Prolonged closure will hurt the weak most

Tuesday May 12 2020

kigali

A pedestrian crosses a road in downtown Kigali, Rwanda, on March 22, 2020. PHOTO | FILE 

RWANDA TODAY
By RWANDA TODAY
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Since mid-March, schools have been closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, all primary and secondary schools will begin the first term in September. Finding alternative learning forms during this time is difficult.

While the government has done its best to provide learning content online, on television and radio, children from the most vulnerable and marginalised families are unable to adopt as their families are still worried about food and shelter.

Many cannot afford electronic gadgets, and the few that may have smart phones have limited access to electricity to charge gadgets. Moreover, there are many children who depend on free school meals. The longer the schools remain closed, the higher their risk of   malnutrition.

 Recently the government started distributing free eggs and milk as entrepreneurs struggled to find a market for their produce. However, it is not clear whether this was done to help businesses that had been affected or the government had put in consideration many young children from vulnerable families depend on schools for proper nutrition.

It is important that the government takes steps to ensure that postponing school does not undermine progress in other sectors such as health. Meanwhile, it is also clear that most parents are unprepared for home schooling.

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Not only are some parents unable to upgrade their homes to create a conducive environment for children to study, some parents who are now back to work find it extremely difficult to cope as some children still need close supervision.

Working parents are more likely to miss work when schools close in order to take care of their children. This results in wage loss.

There is a need for the Ministry of Labour to come up with flexible working hours to allow parents to balance their professional and family life.

There is also concern about the welfare of teachers as some private schools have suspended contracts till September. While the government has pledged to keep teachers in public schools on its payroll, this should apply to all teachers who had contracts before Covid-19.

 Disruptions to assessments can trigger disengagement. The Ministry of Education should maintain contact with students and their families as well as teachers not only to ensure that there is continuity of learning but also minimise chances of some students dropping out of school.

Clearly, the pandemic is particularly hard on the most vulnerable who largely depend on casual work. The longer it takes for the economy to recover, the higher the possibility some families may not have a source of income to meet school bills by September.

This may mean that some children may drop out of school. The government must ensure that vulnerable families are well insulated not only from falling back into poverty but also ensuring that children do not drop out of school.