Home learning measures leaving girls behind

Home learning measures leaving girls behind

Date: June 17, 2020
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By Glory Mushinge,

Lusaka,17 June: The COVID 19 partial lockdown-induced home-learning, might be disadvantaging female students and may ultimately prevent them from attaining economic justice. This is because of a culture that requires girls and women to attend to household chores first, before studying .

The Zambian government recently introduced E-Learning as a measure that would help bridge the gap that has been created by the closure of schools, during the partial lockdown, to encourage people to stay at home and prevent further spread of the virus.

E-Learning  is also expected to be in line with the government’s ‘Seventh National Development Plan’, under the sixth pillar, which emphasises on  ‘Leaving No One Behind’, according to Zambia’s Ministry of Education  (MOE).

But the programme, as it stands,  may just have the opposite effect  if no extra interventions  are made, and end up leaving certain citizens behind, especially female learners.

The initiative is being implemented in partnership with the national telecommunications company, ZAMTEL and the Examinations Council and will provide pupils with various educational resources including e-books and a virtual library.

 To facilitate this type of home-learning, MOE, has set-up some online portals and created an extra TV channel, where lessons are delivered.

 For internet lessons, a number of lectures, especially those involving tertiary education, are livestreamed or/and downloaded by students as large documents from online spaces, such as Google classrooms.

At face value, this looks like a straightforward solution, especially that we are living in the digital age and need to embrace such virtual arrangements. However, it is not everyone who finds it that simple. Because these platforms are supposed to be accessed at home, it poses a challenge on learners who are not able to access the communication tools that are required.

Already, the initiative has created a divide between students from well-to-do backgrounds and those that are not, as well as between urban and rural students.  Those in rural areas and disadvantaged backgrounds, can not afford to access the education channel, as it is being carried  by a fee paying TV network, which low-income families can not always subscribe to. Internet equally requires purchasing bundles, which are quite expensive, while some students may not be able to acquire associated gadgets, such as phones, computers, memory cards, storage disks, among others.

 Even where learning institutions are able to provide students with smart phones or laptops, on which they can access internet, these would  be stolen instantly by members of their family or neighbours and sold for cash because of poverty, in disadvantaged communities,  Sara Longwe, a Zambian gender activist observes.

The other issue Longwe brings out is that of inability to concentrate, as the home environment would be noisy, more so for ordinary homes, in high density areas and with larger families in a small space.

Now, while such challenges apply to both male and female students in less privileged communities, the female students may be affected more. They not only have to worry about accessing these things and the suitable study environment, but also about where to find the time and how to divide it between studies and household chores.

The African society is still one that places the burden of putting the households together, on women. Children are still raised with the understanding that girls are supposed to spend more time in the kitchen cooking,  cleaning, washing clothes and other work around the house.

Where a boy and girl both go to school,  female learners are mostly expected to fulfil cultural expectations of being the ones to carry out most household chores, while their male relatives remain unoccupied and therefore able to study freely.

In this period of the lockdown, where a lot of classes have been skipped,  missing out on the few  available classes on TV and online now, would have adverse  effects on overall school performance. Some female students may be left behind and fail to catch up with others at school or perform unsatisfactorily, which may in future, prevent them from attaining desirable economic opportunities. This is especially so, for those in college and university education, who require high academic performance and need to prepare adequately for industry.

There is no doubt that with the world having become more connected and discourse about the importance  of girl child education and women empowerment having increased, most countries are pushing the agenda, with Zambia being one of those that have number of programmes to that effect.

Girl’s Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihood Project (GEWEL), is one of those projects which helps the Zambian government to decrease the rate of Child  marriage, through increasing access to secondary school for young girls from poor families. Among the methods they use, is the Keep Girls in School bursary.

Another similar programme is by an organisation called ‘CAMFED Zambia’, which works with the government to empower the most marginalised girls in rural Zambia, to attain a full secondary school education by providing them with comprehensive support, material and non-material, to meet their needs and inspire them to reach their full potential.

The list of such programmes goes on, and this is evidence that at country level, there are ongoing efforts to give girls and women a chance of attaining adequate education and ultimately a  better life. However,  the problem is at household level. Even there, most families encourage girls to go to school, but neglect to provide a suitable environment for them to study. In normal situations, even before COVID and closure of schools, students would come back home from school, with homework, but it has always been the girls who have first needed to do house work before they attend to school work, while boys are let to play, rest or study.

 With schools having closed indefinitely now, most families do not realise that their children or dependant’s school work has now increased, but rather regard their girl child’s presence at home as  extra help. In some cases, in addition to house work, young girls are usually further instructed to help out with generating income, through selling on the streets or at market places. Since the partial lockdown was imposed over two months ago, it has become common to see girls or young  girls doing that. Although a number of  them can be seen with school books, which they read, when there’s no customer to attend to, some don’t seem bothered that they are missing out on school, while others don’t even know they should  be learning at home.

For some of the girls and their families,  missing out on school, may not seem like a big deal now, but in the long run, when they have missed a lot of lessons, depending on how long the lockdown continues, catching up may prove to be difficult or impossible, especially for those approaching exam classes. This may affect the results they get and subsequently their progress, going forward. Infact, research has shown that missing classes affects high school graduation rates and the chances for success in college.

For education to deliver desirable results such as better opportunities for higher learning and/or careers, a properly laid-down foundation and consistency matters. The current E-learning programme is generally good, but still may not, in its current form, to live up to the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’, because female learners could be disadvantaged, as already indicated above.

For it to be well executed, in such a way as to ensure both male and female students get equal access to education, extra measures would need to be put in place.

These measures could include, having government officials, such as education inspectors or social workers, monitor h and ensure that students, both male and female, are given enough space and time to study. Another measure could be the creation of community learning centres where students could go, to access lessons, not too far from home, with preventive guidelines, such as social distance, masking and sanitizing in place.

Glory Mushinge, is an international  award-winning Freelance Journalist. This story is part if the Gender Links News Service Gender and COVID 19 news series.

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