The Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC) is concerned that schools have remained closed from 20th March 2020 to date. We need to state from the offset that although the idea to close all schools in March was important and strategic, the continued closure of schools for five months now has a great potential of bringing about an education crisis that we have never experienced before. Our research conducted in all the provinces with the participation of key stakeholders sadly revealed that the reach of the alternative modes of learning that the Ministry of General Education is implementing is below 23%. Worse still, the research findings show that only children along the line of rail, mainly from rich households, are accessing the alternative modes of education designed to provide continuity of learning at home. While, children from rural and poor households have no access to alternative modes of education. The problem has been compounded by the refusal by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to grant the Ministry of General Education (MoGE) a licence to air education radio programmes nationwide, on account that the Education Broadcasting Services (EBS) is registered as a community radio station. As you may be aware, radio in Zambia has a wider reach than both television and e-learning platforms. Our research also showed that E-learning and Television education programmes are only reaching a few children due to lack of internet, high cost of internet bundles, load shedding of power and lack of ICT equipment or gargets in general among our children.
In view of this, we wish to emphasise that the cost of keeping the non-examination classes closed for five (5) months far outweigh the public health risks of reopening schools. Among others, the consequences of not reopening schools will manifest themselves in the following:
- The failure by all pupils including those in Grades 7 and 9 to progress to the next grade despite the huge investment government has made to sustain learning for examination candidates so far.
- The loss of competencies and skills among pupils in non-examination classes to the extent that it may be difficult to remediate thereby compromising on the quality of the learning outcomes among the learners.
- The failure by pupils to progress to their next grade next year will entail the change of the current policy on the enrolment age from 7 years to 8 years, a situation which will result in increased drop-out rates among the overaged children.
- The prolonged closure of schools has already led to widening inequality between learners from rural areas and poor households who are not accessing any alternative education at home and learners in urban areas who are accessing alternative education modes. This will further re-enforce the current gap between the rich and the poor thereby defeating the Seventh National Development Plan vision of not leaving anyone behind.
- Our research evidence shows that the removal of girls from the safe environment provided by our schools has led to increased child marriages and teenage pregnancies among non-examination candidates thereby potentially increasing the number of girls dropping out of school.
- There is also evidence of loss of interest in education by majority of our learners in non-examination classes resulting from their prolonged stay at home, a situation that may result in the failure by majority of them to report back to school if schools remain closed.
It is important also to note that our research revealed that about 98% of the schools currently running examination classes are complying to all the public health prevention and mitigation measures contained in the two public health instruments issued by the Ministry of Health. It is for this reason that we believe that the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Ministry of General Education have demonstrated adequate capacity and competencies in running classes amidst the COVID 19 pandemic. Therefore, we have no doubt that government has the capacity to put in place adequate prevention measures that can help ensure that our children are learning in a safe and healthy environment. We know that although it may not be possible for our children to practice social distancing, the prevention measures namely the putting on of masks, washing hand with soap regularly, sanitizing, regular disinfection of surfaces, enhanced community awareness on COVID 19 and the local monitoring of children’s adherence to COVID 19 prevention measures at school, home as well as on their way to and from school will suffice.
Finally, it is for this reason that we would like to request His Excellence the President of the Republic of Zambia, Dr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu, to consider the immediate re-opening of schools.