At least a third of the world’s schoolchildren – 463 million children globally – were unable to access remote learning when COVID-19 shuttered their schools, according to a new UNICEF.Across different African countries, schools are re-opening; children including university students are resuming school. The response to Covid 19 in Africa varied from country to country, with total lockdown in a country such as South Africa, cessation of movement and night curfews in Kenya, total lockdown in Uganda whereas a country like Tanzania, normalcy reigned with schools re-opening 3 months after the reporting of Covid 19.Concerns however arise among parents and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) as to how prepared schools are for pupils and students to come back. Majority of Kenyan children have no access to digital learning, showing glaring disparities in home learning forced by the coronavirus pandemic. As noted by Usawa, only 22 percent of children have access to learning through the Internet.
Various inequalities with regards to education existed even before Covid 19 and these inequalities have become more pronounced with the Covid 19 period. For example in Kenya, the number of children unable to access education was with Covid 19, more will be out of school because of some when parents lost jobs had to relocate to rural areas and will not be able to come back because their parents are unemployed. Other deep seated inequalities that continue to emerge is access to education in private schools versus public schools where children in private schools have access to uninterrupted learning and access to teachers via various electronic gadgets, while many children learning in public schools do not have such access. The other gap is the situation of marginalised populations for example children and families living in informal settlements, pastoralist communities who migrate from time to time with their animals and depend on mobile schools, children who have various forms of disabilities as well as children currently held in juvenile justice system.
With Covid 19, there has been increased incidences of gender based violence and sexual abuse of children. In Kenya for example there are reported cases of teenage pregnancies of school children in counties. The nationwide closure of schools directive cut off girls from their teachers, many girls ended up idling at home and not chaperoned by parents or guardians.Additionally, the stay at home directive meant that girls had to stay at home even inn abusive families .For example, in Machakos county, in Eastern part of Kenya, there were 4,000 school going children impregnated since mid-March2020.Education is privatised in many parts of Africa, where there is free education; the quality of that education is often questionable. In many schools classes are overcrowded and the teacher: pupil ratio is low. This means that schools will have to grapple with various challenges given that to maintain social distance, schools with overcrowded classes will have to devise new ways of learning that ensures all children get access to education.
The Covid 19 period has brought out the deep-seated inequalities that exist across different communities. For example some children were able to continue with classes using zoom another online devices whereas children with poor parents did not continue with education and will only get access to education once learning normalises. Some children and even college students live in places where there is no electricity or Internet connection may have to travel to the nearest shop centre to get access to electricity. In some cases teachers who are mostly in private schools have not been paid. The parents because they depended on school fees pay this. With schools closed indefinitely, such teachers’ sources of livelihoods have been disrupted. Some have gone to selling wares in markets, other have started alternative businesses with some converting school premises into chicken rearing businesses. Additionally, some have discovered that alternative sources of income are more stable compared to teaching, this therefore means that children who were schooling in centres which have been converted into chicken rearing businesses can resume learning and parents will have to put up with a task of looking for new schools, buying uniforms and paying fees.
Many parents lost jobs as a result of Covid 19, in Kenya for example, many hotels were closed and these were sources of employment for millions of parents, other parents work in quarries, sell vegetables by the roadside and other petty trade. With Covid 19, even mothers who eke out a living washing clothes could not get jobs because of the stigma associated with Covid 19.
Back to school in some parts of Africa has also come at a period where communities are reeling from the effects of climate change. There are places where there is flooding, in Baringo country in the Rift Valley region of Kenya for instance 26 schools have submerged, other areas include areas bordering Lake Victoria. What happens to children in such schools? how do they go back to school when schools building are swimming in water?.Additionally as reported by The Star,five thousand Baringo learners were unable to return to school on Monday as crocodiles and hippos occupied flooded school compounds.Parents are expected to provide basic necessities such as masks and sanitisers. Children will always be children .If a child goes to school in the morning with a handkerchief, many a times when they come back home they never have it. Schools are saying children to come to school with two masks, the question is who will supervise the children to ensure they wear masks property, what of children who lose their masks, how will replacements be made? And who will be responsible .We are told that a second wave of Covid 19 is coming, how prepared are schools to handle this second wave given that many parents are already in a vulnerable situation?
In many schools, staff are not trained on health issues, many a times you only find one nurse and the school dispensary which is normally a classroom converted to a mini hospital only has painkillers. There are cases also of delays to take children to hospital when they present ill health. How then will such schools cope with a disease that is still shrouded in mystery and stigma?.
Access to education is a basic right , but due to situations such as poverty , many children cannot access or go to schools that are well equipped. Many children attend schools in informal settlements because they cannot all fit in public and private schools. These schools are known as APBET and they are a source of education to millions of children in informal settlements. Such schools also take up large numbers of children .These schools are located in plots within neighbourhoods and the owners of such learning institutions have to pay rent to landlords. With Covid 19 and the closure of schools directive , many APBET schools have been closed because their owners cannot pay rent. This therefore means that access to education for millions of children in informal settlements are at stake .The question is how prepared are governments to ensure that children in learning institutions in informal settlements continue to have access to education in the post Covid 19 period?.
There have been reported incidences of forced evictions, which in essence affect the right to education. Evictions across many African countries normally happen either at night or early morning. When evictions happen , families lose property , children lose books, which are essential in education. Evicted families have been left out in the cold as was the case in Nairobi’s Kariobangi and Ruai and in Utange in Mombasa. In Kariobangi for example , the eviction affected 5000 residents , while in Ruai 1,500 residents were affected. The questions that demand reflections is who has made a follow up on these families to see how they are coping ?, how are the children of these evictees coping ?.
Many families are economically stressed as a result of loss of jobs during the Covid 19 period. Such families either had to relocate to rural areas because they could not afford rent or moved to cheaper neighbourhoods. Currently school children are expected to be sitting for Mock exams which is the foundational exam for transition to secondary school, many children may not be able to sit for these exams because their parents relocated to rural areas.Sensitisation of parents and guardians on Covid 19 may have happened in a few schools, however majority depend on information from other sources. Covid 19 is still stigmatised, how will children cope when they go back to school with a situation they do not understand. Many parents are of the opinion that they would rather have the children stay at home safe than going to school.
The other intricate challenge is that not all parents have the capacity to do home schooling for their children. Some parents are well versed and exposed and can provide home schooling or hire experts to undertake home schooling, what of parents and guardians who never went to school, those who are illiterate and do not even know how to write their names or even read? Children in informal settlements access schools known as Alternative Provision of Basic Education and Training (APBET), which are normally low cost schools. In Mathare slums for example 150,000 children attend APBET schools compared to 24,000 pupils attending private schools. Who is monitoring the state of affairs for the millions of children attending low cost schools because of their parent’s economic status?
There are cases of schools, which have been affected by the raging floods in different parts of Kenya. For example in Baringo County, 26 schools have submerged due to flooding. Families also have been evacuated and thousands displaced. It it therefore very important to think about back to school in a very rational manner, it is fair is some children or students continue learning when others do not learn? . What of schools where there are inadequate desks and books or where children sit on the floor or learn under trees? Or live in situations, which make them marginalised in accessing education? In ensuring child rights and child protection in the wake of Covid 19, let’s also ensure we Leave No One Behind.
Cover Photo-The Standard Health
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