Safe learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 preventative measures in schools

Lulutani Tembo
Learning during COVID-19. A boy doing classwork while wearing a mask
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Chagara
16 January 2022

COVID-19 had a major impact on schools across Malawi. From school closures to remote learning, the past few years have been challenging, says Chiwenga Primary School in Likuni, Lilongwe, headteacher John Kalumo.

“School closures disrupted learning and led to poor performance among our students. We’ve also had about five girls drop out since the pandemic began,” says Kalumo.

In Malawi, wearing a mask was made compulsory for learners and teachers while at school. Though masks have been an essential preventative measure against COVID-19, some learners still contracted the virus.

But in 2020, the Ministry of Education received US$10 million from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) through UNICEF, to boost COVID-19 response and recover from school closures.

“As part of this support, we worked with the ministry to conduct training of teachers in remediation and assessment, recruitment of assistant teachers to decongest classes and provided radios for vulnerable learners in primary schools,” says Munamuzunga Sikaulu, UNICEF education specialist.

In the case of Chiwenga Primary, the school benefited from the GPE funding, receiving water, sanitation and hygiene supplies.

Kalumo said: “The buckets and soap that we received helped learners and teachers to wash their hands regularly before they enter a classroom. This helped boost good hygiene practices at our school, consequently making the school safer.”

Chiwenga Primary School headteacher Mr. Kalumo
UNICEF Malawi/2021
Chiwenga Primary School headteacher Mr. Kalumo

According to Kalumo, who has been in the teaching industry since 2002, the surrounding community also played a massive role in keeping the school safe.

“They sprayed the classrooms every fortnight, mopped classrooms, and ensured that water is available in the buckets at all times. They also helped with sweeping the school premises to keep the campus looking clean.”

School stuff also put-up posters with messages on COVID-19 prevention and awareness for everyone, including the community, to absorb. In addition, 50 out 63 teachers at the school were trained in mask making.

Arnold Chatheka, primary education advisor for Lilongwe, says support from GPE has been effective. 

“Schools were able to practice COVID-19 mitigation measures, and as a result, we had fewer COVID-19 cases identified in schools in this area,” says Chatheka. “Disinfecting schools was done in all zones in Lilongwe thanks to GPE funding.”

Malawian government also provided funding to some schools to construct additional classrooms to allow learners and teachers to practice physical distancing.

Because of the precautions taken, Malawian children had a full, uninterrupted year of school during 2021.