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Remote Learning among Vulnerable Families during COVID-19 in Rwanda: Opportunities, Challenges and the Potential for Sustainability

Tusiime, Michael; Imaniriho, Dan

At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, every country proactively adopted measures to protect its citizens from COVID-19 related risks. In different parts of the world, schools were closed and students sent home without well thought plans regarding how learning would continue. Rwanda opted for the mass school shut-down option by closing all schools effective from 16th March 2020. Subsequently, the Government of Rwanda, in collaboration with its education partners, devised strategies to promote remote learning in order to minimize the repercussion of COVID-19 on the Rwandan education system. These strategies included the implementation of remote learning, but this option required online learning infrastructure and related equipment like TVs and radios. The relatively affluent families hired private tutors to help children learn at home, whilst children from poor families went without having access to any forms of online learning. They barely had access to scripted lessons developed by Rwanda Education Board (REB) that were aired on radio and broadcast on TVs. It was an unfortunate situation that exposed pre-existing inequalities in the education situation, and something had to be done to leverage access to educational opportunity.

REB and other developing partners initiated a series of interventions to ensure that even poor families were provided with basic infrastructure and learning materials to facilitate learning during the time school were closed.   Against this backdrop, the University of Rwanda through the Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures Network Plus (TESF) procured solar powered Radios that were distributed to vulnerable families to enhance access to scripted lessons and mitigate COVID-19 learning disruptions. This paper reports on this intervention and explores the relevance of this support and education stakeholders’ perceptions about the utility of solar powered radios in the context of school lockdown and beyond. It further analyses the opportunities that were negotiated for children’s smooth learning, and the challenges they encountered during their remote learning.  The   paper explores potential for sustainable remote learning as an option for addressing inequities to education, especially during COVID-19 and other related pandemics.

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