The education sector has been greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the United Nations executive summary (August 2020), “Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94 percent of the world’s student population, up to 99 percent in low and lower-middle income countries.”
This increases the inequalities between social groups. Those who can afford online education have continued with their education, while those who cannot afford it are trailing behind.
Every level of education, from Early Childhood Development (ECD) to tertiary, has been affected. Universities introduced online classrooms but these faced challenges in terms of connectivity. Teachers are unable to effectively conduct online lessons due to lack of data bundles. In some cases, the teachers do not possess the virtual teaching gadgets and schools are unable to provide them either.
In instances where schools have been able to provide data bundles and virtual teaching gadgets, some parents are still facing challenges in availing the requisite resources for their children to engage in any meaningful e-learning.
Therefore distant learning mechanisms adopted by most countries as a way of ensuring continued learning are proving to be a great challenge for most African countries, including Zimbabwe, due to the fact that most remote areas do not have access to internet and virtual learning gadgets such as smart phones, laptops, desktops and tablets. The majority of poor households cannot afford them.
In addition, disabled children who come from impoverished families are affected even more as they still have to rely on other people to get around. On the other hand, some students are finding it difficult to fill in the time they usually spend at school with meaningful or constructive activities and end up indulging in sexual activities as well as drug and substance use. Such a scenario impacts negatively on the children’s welfare as the minors might be forced into early marriages, thereby decreasing their chances of continuing with education.
Due to the misuse of drugs, substance induced psychosis will see affected school children failing to function normally when schools reopen starting Monday. This might lead to a high rate of school drop outs.
While exam classes will open this month, some schools are unable to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s safety guidelines, including fumigation, provision of face masks, hand sanitisers and ensuring physical distancing of learners and staff. There is need for the construction of more classrooms to ensure that classes can be split to promote physical distancing. The same also applies for ablution blocks. These are crucial for effective good personal hygiene.
It is encouraging that some technological innovations have been introduced in the education sector in response to the need to provide continued education for learners during this period.
Radio lessons are being conducted to cater for primary school learners. Take home learning packages are also available. Google classrooms and WhatsApp platform lessons are also ongoing. Zoom and Google meet platforms are making it possible for some teachers and students to continue with lessons.
Covid-19 has highlighted the need for policy makers to invest more time and money in building infrastructure and providing internet connectivity, as well as television and radio services to all marginalised communities.
Development partners can also come in to help Government in setting up the right infrastructure and providing PPE.