Zimbabwe’s children return to school after COVID-19 third wave disruptions

Over a billion children across the world have been impacted by school closures since the COVID-19 pandemic began – disrupting learning and increasing social vulnerabilities.

Elizabeth Mupfumira
Tajudeen and learner
UNICEFZimbabwe/2021/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
08 September 2021

 8 September, 2021, Harare - As schools across Zimbabwe re-opened to all learners this week, UNICEF Representative Dr. Tajudeen Oyewale and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MOPSE) Ms. Tumisang Thabela, visited a Harare Primary School to meet the students and teachers, and observe measures in place to protect children against the virus.

These measures and protocols, which should be implemented by all schools across the country, are in line with the WHO and Ministry of Health and Child Care guidelines on the prevention and management of the disease at all learning institutions to ensure a safe and healthy environment for students,  teachers and staff.

“It is wonderful to see children back in school and learning. The children have shown their resolve to keep the schools open by observing the necessary protocols to keep the school safe,” said Dr. Oyewale.

“Measures that include a holding bay at the school for children who may be sick, and the linkages with the local clinic also ensure that children stay healthy.”

Over a billion children across the world have been impacted by school closures since the COVID-19 pandemic began – disrupting learning and increasing social vulnerabilities including long term drop outs, mental health issues, risks of gender-based violence and abuse, and poverty.

In Zimbabwe, UNICEF has been working closely with Government through a joint monitoring system with the Ministries of Primary and Secondary Education; and Health and Child Care to establish effective systems including information sharing, coordination and collaboration, which have resulted in strengthened Standard Operation Procedures to prevent the spread of infections in schools.

UNICEF has been advocating at the global and local levels throughout this pandemic that schools should be the last to close and the first to re-open.

Tajudeen addressing learners
UNICEFZimbabwe/2021/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
UNICEF Representative Dr. Tajudeen Oyewale interact with pupils at Westlea Primary School after classes re-opened after being shutdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Alternative Learning Methods

The closure of schools brought to light the disparities in children’s access to tools and technology during lockdowns, which threaten to deepen the learning crisis. Many children, especially the poorest children faced challenges in accessing technology and materials needed to continue learning during school closures.

“Our new curriculum is moving from a content-based education system to one that is based on competencies in line with the 21st century education. This involves developing a child’s soft skills, general knowledge, and digital skills. Through alternative means, we hope children will be able to keep up with their education during COVID-19 and beyond” said Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Ms. Thabela.

UNICEF in partnership with MOPSE and Microsoft recently launched the Learning Passport in Zimbabwe, as a way to provide continuous learning for students whose learning was interrupted by the COVID-19. This digital platform is providing alternative learning options by giving students and teachers free online access to learning materials including radio lessons, syllabuses, teaching guides and other interactive learning materials.

Handwashing at school
UNICEFZimbabwe/2021/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
Observing COVID-19 regulations, pupils at Westlea Primary School settle back into classes after COVID-19 had shut down schools across Zimbabwe.

“Even while schools were shut, schools like Westlea Primary School were able to avail alternative learning platforms to their students, like the Learning Passport to ensure that learning never stopped despite the difficult situation they were in during the COVID-19 lockdown,” said Dr. Oyewale.

With an emphasis on access, quality of learning, health and safety, continuity, and community engagement, the aim is to minimize COVID-19’s disruption to the lives, learning and wellbeing of children and young people.

While the benefits of children being back in the classroom is undisputed and brings significant benefits, strengthening access and availability of alternative and digital platforms can go a long way reducing the impacts to children’s learning and can provide an additionally richer and diverse learning experience for them once back in the classroom.