The Sustainable Development Goal 4 [SDG-4] focuses on quality education and is among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in September 2015. The SDG 4 hopes to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
Owing to the direct link between education and socio-economic development, the United Nations made comprehensive plans to increase the underserved communities’ access to quality education, particularly the girl child. However, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in 2018, approximately one-fifth of the global children population do not have access to education. Moreover, more than half of all children and adolescents worldwide are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics.
To adequately measure the progress of SDG 4, the United Nations developed ten targets to be measured by 11 indicators. The ten targets were further divided into outcome-oriented targets and the methods of achieving these targets.
How Space Technologies can help improve the quality of education
- Digital learning / tele-education via satellite;
- Digital attendance monitoring and provision of incentives for parents to reduce dropout rates; and
- Comprehensive distance learning opportunities for underserved communities.
How space technology improved learning in Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic
The first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic led to school closures worldwide. According to UNICEF, at least 1.5 billion children were affected by the school closure worldwide. In addition, most of the world’s children [especially those from low-income earning regions] were deprived of formal education during the school closure worldwide.
Several initiatives were established and implemented to ensure that learning continues across the continent, leveraging space technologies for distance learning. For example, technologies like video conferencing allow educators and students to create virtual classrooms, especially in remote areas where the most accessible form of internet connectivity is satellite.
Other forms of tele-education allow people to access tailored online course content at their preferred time. Before the pandemic, many institutions mainly adopted online education, hoping to increase their reach to prospective students worldwide who might not have the opportunity to attend physical classes. However, in recent times, switching to remote learning platforms has become the one viable way to ensure that learning continues.
For example, IMlango, through its comprehensive educational programme tailored for improving learning outcomes and enrolment numbers in Kenya, has supported 180,000 pupils, including 70,000 marginalised girls, in 240 schools across four counties – Kajiado, Kilifi, Makueni and Uasin Gishu.
Since 2014, iMlango has supported students in Kenya through a public-private partnership between six actors- Avanti communications Group, sQuid, Camara education, Whizz Education, Kenyan ministry of education, and Department For International Development (DFID).
Avanti Communications Group provides broadband connectivity via its HYLAS 2 Ka-band satellite. This satellite broadband, as opposed to terrestrial networks, which are almost non-existent in remote communities, connects the schools to the internet for access to the e-learning platform. In addition, sQuid provides an e-learning platform for learning, a smart attendance system to monitor pupils attendance and a financial platform for payments of incentives to parents—furthermore, Camara education and Whizz Education support iMlango with refurbished computers and educational content.
KHULA Education, an initiative supported by the David Rattray Foundation, uses satellite broadband to provide internet connectivity to remote primary schools in the uMzinyathi district, South Africa. The satellite broadband was sponsored by Morclick in partnership with Yahclick during the Covid-19 lockdown. Following the availability of internet connection in the schools, KHULA Education provided iPads and laptops to teachers and pupils with assistance from well-meaning individuals.
Fourteen years after its establishment, KHULA Education works in 21 rural schools in KwaZulu-Natal, supporting 6,000 children and 200 teachers in Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana.
Furthermore, Zinox Technologies and Spacecom, together with Intertel, signed a multi-year contract in March 2021 to enable internet connectivity and e-learning solutions for schools in Nigeria. Zinox leverages the Spacecom C-Band high throughput satellite (HTS) capacity of its AMOS-17 satellite, covering 49 African countries, the Middle East and Europe.
In addition, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) launched an e-learning platform to support the growing community of students and young researchers studying astronomy at universities in South Africa and the eight Square Kilometre Array Africa partner countries.
The e-learning platform provides online teaching and learning content on various radio astronomy-related topics, including the fundamentals of radio interferometry – an introduction to the techniques required to extract science from telescope arrays such as MeerKAT – and software tools for radio astronomy, for example, GitHub for Astronomers. These topics and content were curated in collaboration with the Rhodes University Centre for Radio Astronomy Techniques and Technologies.
Kenyan mobile network operator Safaricom also partnered with Eneza Education, Longhorn Publishers and Viusasa to provide free access to educational content for primary and secondary school students to study from home.
While schools and universities were closed, Orange Liberia waived data charges for online educational content to students and teachers via the Orange Campus Africa’s website. In the same vein, Orange customers without data allowances will also be able to take advantage of the educational materials provided.
One major factor that would determine the success of distance learning programs in Africa is internet connectivity. Africa has a severe connectivity problem, making it challenging for individuals and businesses to stay connected. The problem can be attributed to inadequate coverage, accessibility costs and lack of infrastructure. Success then would be largely dependent on how to provide internet connectivity, especially in remote areas, to ensure that no one is left behind.
Ensuring the sustainability of quality education initiatives in Africa
The Covid-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for many countries, particularly those without the adequate capacity to provide a hybrid learning environment. We must continue to build on the successful online learning campaigns of the past year to improve our preparedness for different education models. The world is barely recovering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, to ensure that we continue to improve the quality of education, we need to establish recovery programmes for students, especially those in the underserved communities, to ensure that they receive the necessary support to catch up with their peers.
Governments need to provide the proper facilities to ensure that every institution under their watch is equipped with the right personnel and tools required to operate at an optimal level. However, due to the lack of infrastructure across Africa, this would be a long term process and would require proactive steps to be taken from the grassroots level.
Furthermore, most of these initiatives require stable internet access, a major concern for remote areas across the continent. Therefore, governments should make significant investments in the information technology sector to ensure broadband internet connectivity, especially in areas where the infrastructures for terrestrial internet connectivity are unavailable.