By Paschal Iganana
For a long time, pastoralist communities have lagged behind in development – especially in the education sector. The covid-19 pandemic made the situation worse when governments worldwide closed schools in a bid to contain the spread.
In Tanzania, schools were closed for four months. The global education body UNESCO recommended distance learning programmes and facilitated the design of learning platforms in schools to support it. Most students in rural areas were however, unable to use online learning as they had no internet access.
The Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC), a Non-Governmental Organisation working in Northern Tanzania to promote sustainable development of Maasai women, children and communities supported some students to access online learning by providing home learning packages. During the period of school closures in 2020, PWC facilitated the distribution of home learning packages for learners in their target districts ensuring they kept up-to date with their studies. These packages contained study materials as well as worked examples to assist learners.
The PWC has been implementing a three-year project that aims to improve access to education and learning outcomes as well as the socio-economic status of communities in three pastoralist districts in Ngorongoro and Longido districts. It also manages a community-owned secondary school (Emanyata Secondary School) on behalf of the Aigwanak trust. Like everyone, it was not prepared for covid-19 but it adapted fast when it heard of its knock on effects. Between March and July 2020, the Council received reports of an upsurge of new cases of violence against women and girls (VAWG), increased teenage pregnancy, female genital mutilation, sexual violence, land inheritance challenges, forced and early marriages and domestic abuse – issues that prevented many girls from returning to school when they re-opened.
When Roseline returned home due to the school closures, her daily chores which included long dangerous trips to collect firewood and water as well as helping with the livestock combined with the lack of learning resources meant that time (and energy) for studies was rather limited. “Staying at home is a challenge to most Maasai girls. Anything can happen anytime. School has become the safest place for most of the girls.”
The packages the PWC supplied were well received and an assessment commissioned by PWC found that they were 80 per cent successful in supporting ongoing learning during the period that schools were closed. However, a survey found that there were challenges such as lack of motivation from learners due to anxiety over school closures, lack of parental support in ensuring learners scheduled time to study, students from the most remote areas were unable to collect the home learning kits, as well as lack of access to their teachers for instructions. On the plus side, the home learning packages made catching up easier for the learners once schools reopened.
On the students’ return to school, an assessment commissioned by the PWC to determine the home learning packages’ effectiveness revealed that though efforts were made to support learners keep up with their studies, significant learning loss occurred during the school closure period. 76 per cent of students interviewed shared that they had high levels of stress during school closure as they worried that friends and family would contract covid-19 as well as worry over loss of learning.
There was also a significant increase in pregnancy cases as well as cases of school dropouts. The survey also noted that many students, parents, teachers, and government representatives said they would have preferred that learners remained in boarding facilities during the lockdown period.
Schools were forced to open for longer hours when they re-opened to complete the syllabus and ensure learners could prepare and revise for their exams as the schedule for national examinations remained the same as in previous years. All extra-curricular activities such as sports were cancelled, and more time was devoted to learning.
Teachers feel that this high-pressure situation helped learners build their resilience, believe in themselves and be more aware of their capabilities. “Everyone came together to utilise the limited time for studies” said a teacher at Emanyata Secondary School. The Emanyata School management was pleased that the learners’ showed fortitude in the face of adversity. This showed resilience and they are hopeful that that they will do well in their National exams.
The Council continues to support projects in schools in the target districts by training teachers, purchasing scholastic materials, installing solar power, building labs and dormitories, and supporting teachers to provide remedial classes for those students who lagged in their studies. Friends of the two organisations continue to raise funds to ensure that most girls at risk access quality education at subsidised rates.
(Featured Image: Students from pastoralist communities keen in class before the covid-19 pandemic.)