By Wisdom Ngwira:
Chester Chakwawa is 15 years old, he sat for his Malawi School Certificate of Education last year,2020.He scored an aggregate of 37 points in his best six subjects.
“The 37 points I got meant I failed to qualify for an admission into any of the country’s public universities. With my background where I come from a poor family, I had to repeat form four,”he says.
Asked on what could have contributed to his dismal performance in the examinations, Chakwawa says there could be many factors, but key among them are frequent breaks that he experienced due to the Covid-19.
“As you are aware, we experienced a lot of disruptions in our school calendar from last year due to the Covid-19 disease and this hugely hampered my concentration in school.
“Some may think this is a lame excuse bearing in mind that there were still some learners who scored better points, but I can challenge you that all through, I was doing very well in my studies until we started experiencing the frequent school closures. This disrupted my concentration,” he says.
The 15 year old who hails from Chizani village in traditional authority Khosolo in Mzimba says the Covid-19 pandemic has mainly affected learners from poor families as they could not be able to pay either part time lessons or online lessons.
“Some learners were still pursuing classes amid the school breaks as they either arranged for part time lessons or online but us from less privileged families could not have this opportunity.
“As we were going into the examinations, we found ourselves in a very disadvantaged situation as we were like competing with our friends who had either been on part time lessons or online,” he said.
Renown education activist Benedicto Kondowe agrees with the sentiments shared by Chakwawa and thousands others who mainly come from rural or less privileged families that really the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted them negatively.
“You look at a situation where a learner comes from a very poor family where parents cannot manage to find alternative means of making sure that their wards are accessing schools in times of the Covid-19 breaks.
“You should also be mindful that somewhere, there is a learner whose parents are able to find a teacher who is daily teaching the child even during the Covid-19 breaks yet these two learners are expected to sit for the same examinations. How do you expect them to perform? Asks Kondowe.
Minister of education, Science and technology Agnes Nyalonje acknowledges the various challenges learners from rural or less privileged learners have experienced due to the Covid-19 pandemic and says government has made various interventions to counter the challenges.
“As government, we initiated the radio sessions where teachers could come on the radio and offer lessons which learners right at their homes could listen. Through this, we believe many learners even from poor or rural settings benefit.
“Apart from this, we also initiated online and open and distance learning lessons where learners were offered an opportunity to access education even during Covid-19 breaks so that when schools open, they should not lose concentration.
While applauding the government’s initiatives, Kondowe says still learners from rural or less privileged did not benefit as much.
“You look at a situation where starting from last year around April, our learners have been subjected to a number of breaks which definitely results in loss of concentration as well as losing steam.
“Even with the introduction of Open and distance learning. Many less privileged learners could not benefit as this mode of learning requires one to have internet connectivity,” he says.
Going forward, less privileged learners like 15 year old Chakwawa only hopes that the disease does not strike again to the extent of necessitating school closures while Kondowe believes with a proper strategy as well as encouraging many people to get the Covid-19 vaccine, education may return back to normalcy.