Photo: Closing plenary of CSW60 | Credit: UN Women

Photo: Closing plenary of CSW60 | Credit: UN Women - Photo: 2020

COVID-19 Derails Education in Southern Africa

By Jeffrey Moyo

MUSINA, South Africa (IDN) – His three teenage children play home-made paper ball on the dusty streets of Musina, exercise books scattered on the veranda of their rented home in the South African border town with Zimbabwe. Yet Gerald Gava, the children’s 47-year old father, lies on a reed mat spread on the veranda, apparently with nothing to do after he stopped working three months ago as the lockdown took toll on the construction company that employed him.

Gava, who is a migrant from Zimbabwe, said even his children have had to remain home as schools also shut down, thanks to the coronavirus that has pounded the entire globe.

Now, Gava’s 42-year old wife, Mirirai has become the sole breadwinner, operating a market stall by the roadside very close to their home, a job she had abandoned back in their home country until they sought greener pastures in South Africa.

But the pastures are no longer green.

With education halted in the face of coronavirus across Southern Africa, Gava’s children stand out amongst millions of school-going children whose education has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I can tell you that even as I force my children to read on their own, they have become tired and have turned to play games because the lockdown has become so monotonous,” Gava, who holds a teaching qualification from his home country, told IDN.

It is the same story in Zimbabwe, where primary and secondary school pupils remain confined in their homes with prospects fast dwindling that they would ever return to school anytime soon as coronavirus cases skyrocket across Southern Africa.

For many Zimbabwean parents like 31-year old Miranda Mutasa in Harare’s Mufakose high-density area in the country’s capital Harare, homeschooling and even online learning is beyond her reach.

Yet, as coronavirus derails education across the region here, in a joint letter with UNICEF to its member states, the African Union (AU) in June this year pushed for resilience to keep pupils abreast with their studies during lockdowns. “Provide distance learning content, deploying radio, TV, podcast and online/e-learning,” read part of the letter. 

The AU-UNICEF letter also said: “Ministries of Education should document good practices and monitor learning engagement and learning outcomes to improve the education sector response to COVID-19.” 

But, with many Southern Africans like Gava now out of a job, embracing e-learning, for instance, maybe a pipeline dream even as AU pushes for this mode in particular to ensure continuity in education. 

For retired educationists in Zimbabwe like 72-year old Bernard Mungoni based in Masvingo, the country’s oldest town, south of the country, “coronavirus has introduced new costs which many can’t shoulder nor bear”.

Miranda, who works as a street vendor selling fruits and vegetables, said, “Internet bundles to access the required learning material for her children, are too expensive”.

As such, for her (Miranda), coronavirus has halted education in her country, leaving her children at a disadvantage.

As the COVID-19 pandemic cases spiral across Southern Africa, the Southern African Development Community through its secretariat agreed to work with UNESCO, leading a Global Education Coalition to support the SADC Member States in mitigating the effects of the coronavirus on education, and in ensuring the continuity of education and learning programmes.  

Now, cornered by a coronavirus, countries like South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia bear the baggage of the pandemic on school children. This situation has forced the countries to have a second thought on the reopening of schools. 

In Angola, starting on March 24, stung by the spread of coronavirus, the Angolan government announced the interruption of lessons in public and private schools. Angola’s Ministry of Education went on record in the media saying the suspension of the educational activities countrywide were in sequence with instructions given by government concerning preventive measures against the novel coronavirus. 

In Swaziland, come March, as coronavirus pounced, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) urged the government to close all schools, colleges and universities temporarily 

In a statement, Swaziland’s association of teachers said, “the SNAT is worried about the fact that no measures have been put to fight back this spectre, particularly in public places such as towns, cities and schools”.

In Botswana, as coronavirus hit Southern Africa earlier this year, the country went on a seven-week closure of schools before it opened in June and immediately re-shut amid fresh spikes of the dreaded disease. 

Announcing a return to the lockdown back then in June, Botswana’s health minister, Dr Lemogang Kwape, said: “I regret to inform you that the situation has worsened in the last 24 hours. Botswana has recorded 30 new positive cases of COVID-19, with the majority of the cases emanating from schools in the greater Gaborone”.

Hammered to the core by the spread of coronavirus which has not spared its schools, South Africa in July also announced that schools were to remain closed, this as the government would extend the 2020 school year into 2021. 

“We have taken a deliberately cautious approach to keep schools closed during a period when the country is expected to experience its greatest increase in infections,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the nation in July.  

Turning to Namibia, on August 1 this year, the country’s President Hage Geingob announced that his government was suspending schools from August 4 for 28 days, saying the move was necessary to eliminate the risks associated with the spread of coronavirus. 

With COVID-19 heavily disrupting education here, in March again this year, Namibia’s Ministry of Education had shut down schools for the first time following two confirmed cases of COVID-19 at one the country’s public schools. 

In Malawi, a spike in COVID-19 cases in July forced authorities to delay plans to reopen schools. 

Now, with schools shut in South Africa, for instance, it has meant Gava and his family have to bear the suffering and monotony together.

“My children are bored here at home; I am bored too, but I am also suffering because I have lost my job due to COVID-19,” Gava told IDN. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 August 2020]

Photo: With the lockdown to fend off the spread of COVID-19, many Southern Africans, have lost their jobs and switched to vending on the streets where they engage in cat and mouse games with police enforcing lockdown rules. Consequently, the game to survive still remains tough for most Africans as they battle to support their children amid schools closure. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo | INPS-IDN

IDN is Flagship Agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit. 

This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 18 August 2020.

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