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 expected to have far-reaching implications for the demand and supply of education services. While Zimbabwe closed schools on March 24, 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to protect school populations, 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.
While the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) successfully conducted June national examinations for Forms 4 and Form 6 from June 30, 2020 to July 23, 2020, the planned reopening of schools, which was tentatively scheduled for 28 July 2020, was postponed indefinitely. By now, children have missed a whole school term (about 92 days) of teaching and learning, with serious implications for the well-being of children and their academic growth.
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 likely exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and inequalities among children, especially girls, children with disabilities, those in rural areas, orphans and vulnerable children, as well as those from poor households and fragile families. School closures have the potential to widen learning disparities and increase the risk of some learners permanently dropping out of school.
While the MoPSE is prioritizing the health and well-being of learners, teachers, staff and school communities, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted both the health and economic systems. To add to these challenges, schools, which traditionally fund their daily operations from user fees will likely be resource-constrained because of the inability of parents to pay school fees. Ensuring that all the pre-conditions for the safe re-opening of schools, including infection prevention and control measures, the provision of hygiene facilities and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as adherence to physical spacing, and social distancing considerations in a context of increasing cases loads and a fragile economic context also represents significant risks. Without a well-resourced education and health systems, reopening schools remains a significant challenge. At the same time, protecting the right of every child to learn has never been more urgent.
The cluster is targeting 3.5 million learners at ECD to secondary school level through prioritization of activities.
As of end of July 2020, a total of 77,038 people have benefited from various activities implemented by the cluster partners as part of the Humanitarian Response Planning 2020.
A total of 359,764 people have benefited from COVID-19 related activities related to the overall education cluster strategy and the HRP COVID-19 addendum for the period March to July 2020. Additionally, through support from different partners the following activities are currently ongoing at field level as parts of the efforts to combat the COVD-19 pandemic:
A recently concluded programme through support from Education Cannot Wait (ECW) funding has been able to benefit 17,840 learners in Epworth and Chitungwiza districts covering 40 schools while supporting 200 community teacher facilitators within the 2 districts.
Continued support is provided to MoPSE through technical and financial support toward the development and broadcasting of radio lessons through ZBC and community radio stations. To date, 409 primary level radio lessons have been developed; some of which have already been broadcast.
MoPSE has received further support in the form of development of 54 Guidance and Counselling (G&C) radio lessons for primary school level. Airing of the lessons started on 27 July and will be continue for a period of 9 weeks. To date, a total of 21 lessons have been aired while discussion on translating the G&C lessons into indigenous languages as well as coverage for the secondary school sector are underway.
A total of 38,500 COVID-19 awareness raising posters (1 on how to wear a face mask and 2 on correct handwashing) for primary and secondary schools are in the process of being printed and distributed to the 20 focus districts where one of the cluster partners is carrying out its projects.
A Rapid Needs Assessments was facilitated for 5 extensively storm damaged schools in Matobo District. Some of the schools are set for rehabilitation while the others will receive temporary learning spaces ultimately providing a conducive learning environment for 755 learners.
In view of continuous programme quality enhancement, training was facilitated for 88 NFE buddies supporting mentoring of community volunteers who deliver Accelerating Learning Programs to OoS adolescent girls in Mutare; Mutasa; Chimanimani; Mutoko; Epworth; Bulilima; Imbizo; Reigate; Khami; Harare South and Hatcliffe districts.
11,000 washable cloth face masks were produced with COVID message " Mask Up- COVID-19 is real" for distribution to vulnerable school children and School Health Coordinators once schools reopen.
Cluster partners have supported MoPSE with provision of personal protective equipment to learners in 965 partner secondary schools in 29 rural districts. Additionally, these learners have been supported with food packages as well as linking them to social safety nets.
A survey was conducted on access to virtual learning platforms including radio lessons for the support provided to 14,550 OVC supported with Education access packages across 6 districts in Buhera, Chipinge, Makoni, Mutare, Mutasa in Manicaland Province and Gutu in Masvingo Province. Apart from poor connectivity in some areas, it was established that 7 ,072 (48.6 per cent) of them have no access to requisite virtual learning gadgets including radios and the organization is working on modalities on how these can be supported further to enhance learning.
Inadequate Funding to address the educational and protection needs induced by COVID-19: Despite numerous efforts, funding remains a challenge in the fight against COVID-19. To date, the cluster has only received 8 per cent of its funding requests to address to prioritized critical needs the provision of teaching and learning materials to ensure the continuous learning and prepare for the reopening of schools.
Reduced mobility and access to technology for remote working: The Government, through the Public Service Commission (PSC) directed that only 15 percent must be at their workstations in Ministries. This directive, together with the lockdown regulations, which require all businesses to close at 3 PM, have reduced the availability of staff from both partners and Government, with adverse implications for the implementation of response activities. To add to the challenge, staff are facing resource and technical constraints such as lack of computers and poor connection to mobile networks to enable them to work remotely and respond to the needs of learners.
Unmet needs for marginalized learners: While the Cluster has made significant progress in promoting continuous access to education, through the provision of materials and the development of radio lessons, the cluster has not been able to meet the learning needs of all children, especially children with disabilities, those living in the most remote areas without access to radio signals and children from poor households. These children continue to have unmet learning needs in part because of shortages of teaching and learning materials at home. To add to the challenge, the worsening food insecurity in most poor households represents a significant challenge, which has the potential to contribute to dropping out school.