COVID-19: A roadblock to vulnerable children’s education

Written by Agness John, Senior Communications Officer

Despite the fact that the government of Tanzania, in collaboration with civil society organizations and media houses, has initiated teaching through TV programmes for classes with national exams in the near future, realization of children’s right to education has been a huge challenge during this school closure time.

Most students in the rural areas do not have access to TVs, neither do they have a reliable source of light for their studies during the night. During the day, most of the children at homes are occupied with house chores and other livelihood activities. This does not only risk their education for standard seven and form four examinations, which decide their futures, but it also risks their health.

Water fetching

Halima (17) is a form four student at Mundemu Secondary School located at Dodoma region, central part of Tanzania. She is also a World Vision sponsored child as she noted, “studying at home gave me hard time, for my parent’s priority is house chores, and learning is like an extra thing. There is no electricity in our village. The only source of light that I can read from is candle or at times kerosene lamp.”

The Ministry of Education Science and Technology closed the school March 17th, 2020 as one of the measures to prevent and control the transmission of the novel coronavirus. This has affected the education of the most vulnerable children for by that time only a few topics were covered. Book accessibility was limited, and the studying environment at home was unconducive.

“At time of the school closure we were not even halfway through the topics that should be covered in form four. This makes it even harder. However, I mostly use exercise books to study the materials from form one to those taught in form four at the beginning of the year before the school closure,” explained Halima.

Group learning

Different from privileged students who mostly reside at town and have access to internet, TVs and electricity to study after dark, COVID- 19 and school closure has affected students in rural Tanzania like Halima, who has to go to her teacher’s house to follow along with the topics broadcast through TV programmes. At times, these programmes are not able to finish due to cut-off of power from solar panels.

“Last week, me and my colleagues went to teacher’s house to watch TV as Biology subject was reviewed. The power went off halfway through the programme,” Halima recalled. “This makes me even more miss my time at school and hostel specifically, include studying time during the night and group discussions where I get to learn from my colleagues.”

Teachers have been relentless in supporting their students, ensuring that they get good grades on their examination later this year. They not only allowed them to study at their places, but also have initiated the programme of printing and disseminating of tests where students get to measure their ability and how far have they learnt.

“As teachers, we weekly prepare tests for students and deliver them at village executive officer’s office, where to minimize population parents collect them for their children and later on send children’s response back for review. This enables them to assess themselves and identify subjects that need more effort for better performance on the last exam,” said Reagan Riwa, academic master and English subject teacher at Mundemu Secondary School.

Ministry of education has issued the guideline for school operations with the presence of COVID- 19. Also, university, colleges and advanced level secondary school students (form six) have opened while ordinary level and primary schools have been issued an announcement to start preparing themselves for an opening.

“As universities and colleges open, we hope for the reopening soon to continue with the studies as we are protecting ourselves. My dream is to become a nurse, and I would love to operate in the villages so that I can be able to serve mothers and children and also educating youth on their health through peers group. With form four examination being a pathway to my dream, I am studying very hard regardless of the circumstances to ensure I achieve my dream,” said Halima with a smile on her face indicating determination and courage.