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 in 2019, 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 out of the 3.4 million children between 3 and 12 years old, at least 1.2 million (35 per cent), would need emergency and specialized education services in 2020. This included 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. While school closures have disrupted the education of more than 4.6 million children, with adverse impacts on their protection and well-being, the combination of teacher mass action and spike in COVID-19 infections are hitting hard on children that have lost so much learning ground but also who are trying to get back to school.
Prolonged school closures have had major negative effects 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 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. Whereas learners were looking to schools reopening, they continue to face frustrations due to teacher absence from schools.
After successfully conducting June national examinations for Form 4 and Form 6 from 30 June to 23 July, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) recently implemented phase 3 reopening with the expectation of commencing final examinations on 1 December 2020. However, the dual risk of teacher absence and spike in infections cast doubts on the extent to which this will be successfully accomplished.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted both the health and economic systems. Schools, which traditionally rely on user fees to fund their daily operations face a dire time with parents’ inability to pay school fees because of the economic hardships they are facing, weakening their efforts to provide COVID-19 materials needed in the schools.
As of the end of December 2020, 139,606 people have beneﬁted from various activities implemented by Cluster partners as part of the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), while 846,181 people have beneﬁted from COVID-19-related activities linked to the overall Zimbabwe Education Sector Preparedness and Response Strategy and the HRP COVID-19 Addendum from March to December 2020. In addition, the following activities are under implementation and are duly supported by various Education in Emergencies (EiE) partners across the country:
Radio lessons have been developed with a further 23 radio lessons developed by the end of December 2020.
Broadcasting of lessons (ECD to Grade 7) continued in December reaching an additional 1,000 children. Meanwhile, the procurement of slightly over 3,000 radio sets for marginalized communities remained underway.
UNICEF has provided $3,000 each to about 657 schools to support water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) rehabilitation activities in schools.
The Cluster has reached 495 adolescent girls through dissemination of COVID-19 bulk messages aimed at enhancing safety and protection of learners enrolled under “SAGE” NFE education programme being implemented across 11 districts.
As part of 2020 HRP, six district-level training of trainers workshops were conducted to strengthen safeguarding among 294 community volunteers facilitating “SAGE” NFE programme in six districts namely: Bulilima, Imbizo, Khami, Mutare Rural, Mutasa and Reigate.
On refugee response, cluster partners distributed 500 single student desks and chairs to primary schools and 300 to secondary schools in Tongogara Refugee Camp to help promote social distancing as an infection control measure against COVID-19.
One cluster partner has produced 11,000 washable cloth face masks which were distributed to vulnerable school children and School Health Coordinators.
Cluster partners have reached 3,765 orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) virtually with psychosocial support facilitated by CBT therapists. Additional support provided include distribution to 2,698 adolescent girls and young women with mensual hygiene messages and provided 11,202 OVCs with textbooks in the nine districts of Bulawayo, Matobo, Lupane, Insiza, Nkayi, Gweru, Harare, Guruve and Mazowe.
Despite numerous efforts, inadequate funding to address the educational and protection needs induced by COVID-19remains a challenge. There are still significant funding gaps in the provision of adequate water, soap and thermometers to enhance IPC measures in schools, teaching and learning materials to ensure the continuous learning and support the recently reopened schools. The recent spike in COVID-19 cases, coupled with reported outbreaks in some schools shows that increased calls for support are a lot more pronounced than before.
Teacher Mass Action: Since the announcement of the reopening of schools, teachers’ unions have called for mass strikes citing incapacitation. This mass action has the overall impact of not only weakening the learning processes but also the response to COVID-19 of children who are returning to school.
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.
Macro-economic constraints: Zimbabwe’s fragile economy represents the greatest challenge in the ﬁght against COVID-19. Economic decline has exacerbated the delivery of critical services such as health and the provision of water, which are critical ensuring the prevention of COVID-19. The rapidly depreciating local currency is forcing service providers to increase their prices, with negative implications for preparedness efforts as goods and services are rising each week. Poor public service delivery, and especially the shortage of medical personnel, continues to undermine the conﬁdence of parents in efforts to reopen schools. While most parents are unable to buy learning materials to support learners at home or pay fees to support preparations for the reopening schools, schools face an increased ﬁnancial burden to implement all the recommended measures to mitigate against the spread of the disease. Similarly, partners also face ﬁnancial resource constraints to respond to the urgent and emergent
The relegation of education to a secondary national COVID-19 priority: Zimbabwe has prioritized critical needs such as health, water and sanitation, above all other considerations. The beliefs that education is not life-saving, that schools are for academics, which can be postponed, has left many children vulnerable, unprotected and exposed to risks like family violence and exploitation. To add to the challenge, ﬁscal constraints and resource challenges mean that the education of children at home is not receiving adequate national resources. This represents a great constraint in response efforts, to detriment of the educational needs of children.