In adjusting to the ‘New Normal’ occasioned by coronavirus, many countries have been innovating and adopting new and creative methods of moving on with life.
Zambia is shifting to distance learning to ensure education continues during the coronavirus outbreak, especially with disadvantaged children in mind, who will ultimately be the most affected by the pandemic.
The country which recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case in mid-March, had as of mid-August nearly 10,000 additional cases, according to reports. In an effort to contain the virus, the government of Zambia has taken preventive measures, including closing schools. This in turn has disrupted learning for over 4.2 million students. To mitigate the impact of this situation and ensure students can continue to learn, the Ministry of General Education (MoGE) has been working with partners to implement a COVID-19 emergency response and recovery plan.
Zambia received a US$10 million COVID-19 emergency grant from GPE to support interventions that are fully aligned with this plan. GPE acted swiftly by processing and approving the government’s application within a few days of receiving it, as supporting education systems from the onset of the pandemic is the best way to protect the most vulnerable students.
The GPE-funded program promotes continuous learning for students during the stay-at-home orders, along with support for a sustainable and safe learning environment across the country when schools re-open. Additionally, the program aims to fortify Zambia’s education system to help the country respond effectively to future crises.
To ensure students can continue learning during the school closures, the program aims to strengthen the MoGE’s existing distance and alternative learning system by supporting the production, dissemination and delivery of education through radio programs.
The program will primarily focus on radio-based learning as an initial step to respond quickly, inclusively and with maximum reach. A total of 4.4 million students from early childhood education to lower secondary school will be reached through this program. The content of the radio program will be developed for the full school year so that students will be able to continue learning should school closures be extended.
The GPE program recognizes that not all students have the same access to remote learning platforms. Therefore, vulnerable students, including girls and children from low-income households, will receive solar radios and SD cards with pre-recorded lessons, to ensure access to distance learning content even in areas with poor or no radio frequency coverage. Children with special education needs will be provided with adapted tablets to access remote learning alongside their peers.
Supporting teachers to deliver quality education
Teachers are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in often unanticipated ways. Keeping students engaged through distance learning, as well as monitoring and assessing progress without prior experience can prove challenging.
To overcome this, teachers will be trained on providing support and tools, as well as on engagement with students through distance learning. Additional training on how to use simple technologies – including WhatsApp, SMS, and radio broadcast phone ins – to monitor students’ performance will allow for teachers to connect with children who may be at a higher risk of dropping out of school.
The GPE grant will support the return to safe school environments for one million vulnerable children when schools reopen.
Vulnerable students will be given incentives – including free learning materials – to return to school in the initial phase. Remote schools in dire need in selected districts will be provided with clean water (boreholes) for hand washing and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and be connected to solar power to access the national e-learning platform, launched by MoGE in partnership with a telecommunications company.
Not all children can fully benefit from distance learning and many will lag behind in their learning progress. Therefore, with GPE’s support, the ministry will organize accelerated learning modules to quickly bring children up to their grade level and conduct remedial learning for those who struggle. An assessment will be administered when schools reopen to evaluate students’ literacy and numeracy skills and inform lesson planning.
A back-to-school campaign will be launched to communicate the re-opening of schools and offer psychosocial support to students, teachers and parents. Moreover, these groups will be provided with messages on hygiene and infection prevention practices based on the COVID-19 prevention standards.
While distance learning offers opportunities for children to continue learning, it might put vulnerable female students at risk of gender-based violence and teenage pregnancies. With support from GPE, sensitization and communications campaigns will be conducted to raise awareness and minimize the negative impact of schools’ closures.
With GPE’s support, Zambia has an opportunity to improve technology-based and distance learning programs, which would help to mitigate future crises. If developed comprehensively, distance learning has the potential to support all children and thus strengthen the education system and improve equity in learning.
We hope this information helped you stayed informed. Leave us a feedback in the comment section and let us know what you think. For more stories on black history, click here.