kids at receiving end

Millions of African children rely on TV education during pandemic

Millions of African children rely on TV education during pandemic

UNICEF says at least half of sub-Saharan Africa's schoolchildren do not have the Internet access. Reuters

Nairobi, September 15

Five-year-old Kenyan student Miguel Munene sits between his parents, holding their hands as he watches cartoon characters teaching him to pronounce "fish".

The television has replaced Munene's teachers and classmates after the government shut schools indefinitely in March to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. They are closed until at least January.

Many children don't have the option to learn online - the United Nations children's agency UNICEF says at least half of sub-Saharan Africa's schoolchildren do not have the Internet access.

Better learning

  • In March, programmes by Ubongo - the Kiswahili word for brain - were broadcast to an area covering about 12 million households in nine countries, said Iman Lipumba, Ubongo's head of communications.
  • That rose to 17 million in 20 countries by August.

So some, like Munene, watch a cartoon made by Tanzanian non-profit organisation Ubongo, which offers television and radio content for free to African broadcasters.

“Other programmes are just for fun, but Ubongo is helping children," Miguel’s mother Celestine Wanjiru said. “He can now differentiate a lot of shapes and colours, both in English and Swahili.”

"The COVID-19 pandemic has really forced us to rapidly grow," Li pumba said.

A group of artists, innovators and educators set up Ubongo TV in Tanzania in 2014. It has received around $4 million in grants since, and earned $700,000 from YouTube, product sales, character licensing, and co-production of programmes.

For Munene and other schoolchildren, programmes like Ubongo's are their only option to learn for now.

Kenya's education ministry says schools can only reopen when the number of COVID-19 cases drops substantially.

“You have the kid with you all the time so when you have such programmes, they are a big help,” Patrick Nyaga, Miguel’s father, a security guard, said.

But television cannot completely replace teaching.

“The way the children learn through programmes is different (from) the way they interact with others and teachers,” Nyaga said. "We are hoping that they open soon." Reuters

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