue together immediately, we may reap a dividend of ever-widening educational inequalities.



PUBLISHED ON May 16,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1046]



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