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Covid-19: what impacts on the early childhood sector?

Faced with school closures in at least 188 countries around the world as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, many educational institutions have had to set up a distance learning…

Faced with school closures in at least 188 countries around the world as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, many educational institutions have had to set up a distance learning system. This temporary reorganization of activity will certainly have a strong and lasting impact on educational structures.

If this distance learning is sometimes complex, particularly because of the problems of connection or availability of computer tools, it is even more so for the early childhood sector, given the risk of overexposure of toddlers to digital tools and the lack of autonomy of the latter in their learning, as evidenced by the three actors dedicated to this sector met for this article.

 

Reinventing learning

The current health crisis has forced educational institutions as a whole to reinvent and rethink their activities. La Coccinelle, a network of crèches and nursery schools in Côte d’Ivoire, has put online exercises, educational games, nursery rhymes and some graphic design, pre-reading and mathematics activities so that children do not lose their skills. At Kër ImagiNation, a learning and cultural center for children in Senegal, online sessions by Zoom were carried out in small groups to enable better participation by the children. As the sessions progressed, the content and the way of interacting with the children at a distance became more refined, for example by using puppets or proposing simple educational experiences, such as an experiment on water, which the children could carry out at home with their parents.

E-learning, although possible and sometimes even favorable for theoretical subjects, does not easily lend itself to practical learning. At La Coccinelle, for example, parents had to print out the exercises to enable the children to work on paper. Because many fields, such as graphic design, cannot be learned online. At the Institut Académique des Bébés in Senegal, a training school dedicated to the professional training of children’s professions, practical subjects represent about 45% of the learners’ curriculum. For these subjects, e-learning was not feasible and practical workshops were conducted on the premises, in small groups. However, this required a significant investment for the promoter, as the whole school organization had to be rethought. The space had to be rearranged in order to respect the meter of social distance between the learners. Masks and hydro-alcoholic gel had to be purchased to equip the learners and trainers. Finally, between each group, the premises had to be disinfected.

E-learning, although possible and sometimes even favorable for theoretical subjects, does not easily lend itself to practical learning.

 

Many difficulties arise with this learning

The crisis revealed huge disparities in the level of emergency preparedness of countries, children’s access to the Internet and the availability of educational materials. These difficulties make it difficult for children who are far away from these tools to learn.   In addition, distance learning has often required the training of both parents and trainers in digital tools.

Finally, home-schooling for toddlers requires the presence of a parent or an adult who is able to accompany the child in his or her learning. However, the latter’s professional occupations were not necessarily compatible with the children’s needs. The closure of schools left parents confused about how to support their children’s learning at home. Aware of these issues, Karima Grant, founder of Kër ImagiNation, now wishes to develop a project specifically dedicated to parents, in order to support them, through a platform, in parenting and pedagogy.

 

The same concern: the future of the early childhood sector and, consequently, the future of these children

The realities of the early childhood sector are of particular concern, as the recovery of tuition fees is even more complex in times of school closures, compounded by the costs of school staff and operations. Many early childhood actors in Sub-Saharan Africa are today in a delicate situation, with an uncertain start to the new school year.

The latter feel forgotten by the public authorities, even though the early childhood sector is essential for the development and construction of the child. In Bangladesh, a study implemented by the World Bank’s Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund (SIEF) revealed that providing young children with an extra year of pre-school education is an effective way to improve school readiness for both boys and girls (especially girls). Researchers measured the impact of an extra year of preschool for children at age 4, compared to the standard year of only one year from age 5. After two years, children who were offered an extra year of preschool had significantly higher scores in literacy, numeracy and social-emotional development than children who were offered preschool only from age 5.

According to Sara Adico, director of La Coccinelle, “The awakening, simulation and development of children have been left behind. But if early childhood is well supervised, it promotes a good psychological development of the child, which is beneficial for the whole nation”.

Children have already begun to unlearn, both in terms of skills (graphics, dictation, etc.) and psychic skills (social interactions, motor skills, etc.), a situation that is more serious for children with psychosocial problems. According to these actors, if the situation were to drag on, it should affect primary, secondary and finally higher education in the years to come, and thus represent a real problem in term of human capital and economic repercussions.

If the situation were to drag on, it should affect primary, secondary and finally higher education in the years to come, and thus represent a real problem in term of human capital

 

Whether for Sara Adico of La Coccinelle, Karima Grant of Kër ImagiNation or Fa Diallo of IAB, the current crisis can be an opportunity to reinvent and rethink the early childhood sector. It is a way for the early childhood education community, once the weaknesses of the digital tool as a solution to early childhood distance learning are recognized, to seek innovative solutions to improve the added value of child care.  But for this to happen, a reflection must be conducted with all stakeholders (families, public institutions, major employers, etc.) to find and create systems that are conducive to the psychological development of children. With regard to early childhood, it is not appropriate to limit efforts in the field of health or nutrition, since the lack of quality early childhood care structures can be especially damaging to the child’s psychological development and thus, in the longer term, have real economic and human capital implications.

 

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Discover the article “African schools: facing the covid-19 crisis”

 

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A conversation with Bachir Rockya Lahilaba, founder of Sahel Délices

The covid-19 pandemic has led to the implementation of lockdown measures in many African countries. These had a deep impact on economic activities, particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises. In…

The covid-19 pandemic has led to the implementation of lockdown measures in many African countries. These had a deep impact on economic activities, particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises.

In this context, I&P, FERDI and the Club Africain des Entrepreneurs are working together to produce a series of articles studying how African SMEs are coping with the health and economic crisis and the measures to be taken to help them overcome the crisis.

The first article in this series relates the story of Mrs. Bachir Rockya Lahilaba, founder of the Nigerien company Sahel Délices. Launched in 2015 Sahel Délices seeks to enhance the value of local agricultural resources. Juices based on local plants such as bissap or baobab are the flagship products of the company, which also produces herbal teas, spices and jams.

 

How did you get through the health and economic crisis of Covid-19 these last few months? What have been the impacts on Sahel Délices?

When the number of Covid-19 cases began to increase a few months ago, we quickly realized that this crisis would also directly affect the African continent. At first, everyone was afraid. We had to close Sahel Délices for a while to see how the situation would evolve. But gradually the fear was overcome, the shop opened again.  We decided to continue the activity, following the sanitary measures and all the instructions of the government.

Several difficulties emerged as the crisis unfolded:

The first difficulty was the supply of fresh ingredients. Niamey had been isolated from the rest of the country during lockdown, but all the fresh products come from rural areas. Women normally come from surrounding rural market to sell their products in the city, but they could no longer move around because there were no buses between the villages and the capital. This led to an increase in the price of commodities such as baobabs, tamarins, hibiscus, etc.

The supply of packaging was the second problem. The packaging we use comes from Nigeria, but the border was closed due to the pandemic, and the costs have risen sharply. Sahel Délices tried to adapt by buying bottles made here in Niger, but the local production does not have meet our usual quality standards, some customers were not satisfied.

Third problem: during the first two months (March, April), our deliverymen often forgot to wear masks and gloves. At the production level, there were no problems since masks and gloves were already mandatory, but we had to be very careful with the deliverymen because they were not used to it. Customers rejected the order if the deliverymen did not comply with these conditions.

In addition, Sahel Délices had to cope with a decline in sales. Our flagship products, the fruit juices, usually sell better during the hottest periods and during the month of Ramadan. The curfew, set at 7 pm, limited consumption time. Besides, most people had to cut back on their expenses, having spent so much in health supplies and provisions.

Gradually the fear was overcome, the shop opened again.  We decided to continue the activity, following the sanitary measures and all the instructions of the government.

 

Did you receive any support during the crisis?

Sahel Délices is financed by the fund Sinergi Niger since 2019, and this partnership has brought us a lot in terms of financing and support. We regularly hold management boards, which allow us to take full advantage of the team’s experience! These boards have always been maintained, even at the height of the crisis.

Sinergi helped us to acquire some new equipment. In 2015, our production was totally artisanal, but it is gradually being transformed into semi-industrial production. Before the arrival of the Covid, Sahel Délices had planned to launch a low-price range of juices to reach smaller consumers, but the crisis postponed the launch.

 

What kind of support do you need today, considering the context?

Sahel Délices is a company that started on equity capital thanks to our partners, Sinergi Niger and the French Embassy. Today, we would like to promote our products throughout the country and, in the medium term, in the surrounding countries. The solutions proposed by the government are not very adequate.

Financially speaking, we were able to benefit from subsidies and everything was fine in terms of loans and repayments before the covid-19 crisis. The government’s response to help the private sector mainly consists of granting credits to SMEs and large companies. But is credit a solution for SMEs? These companies are often already struggling to cope with prior debt. This option seems to deepen the problems rather than solve them.

As far as Sahel Délices is concerned, we are not really expecting subsidies or grants, but we need support to develop our sales and a marketing plan, including communication and marketing materials. This would really help the company get back on its feet!

 

A final word or concluding remark?

I would just say that this situation is difficult for everyone. 2020 is the hardest year experienced by Sahel Délices so far. We are well aware of the problems posed by this crisis. For the first time since its creation, Sahel Délices is unable to meet some of its commitments. But we should not give up. Solutions exist, we need to identify or create them. The most important is to put an end to the paralysis. The life of an entrepreneur is a constant struggle: the key is adaptation.

But we should not give up. Solutions exist, we need to identify or create them. The most important is to put an end to the paralysis.

 

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African schools: facing the covid-19 crisis

The management of the Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting global education. The closure of schools and universities across 184 countries have sent home 1.5 billion students, representing more than 90% of…

The management of the Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting global education. The closure of schools and universities across 184 countries have sent home 1.5 billion students, representing more than 90% of the world’s students [1].

Since mid-March, a large proportion of African schools and universities have closed their doors. However, these closures do not mean that teaching activities have come to a complete cessation. Whether public, private or supported by associations, all institutions are trying to do their best to provide transitional solutions so that pupils can continue their schooling and so that the precious learning time is not lost for good.

The group Investisseurs & Partenaires, which supports some fifteen companies in the education sector, can testify the strong resilience and innovative spirit of these actors. From nurseries to high schools and training centers, these companies are showing that they can adapt their business during a crisis that is hitting them hard. This article is largely based on I&P’s portfolio, but also includes some other noteworthy initiatives.

 

E-learning: an obvious choice?

In order to ensure continuity of teaching activities, many institutions rely on e-learning systems. This is for example the case of Enko Education’s network of high schools, whose courses have been taking place since the end of March on a new online platform. Following the creation of a crisis committee, new working methods have also been introduced. Teachers must now ensure that each student has daily access to the resources needed to follow the courses, either in digital format or by printing the booklets sent to the families[2]. In the early childhood sector, where screen time must be limited, it is the relationship between parents and pre-school structures that needs to be reinvented. Thanks to social networks, newsletter, WhatsApp groups and other communication media, specialist companies, such as Ker Imagination in Senegal [3], can support parents to promote good practice at home and strengthen the learning community.

Some educational companies made distance learning the core of their model long before the crisis. The startup Etudesk, based in Abidjan and supported by Comoé Capital, has thus developed valuable expertise in building tailor-made e-learning platforms with various partners. Today, Etudesk supports about ten educational institutions in Ivory Coast and Senegal to adapt and put online their pedagogical content in the best possible time and conditions. African Management Institute builds distance and face-to-face training courses for entrepreneurs and SMEs in East Africa. AMI currently provides a free “survival kit” to entrepreneurs to learn crisis management and make the right decisions in the face of serious risks to their business [4]. Another exciting example is the Mali-based company Kabakoo, which is exploring a new model of engineering training that focuses on “solutions to concrete and immediate problems” in its environment. Kabakoo is now making its international platform available for its learners and experts to design and manufacture objects useful in the fight against Coronavirus, such as artificial respirators and masks [5]. With a unique positioning in the technology and education sector, Etudesk, AMI and Kabakoo are leveraging their capacities for innovation and resilience to bring rapid and concrete responses to traditional educational players as well as to companies and citizens.

With a unique positioning in the technology and education sector, these companies are leveraging their capacities for innovation and resilience to bring rapid and concrete responses to traditional educational player

 

Connectivity, cost and learning conditions: the challenges of home schooling

However, the good practices that are emerging here and there face many difficulties. In West Africa, household connectivity is not provided in large rural or isolated areas [6]. In addition to the challenges of Internet coverage, there is also the issue of the cost involved for consulting these tools online. Other channels are thus necessary and several initiatives are underway to improve the inclusion of education systems in the time of the coronavirus and to limit the risks of school dropout [7]. National radio stations and television channels can be massive solutions for disseminating educational content [8], provided that there is enhanced cooperation between the ministries concerned and the telecom company, as it is the case in Ivory Coast [9].

On the other hand, it will be necessary to ensure that pupils can study under good conditions and with assiduity, which is in fact the major issue on which e-learning offers little information for the moment. A fundamental reflection on the role of teachers and on distance teaching methods must be carried out to accompany the development of educational technologies.

 

Economic impacts are immediate and lasting

Finally, the coronavirus crisis poses a very strong threat to the financial sustainability of companies in this sector. With a complete revenue freeze that could last until September, educational companies must seek to maintain a good relationship with all their stakeholders, especially their employees. Specific measures can be envisaged in the short term, such as adjusting cash flow plans, eliminating non-essential charges, prioritizing creditors, etc. For the most robust institutions, these measures will undoubtedly be sufficient and will probably be in addition to the benevolent support of banking partners. But for a majority of the more vulnerable private players, additional and significant support measures will be absolutely necessary for their survival. Governments, donors, investors and all education financers will have to provide appropriate responses as quickly as possible.

 

The opportunity to transform education

The current experience is unprecedented. The educational enterprises best prepared for the crisis were those that had integrated, even if incompletely, the challenge of digital transformation into their model. Thus, the coronavirus crisis provides the entire education sector with perhaps an unprecedented opportunity to deploy new models that resonate with the aspirations and practices of new generations of learners.

Broadening access to content, opening up populations, developing new services, individualizing educational pathways, building new learning communities: the potential of digital education is considerable, both for the company and for its beneficiaries. After today’s emergency, it will undoubtedly be time for all those involved in the education sector to re-imagine their model while keeping the issues of accessibility, inclusion and quality at the heart of their principles.

The current crisis provides the entire education sector with an unprecedented opportunity to deploy new models that resonate with the aspirations and practices of new generations of learners.

 

 

Notes

[1] Informations de l’UNESCO au 7 avril 2020 https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-launches-codethecurve-hackathon-develop-digital-solutions-response-covid-19

[2] https://enkoeducation.com/fr_FR/covid-19-and-school-closings-enko-education-implements-distance-learning-in-all-its-schools-across-africa/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/KerImagiNation/

[4] https://www.africanmanagers.org/all/news/keep-thriving-ami-learning-covid-19/

[5] https://www.kabakoo.africa/blog/une-bonne-vieille-machine-a-coudre-et-du-fil-contre-covid-19

[6] Voir par exemple l’indice de connectivité développé par GMSA montrant les déficits d’infrastructure et de connectivité dans la zone Afrique de l’Ouest https://www.mobileconnectivityindex.com/#year=2018

[7] Voir les risques soulignés par Jeune Afrique au Sénégal : https://www.jeuneafrique.com/922593/societe/senegal-les-bons-et-les-mauvais-points-de-lecole-a-distance-au-temps-du-coronavirus/

[8] Voici les différents canaux d’enseignement à distance recensés par le GPE : https://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/school-interrupted-4-options-distance-education-continue-teaching-during-covid-19#.XoXPayoKbqI.linkedin

[9] Voir ici l’initiative du gouvernement ivoirien qui a démarré le 6 avril 2020 pour les classes d’examens (CM2, 3ème, Terminal). http://www.gouv.ci/_actualite-article.php?recordID=11002

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Africa: The spectrum of coronavirus

It is hard to predict the unpredictable, especially when it is unknown. However, that is what the leaders of all countries must try to do at this time.

It is hard to predict the unpredictable, especially when it is unknown. However, that is what the leaders of all countries must try to do at this time.

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