Learning in lockdown – supporting girls with disabilities in Zimbabwe during COVID-19

Yollande doing school work from home, with support from her teacher on the phone.
Author:CBM UK
Posted on: Wednesday, 23rd September, 2020

In Zimbabwe, CBM is working in partnership with Plan International to help the most marginalized girls, including girls with disabilities, to access education. This is part of the Supporting Adolescent Girls’ Education (SAGE) programme, focusing on girls aged 10-19 who are not currently attending school, funded by UKAid through the Girls’ Education Challenge.

In light of the Covid-19 outbreak, CBM and partners have had to quickly adapt the SAGE programme, finding innovative ways to enable learning to continue while keeping girls safe.

Children from poor communities have missed out most on learning during the lockdown as most are unable to afford online methods of learning. But a network of over 400 community volunteers, as well as school staff and community members, are helping to educate girls about Covid-19 preventative measures and provide individual support.

Helping to protect the most marginalized girls from Covid-19

The project team are developing child-friendly Covid-19 messages, using social media, TV, Radio and SMS messaging to ensure that the girls who are hardest to reach can access important updates on the pandemic and how to stay safe. We are also adapting information to best suit the girls’ needs, such as audio for those with visual impairment or low literacy levels. 

We are working with community leaders ,by including them in Covid-19 SMS messaging, so that they can help reinforce safety messaging in their communities. When lockdown restrictions are lifted, the learning hubs set up through the programme will be reopened and inclusive health and hygiene items will be available for the community. We are also supporting staff and volunteers from the learning hubs with IT equipment, phone airtime and Wi-Fi, so they can continue to reach the most vulnerable girls.

Yollanda’s story

Yollanda smiling to camera at home in Zimbabwe.12-year-old Yollanda lives in an informal settlement in the outskirts of Harare. Having never attended school as her parents could not afford school fees, she counts herself as one of the lucky ones as she has been able to study as part of the SAGE programme. However, the Covid-19 lockdown disrupted the regular lessons that she used to enjoy at her local learning hub.

“I used to go to my hub every Monday and Tuesday, where we learnt as a group and had the opportunity to discuss with my friends. The lockdown has affected me negatively because am no longer going to school where I was taught how to read and write,” explains Yollanda.

Thankfully, Yollanda has been able to continue her studies with lessons over the phone, as over 160 community educators have been trained to facilitate learning through phone calls, text messages and WhatsApp.

Yollanda has learnt about Covid-19 prevention measures from her teacher. She, in turn, has shared this with her family.

“My teacher has taught me what to do to prevent Covid-19 over the phone. The teacher taught me that I must stay at home during the lockdown, wash my hands with soap or ash and clean running water regularly, wear a mask and observe a physical distance of at least one metre apart when in a public place.”

Looking after the wellbeing of students, hub volunteers and communities

The hub volunteers will be phoning students directly in order to maintain their learning and wellbeing. The programme will also be providing mental health support for the most marginalized girls through the School Psychological Service, as well as encouraging the girls to contact Childline Zimbabwe, which can also provide free support.

To ensure project staff and volunteers feel supported and to aid safeguarding, we are sending positive SMS and WhatsApp messages to encourage them, as well as reminders of the local support available for them, such as Community Childcare Workers to whom they can report any issues. Both the Champions of Girls Education and Community Educators will receive remote training on safeguarding risks, signposting to local services, delivery of key messaging and also individual coaching to aid home-based learning of life skills or literacy and numeracy.

Ensuring safe return and access to quality education

Community Educator, Siphiwe, looking through school book.Students and Community Educators are now fully engaged in using remote learning platforms to continue with their education even during this pandemic. Community Educator, Siphiwe, hopes for a brighter future where girls in Zimbabwe can all access quality education:

“I hope our marginalized communities eventually achieve 100 per cent numeracy and literacy through this programme. I also want some of the girls to transition into formal education and hope that many will have attained some entrepreneurial skills by the time they leave the hubs.”

When the learning hubs can all open again, we will be carrying out enhanced hygiene practices, including inclusive messaging to promote cleanliness and providing items such as water buckets and soap to ensure all our students and educators are protected against Covid-19.

Images - Top: Yollanda doing school work from home, with support from her teacher on the phone. Middle - Yollanda smiling to camera at her home in Zimbabwe. Bottom - Community Educator, Siphiwe, looking through school book.


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