In normal times, Amina Hassan would stand in front of her class at Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya. But with schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers are forced to improvise.
These days, Amina, a Kenyan teacher, broadcasts to her Grade Five class of around 100 over Radio Gargaar, a community station.
“I am happy to relate with most of my students over the radio. They sometimes call me at the studio to ask questions,” she says. “I believe they are learning even though I can’t see them.”
With schools in Kenya closed for over a month, radio lessons help Amina and her fellow teachers in Dadaab support over 100,000 students who attend the camp’s 22 primary and nine secondary schools.
With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic globally, the needs of refugee children have become even more pressing. To ensure education continues, Kenya’s Ministry of Education along with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and other partners have devised creative approaches to enable home studies.
“We are looking at ways to build up existing connected learning programmes in the camp,” says Alan Mwika, a UNHCR education officer in Dadaab, who stresses that conditions for education were difficult even before the pandemic.
Those initiatives include the Instant Network Schools supported by Vodafone, which uses the internet to supplement classroom learning. They also include Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER), which facilitates distance university education by refugees through partnerships with universities.
“We must find innovative ways to ensure education continues despite the challenging situation.”
Amina and 800 other teachers in Dadaab are also connected through WhatsApp groups with their students, Mwika adds.
In all, the groups reach more than 64,000 students and UNHCR and partners hope to increase the reach of the project.
Amina’s work does not end with the live broadcasts. She mentors her students over the phone, through Whatsapp and direct calls, encouraging them to keep learning.
“We must find innovative ways to ensure education continues despite the challenging situation,” she says.
Amina began her teaching career in 2011, specializing in English and Swahili. Her school, Umoja Primary School in Hagadera camp in Dadaab, has over 1,200 students.
In nearly a decade of teaching, she has embraced working in refugee settings, despite the difficult conditions and limited resources. COVID-19 is just an extra challenge, but she tries to act as a role model particularly for girls.
“I did not know that working in a refugee camp was going to change my perceptions completely,” she says. “Refugees are very respectful and very interested in education because they know it empowers them.”
Additional reporting by Catherine Wachiaya and Caroline Opile in Nairobi, Kenya