Zambian Education Under Attack: Fear of COVID-19 Surging

For young Zambian pupils, hopes for resuming school were almost becoming a reality. This reality has been plaguing many other children all around the globe. The unpredictable and unavoidable consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to continue for an increasingly long time.  For some children who have not had access to online study facilities, it has led to them staying idle at home. Needless to mention, this has caused anxiety and stress both for the children and parents. The children are having difficulties understanding why they cannot relate with their friends at school and not be able to learn. Whilst parents have run out of answers to explain why their children cannot go to school. This rollercoaster experience is unpleasant for everyone.

There’s no doubt these emotions and questions have crossed the minds of young Zambians. However, news from Lusaka confirms that schools will be delayed again. The joys and excitement that schools were planned to reopen on January 18 have been shattered as the president’s announcement revealed classes will not begin again until February 1, 2021. The main reason behind this delay is to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 cases.

President Edgar Lungu added in his official statement that, the delay is also meant to allow school authorities to prepare adequately in terms of putting in place preventive measures against the pandemic. Xinhua Net news reports “he said the country has seen a spike in cases that could put learners at risk if schools reopened without putting in place effective preventive measures.”

This follows harder questions about why Lunga’s government has not instituted a safe environment for Zambian children. The pandemic has ravaged the world for almost more than a year now. It is expected that every nation should have done necessary preventive preparations that will ensure children will have a safe environment to study.

This perspective was also shared by six teacher unions. They expressed concern about the preparedness of the Ministry of General Education ahead of the reopening of schools. They added that the ministry could have carried out a survey before declaring that all schools should open on January 18.

In stronger words from the Zambia Reports, the Professional Teachers Union of Zambia (PROTUZ) Director for Public Relations and International Affairs Brian Mwila says the second wave of COVID 19 being experienced in the country at present is proving dangerous because it is claiming people’s lives day by day. In his discussion, he disclosed that teachers have added numbers to COVID-19 deaths that the country has recorded and many of them were living in fear.

Furthermore, he also called upon the Ministry of Health to urgently guide the general public on the reopening of schools. In response, the health minister Jonas Chanda said the ministry will hold a consultative meeting with the Ministry of General Education and other ministers to discuss the reopening of schools, among other issues, amid the pandemic.

At this stage of this pandemic and with the seriousness that should be appropriated to education, it is imperative that the government implements safe measures that will guarantee a fear-free study environment. Curbing COVID remains a global challenge but now is no longer the time for delays. This is the moment for the health and education ministries to work hand in gloves by organizing sensitization campaigns. There should be time for door-to-door information sharing wherein even the least educated can be aware of the severity of the virus.

 If it entails splitting classes and changing class times (reducing daily classes), it will be better than the children staying at home and learning almost nothing. Given how uncertain school fully reopening is, it could be an option for the government to admonish teachers to make simplified study materials for the children. This could either be written and audio recorded or a video. Continuously postponing schools from resuming under the same excuse of preparing for preventive measures doesn’t seem to be a befitting answer to children who are losing out on their possibility of building a career.

Sarah Namondo