Community Hope Trust: Keeping Children In School During Lockdown
Home-schooling has become the new norm since the government announced a national lockdown to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 at the end of March and with the country yet to open schools, community initiatives to get pupils learning again are beginning to sprout countrywide.
Sometimes crisis, like the present one, gives birth to the evolution of sorts.
With the country still grappling the coronavirus pandemic, many educational institutions, schools, colleges, coaching centres, remain shut, as such, parents and kids have had to adapt to the ‘new normal, which is home or community schooling.
This form of learning is not curriculum-based but largely a combination of experiential learning, informal reading, and organizing, managing time- things which are closer to life skills.
It is these values that a Kwekwe based initiative running under the Community Hope Trust (CHT), which opened doors in April after the first lockdown with 38 children growing to 112, is trying to instil in children who are attending the “informal” school.
CHT founder, Maureen Sigauke told 263Chat that the new normal requires that parents and communities adapt to new ways of educating children.
She revealed that it has been a big challenge to shift from the traditional way of education to what is required under these circumstances.
“We have had challenges with how we relate to the parents because they did not understand the roles they play in so far as participating in the education of their children
“Most parents have had a hands-off kind of an approach to educate but we have had a number of consultative community meetings and this has made more parents be more participatory when it comes to the education of their children,” Sigauke said.
Parents are understandably concerned; the reopening of educational institutions may put kids at risk but they want the best alternative for their children.
“In as much as we would want the schools to open, it is unsafe to do so because I haven’t seen anything that the government is trying to do to ensure the safety or our children.
“We have schools which are already in a bad shape and sending children back to school will be costly and deadly if the authorities are not careful,” said one parent whose kids are enrolled at the trust.
Another parent, Sharai Chiketa, the beauty of the new way of attaining education is that children are now being occupied with school rather than spending time roaming around the streets and they are likely to escape the social ills that come with staying at home and being out of school.
“Children had become a menace, they were becoming unruly but since they started going to school, they have changed in their behaviour, they can now spend time doing their school work, so the Community Hope Trust has managed to help our children maintain the focus,” she said.
The trust, which is run by qualified teachers, relies on an integrated approach between the parents, the community and the teachers.
Through various well-wishers, the trust has been able to expand operations and now offers computer lessons, which is a subject some children were not getting from their formal schools.
The journey, according to Sigauke, has been tough as they have had to comply, strictly, to COVID-19 regulations as stipulated by the government and the World Health Organisation.
“We have had a tumultuous time trying to make sure the program stays afloat especially in ensuring that we took safety measures that will ensure the mitigation of the spread of the virus and I’m glad to say that up to now we haven’t had any child who had contracted even the common flue
“We have had to ensure that we stick to lockdown regulations which were passed by our government,” she further stated.
The lockdown has exposed enduring socio-economic divides in the country with children perceived to be well up getting lessons online while those which are not well to do have been left to find alternatives to not lag behind the curriculum.
With no signal on a date for schools to return, some parents might just be in for a long haul.
Since the lockdown restrictions have not been lifted in regards to schools opening, some schools are continuing to provide classes online, which weighs heavily on those who cannot afford to buy data.
The situation in the country is worsened by the reality that most learners have no or limited access to internet connectivity and therefore cannot continue learning online following the school shutdowns.
Without access to education, children run the risk of failing to reach their full potential.
“The government should not even think about reopening schools, because it poses a huge risk for kids’ health. The cases are increasing every day; my biggest fear is what happens when a child gets infected? Right now, as parents, that is all we think about, on how to keep kids safe. And if they go back to schools, parents will not know how they are behaving there. So, even if the schools do reopen, as a parent, I will not send my kids back, yet,” said Emmanuel Hlanganiso.
The Ministry of Education has made it clear they can’t just write off the year but the resumption of schooling, as with so many other things at the moment, will depend on the disease curve.
Education Minister, Cain Mathema said they are using statistics from the just-ended Zimbabwe School examinations council (ZIMSEC) which showed that there was not a single Covid-19 case reported among pupils and school staff from June 30 to July 23 when the public examinations were taken.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, speaking after the Tuesday Cabinet meeting said primary and secondary schools were continuing with their preparations for the re-opening of schools for final examination classes.
The developed and approved guidelines that were put in place for the June 2020 examinations, she said, will be used for the holding of the final examinations in November/December.
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