The education system in Zimbabwe was already stretched before the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of multiple crises, including the impact of Cyclone Idai last year, the economic crisis coupled with hyperinflation and the ongoing drought. Before the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic, estimates by the Education Cluster were that of the more than 3.4 million children of school going age (3 to 12 years), at least 1.2 million (35 per cent), would need emergency and specialized education services in 2020.This includes more than 853,000 children in acute need, such as: children not enrolled in school; orphans and other vulnerable children (OCV), including children with disabilities and children living with HIV; and those in need of school feeding.
The combined effect of the humanitarian crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic is having far-reaching implications for the demand and supply of education services. Zimbabwe closed schools on 24 March 2020 in to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to protect school populations, with schools remaining closed to date. The school closures have disrupted the education of more than 4.6 million children, with adverse impacts on the protection and wellbeing of children as well as their readiness for school, attendance and participation in learning. Furthermore, prolonged school closures are likely to have a major and negative affect on children’s learning, physical, social and mental health and well-being—threatening hard-won educational achievements for years to come. Prolonged school closures will also likely exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and inequalities among children, especially girls, children with disabilities, those in rural areas, orphans and vulnerable children, and those from poor households and fragile families.
As the the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) is considering re-opening schools in a phased approach starting with final year classes (Grade 7, Form 4 and 6) to enable students to sit for national examinations, whereas school closures have increased the risk of some learners permanently dropping out of school, there are also concerns that re-opening schools in a context of increasing caseloads and without a well-resourced health response could present major health risks for children, teachers and school communities. The likelihood of schools being resource constrained is high given the inability of parents incapacitated by the lockdown to pay school fees, increasing the burden of operating schools.
The Cluster is targeting 3.5 million learners in early childhood education, primary level and secondary level through prioritization of activities. The numbers of people that have benefited from partner-implemented activities via the Humanitarian Response Planning 2020 and the COVID-19 response have continued to increase over the last two months, through the following most recent activities:
Education Cluster partners are supporting learners through radio programming. To date 116 radio lessons have been developed and airing started on 16 June 2020 and airing will be done in a phased approach, starting with grades 1, 2, 3 and 7. TV lessons will be broadcast later once the radio programme is underway.
Development of digital online e-learning courses and materials is underway and MoPSE, in collaboration with partners has identified work that can be uploaded onto the portal, which is being refined in a test environment. The go-live date is yet to be announced.
Distribution of story books currently underway in six districts. UNICEF is leading this exercise to enable students to read and learn during school closures. All storybooks can be accessed via the mobile site of "Internet of Good Things".
Early Childhood Development (ECD) story books and the PSS workbook for children ‘My Story’ will be distributed to satellite schools covering the districts of Binga, Kariba, Mwenezi, Gokwe North, Insiza and Zvimba in the initial phase. A total of seven titles of ECD story books have been uploaded on ‘Internet of Good Things’ covering ECD grades.
A total of 20,000 boys and girls in Epworth and Chitungwiza, including children with disabilities, are expected to be reached with PPE, sanitizers, disinfectants, teaching and learning material, sanitary wear, buckets, soap and face towels.
In eight provinces across 29 districts, most vulnerable girls are supported to remain safe and protected during the lock down period.
Pre-positioning for opening of schools is ongoing through the purchasing of PPE kits for learners and teachers, with preparation of distributions for Provincial Education Directors (PEDs) and District Schools Inspectors (DSIs) and other critical personnel in the districts and provinces. Meanwhile, development of guidelines by MoPSE with support from partners is at an advanced stage and will be launched soon.
Inadequate human and financial resources: While partners have supported the development of the Education Cluster COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan, human and financial resource constraints to respond to the urgent needs of learners persist.
Reduced mobility and access: Both partners and Government staff are facing fiscal and technical constraints to enable staff to work remotely and respond to the needs of learners. Meanwhile, the lockdown has also reduced the mobility of staff, with implications for the implementation of response activities. While Government issued letters following the initial lockdown, some partners are facing renewed mobility challenges during the second phase of the lockdown. Time-critical solutions to focus on learners who cannot access digital or radio lessons, due to coverage or household considerations are minimal and need to be addressed further to enhance response.