Covid-19 entrenches disparities in education

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THERE is absolutely no doubt that the obtaining coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has impacted society negatively the world over.

Over and above the deaths and illness stretching nations’ capacity to cope, countries’ economies have been pushed to the brink while companies folded, leading to massive job losses that could go on record as the worst in recent history.

However, in the case of Zimbabwe, a nascent impact of Covid-19 has also been apparent — the entrenchment of disparities within the education sector.

As the country imposed its first lockdown starting March 30, primary and secondary schools as well as tertiary institutions — with their different capacities to respond to the calamity — were forced into immediate early closure.

The schools may not reopen this year, probably forcing learners to retake their 2020 grades next year. Most urban schools with their high enrolments, hot-seating occasioned by infrastructural deficiencies and lean revenue bases, do not allow for much flexibility in introducing online learning for pupils to cover the lockdown period.

Rural schools are even worse off with their inherent resource constraints. On the other hand, private schools — which are clearly better-resourced — have been offering online lessons.

When schools eventually reopen, the differences created now will continue in learners and will remain entrenched, eventually exposing them to different opportunities in life.

Eradicating the disparities may require availing uniform learning materials delivered through relevant and accessible media that adequately respond to the requirements of learners’ different subjects and syllabi levels.

This will help prepare all learners — whatever their station and location — for the eventual re-opening, regardless of the nature of their school.

The government must think beyond the current mediocre radio lessons that were designed without caring a jot about the circumstances of the different learning institutions in the country.

Careful consideration of the needs of the learners in designing the materials and their capacity to access the medium of delivery remain crucial components of the government’s interventions.

For the institutions, the dry period without any collection of revenue will come back to haunt them when they reopen.
There are certain fixed costs that would still need to be paid whether the schools are open or not, which arrears will still need to be settled at some point.

Because of their geographic location, infrastructure and resource-wise, rural schools are at a great disadvantage as compared to those in urban areas.

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