Since March 18, 2020, when Zambia recorded the first case of COVID-19, education for more than 4.4 million children and adolescents got disrupted, potentially regressing progress made in attaining Sustainable Development Goal number 4, including the attainment of high quality primary and secondary education. Children's routine is also not the same, resulting in unprecedented stress among many. The most vulnerable, including those living with disabilities and migrant children are most affected by the impacts of COVID-19 because they face additional vulnerabilities, as access to education is entirely in jeopardy during this period when gatherings and school access is limited.
So far, the Government of the Republic of Zambia has developed an Education Contingency Plan to respond and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on learners. Some of the measures devised include adopting distance learning mechanisms, to mitigate short-term and longer-term effects of school closures on learners. Schools have re-opened for examination classes to ensure that end of year examinations continue as planned. Schools have also been sanitised and provided with handwashing facilities and soaps, though there is still a need for more supplies, to continue averting the effects of the coronavirus. These are commendable efforts and will keep children informed and to a large extent, not disrupt the normal learning processes during the period of school closures for examinations classes.
Online learning platforms and accessing lessons on Television and local radio stations are currently supporting continuity of learning for children in non-examination classes that are still not able to access schools. However, in remote and rural areas, including among migrant children, such distance learning measures are far from ideal as learners without Television sets, radios and internet services cannot access such lessons. In some areas, the lack of electricity to power electronic gadgets further reduces access to distance learning platforms currently made available. The risk of gaps widening in learning is higher now among children from families that can afford and those that cannot afford to access facilities that enable distance learning modalities. Poor and vulnerable children will continue to lag in education access.
Further, distance learning platforms currently, are working effectively in Private Schools, as most schools adopted such measures early enough as the COVID-19 pandemic started. Moreover, Private Schools are better equipped to apply distance learning modalities because they generally have resources to fund access to online platforms.
In Government Schools, however, funds are limited to purchase computers and other equipment to support distance learning, particularly in rural areas. Also, there has been a lag in preparing courses for lower Grades, a situation that leaves children in Grades 1 to 4 still without access to distance learning platforms. Further, there is no system in place to monitor the effectiveness of the lessons delivered among higher Grades accessing online, Television and radio platforms.