Class is Cancelled
By Anna Butler, Arthur Peirce, Claire Kalsbeek, & Sidney Tolo
This year, countries around the world have come together in an effort to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions, safety measures, medical intervention and social innovation have been key components to combating the virus globally. Our infographic below includes critical dates from the first observation of COVID-19 to specific times and statistics of its spread in Zambia. We decided to research what the impacts of the pandemic have been and share how our Modzi team on the ground is working to support our students during this difficult time.
Much of the world’s attention regarding COVID-19 has focused on Asia, Europe, and North America. Despite a lack of media coverage, life in Africa has also been deeply affected. According to the Zambian Ministry of Health, the first case of COVID-19 in Zambia was reported on the 18th of March. In realising this, the reaction of the government was swift in that just a few days later, they announced that schools nationwide would be forced to close. Many countries have reacted or even continue to react this way in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. In Zambia, with national benchmark exams in mind, some schools and classes in Zambia did reopen for certain students on June 1st, but this decision was controversial. Given health and safety as well as educational concerns, it has remained controversial as only some grades have been permitted to return to classes while others remain out of school.
A lot of weight is put on national benchmark exams in Zambia, which require students in grades 7, 9, and 12 to test in December of each year. The results of these examinations determine which school a student will be able to attend for the next level of their studies. And for this reason, these grades were permitted to return to class after about a month of disruption due to COVID-19. Despite this unexpected disruption to their education, their schooling has managed to continue through this ongoing pandemic. These students are back in school and as it stands, the Ministry of Education is still planning to hold national examinations at the end of this year. COVID-19 has put extra pressure on an already stressful year for students planning to write their final exams.
It is estimated that the closure of schools has impacted over four million children in Zambia. Academic disruption of such scale has had an especially adverse effect on Zambian students, who already experience massive barriers to accessing education. COVID-19 has interrupted daily schooling as well as examination preparation, which directly impacts the educational futures of already marginalized youth. The absence of regular classes these days has put children in Zambia at risk of further marginalization. This then adds to the ongoing challenge of keeping children engaged in the classroom and supporting their right to an education. To that end, it is crucial we provide effective and accessible means of educating our youth during this pandemic, despite widespread school closures.
Zambia has a long tradition of using radio and television to spread educational information, so in theory, this existing system could now be used to support supplementary learning during challenging times. Aaron Chansa, the Executive Director of Action for Quality Education in Zambia called recent services “discriminatory” as the number of households who can in fact access them is low. In addition to the barrier of network subscription costs, regular viewing is also made difficult by large scale power shortages across the country. Reliable internet also remains a challenge for most. Because of these factors, most children who are out of school due to the pandemic are struggling to access safe learning opportunities.
The impact of COVID-19 related school closures continues to have quite a significant impact in Zambia, which has an unusually large population of young people. It is of note that Zambia has the 6th youngest median age (16.8 years) in the world, with 70% of people under 35 years of age, and 50% under 15. Therefore, when we are talking about children of school age in Zambia, we are likely talking about the majority of the country’s population. As mentioned in our previous post, Zambia already had a high drop-out rate for secondary school students prior to the pandemic. The number of children we are seeing out of school today is only being further exacerbated by COVID-19. In other words, the impact of these arguably necessary school closures will prove to be detrimental to Zambian education. It is also important to note that the Zambian government is aware of such challenges and as such has released a contingency plan stating:
Modzi has been working to address barriers to accessing quality education in Zambia for years. As we have recently felt the impact of COVID-19, we are now working to enhance our programing and offer additional supports for our students during this pandemic. And as our students are currently enrolled in various levels of schooling, our responses continue to be tailored to each one's specific needs. For example, we are supporting students who will be writing exams this year by providing them with supplemental materials and individualized tutoring after school. Though our non-writing year students have been out of formal classes since March, we have been facilitating opportunities for them to engage with various nonformal learning opportunities. Throughout this pandemic, our students have also participated in educational talks about the prevention of COVID-19 and formed a better understanding of hygiene and sanitation in general.
This global pandemic has caused uncertainty for children both in and out of school. As a result, modzi has been working to create unique opportunities including additional preparatory time at boarding school and peer mentoring sessions with Modzi graduate students. Students have also been offered safe spaces to learn through Modzi sport, music, art, and environmental activities during this trying time. Our Modzi family values all forms of education and recognizes great potential for students in Zambia to continue learning through innovative, holistic education.
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