Senegal's house-bound school children take classes from TV

(Online version of the March 19 story corrects name to Cheikhe Diongue in the last paragraph)

DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegalese schoolboy Ibrahima Diongue listened intently as a teacher held forth about a tricky maths problem. It was a regular school day, except Diongue was in his living room and the teacher was on the other side of a flickering TV screen.

The coronavirus pandemic has shut schools across West Africa and beyond, but in Senegal a television channel has launched daily lessons to prevent children falling behind with their studies and to educate them about the virus.

“It’s a contagious disease, it is lethal, it is serious,” recited Diongue, his lap piled with textbooks and notes he had jotted down in wobbly cursive during the program.

Those behind the initiative hope it will provide a dose of normality at a time when daily life in Senegal, which has so far confirmed 36 cases of the virus, is being upended by the closure of schools, mosques and the suspension of many flights abroad.

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The programs could provide a template for other countries in the region, where many households do not have ready access to the internet, but whose children face weeks or longer out of school as the world fights to contain the epidemic. Television ownership, although not universal, is widespread.

“Living conditions in houses can be difficult, children do not have the space to learn. They don’t always have the means and television is a good medium to help, to reinforce, to support the children,” said Diongue’s father, Cheikhe.

He is the head teacher at a school in Dakar, which has stood largely empty since President Macky Sall last Friday ordered schools to close to limit the virus’s spread. The blackboard in one classroom still bears the date ‘March 13’ - the last day pupils sat at their desks.

By Saturday, teacher and TV presenter Massamba Gaye was planning the launch of “The Teachers’ Room” on channel TFM and its first episode aired the next day. The daily programmers are designed for pupils hoping to pass exams at the end of the school year.

“It’s a good initiative,” said Cheikhe Diongue. “It should be done beyond the pandemic period.”

Reporting by Estelle Ndjandjo and Christopher Van der Perre; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Nick Macfie