Home learning, reopening schools especially hard in Africa during pandemic

Home learning, reopening schools especially hard in Africa during pandemic

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In this April 22, 2020, file photo, children walk past an informational mural depicting the coronavirus and warning people to sanitize to prevent its spread, painted by graffiti artists from the Mathare Roots youth group, in the Mathare informal settlement, … more >

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By Rodney Muhumuza

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Lessons via radio or TV. Math problems in newspapers. Classes on Zoom or WhatsApp.

The options for African students to keep studying while schools remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic seem varied, but the reality for many is that they will fall behind and possibly drop out of school forever — worsening inequality on an already unequal continent.

“I think education now is more of an emergency than the health issue,” said Dr. Mary Goretti Nakabugo, a literacy expert who runs a Uganda-based education nonprofit called Uwezo, noting that there have been no reported virus deaths and just over 1,000 cases in this East African country, though, as elsewhere, limited testing means those figures are likely undercounts. Children “are completely helpless at the moment.”

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Although the pandemic has disrupted education across the globe, the schooling crisis is more acute in Africa, where up to 80% of students don’t have access to the internet and even electricity can be unreliable, making distance learning difficult, if not impossible. Schools also often provide a refuge to vulnerable children, offering services that their families cannot afford.

Sub-Saharan Africa already has the highest rates of children out of school anywhere in the world, with nearly one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and over one-third of youth between 12 and 14 not attending, according to the U.N. culture and education agency.

But getting students back to school also comes with special challenges in Africa, where children in some countries may cram into tiny classrooms by the dozens.

The charity Save the Children called the pandemic the “biggest global education emergency of our time” in a report published this week. It identified 12 countries in which children “are at extremely high risk of dropping out forever.” Nine of them are in sub-Saharan Africa.

With the help of outside groups, some African governments have announced measures to support learning from home. But many have been hindered by a lack of reliable electricity and poor internet connectivity. Even newspapers into which learning materials are inserted are not affordable for many in the region. In Uganda, for instance, annual per capita income was less than $800 in 2019, according to World Bank data.

Uganda’s government has pledged to distribute 10 million radios and over 130,000 solar-powered TV sets, but authorities have failed to honor past promises, including giving a free mask to everyone.

In neighboring Kenya, primary and secondary schools will remain closed through 2020, although colleges and other institutions of higher learning can reopen in September. That means Kenyan pupils will repeat an academic year, a phenomenon commonly described as a “dead year.”

But the effects will not be limited to academic disruption.

“The critical consequences may be related to health, water and nutrition” because schools are often oases of stability, according to a report by the Norway-based Chr. Michelsen Institute.

The development research institute noted that school closures may deny students access to meals and health programs, and sometimes clean water and sanitation.

Schools also provide havens for children from work and exploitation. Girls may especially suffer, according to the literacy expert Nakabugo, who cited anecdotal reports of a growing number of teenage pregnancies — as the Norway-based institute’s report noted happened during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic.

The prolonged shutdown could also mean many schools close for good and many teachers quit, exacerbating what is already the world’s worst teacher shortage.

Media reports in Uganda cite school owners who are looking to sell their properties or have turned dorms into rental units to keep up with loan payments. The local association of Ugandan teachers is urging authorities to employ furloughed teachers as village tutors.

“The teachers are so discouraged at the moment. They feel left out,” said Stella Maris Basemera, a mathematics teacher who heads a Uganda-based group of tutors called Creative Learning Africa. “So some of them are going to run away from the profession.”

In the West African nation of Senegal, education officials tried to keep children learning by broadcasting some classes on television after schools closed in March, a move aimed at reaching students without home internet access. But electricity is often lacking in villages.

“The potential of digital technology is enormous,” said Djibril Tall, a teacher in Senegal’s Louga region. But “in many places people are forced to travel long distances just to have enough to charge their phones.”

Some students in Senegal returned to classrooms in June, but, for many in Africa, returning to school may be tricky.

In Zimbabwe, where in many schools up to 70 students may be crammed into a small room, the government is postponing a phased reopening that had been scheduled to begin this month. Teachers unions had warned that such a plan is dangerous in schools lacking face masks, hand sanitizer, and even running water.

Even in South Africa, the continent’s most prosperous economy, the government has faced criticism from teachers unions for its decision to reopen schools despite a growing number of cases.

Since schools there reopened in June, at least 650 students and teachers have tested positive in the province of Gauteng, the country’s economic hub, forcing 71 schools to close again.

Many private schools across Africa are offering online tutoring. But in poor and rural areas, children are more likely to spend their days playing games or housekeeping.

“It is the poorest schools that will continue to suffer and remain closed, while affluent schools reopen, only deepening inequality in both access to and quality of education,” said Dipolelo Moime, spokesman for One SA Movement, a group of South African activists.

While some parents are paying hundreds of dollars a month for their children to attend online classes, others pay much less to teachers who conduct lessons in backyards. Many others cannot afford any support.

“I can’t even afford to buy bread. Where will I get the money for these private lessons?” said Maud Chirwa, a mother in the Kuwadzana suburb of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. “They are better off at school where there are some controls.”

___

Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal, Farai Mutsaka in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg, South Africa, contributed.

Protest versus Africa’s 1st COVID-19 vaccine test shows fear

Protest versus Africa’s 1st COVID-19 vaccine test shows fear

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A vaccine volunteer receives an injection at the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Africa’s first participation in a COVID-19 vaccine trial has begun as volunteers received injections developed at the University of Oxford in … more >

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By Cara Anna

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Protesters against Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial burned their face masks Wednesday as experts note a worrying level of resistance and misinformation around testing on the continent.

Anti-vaccine sentiment in Africa is “the worst I’ve ever seen,” the CEO of the GAVI vaccine alliance, Seth Berkley, told an African Union vaccine conference last week.

“In general, people in Africa know the diseases and want to protect each other,” he said. “In this case, the rumor mill has been dramatic.”

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The trial that began last week in Johannesburg is part of one already underway in Britain of the vaccine developed at the University of Oxford. Some 2,000 volunteers in South Africa are expected to take part.

It’s important that vaccines be tested in Africa to see how they perform in the local context, professor of vaccinology Shabir Madhi, leader of the new COVID-19 vaccine trial in South Africa, told reporters and others in a webinar Sunday.

But the small band of demonstrators who gathered Wednesday at the University of the Witwatersrand, where the trial is based, reflect long-running fears among some in Africa over testing drugs on people who don’t understand the risks.

“The people chosen as volunteers for the vaccination, they look as if they’re from poor backgrounds, not qualified enough to understand” protest organizer Phapano Phasha told The Associated Press ahead of the event. “We believe they are manipulating the vulnerable.”

The activist and political commentator brought up the widely circulated remarks earlier this year by a French researcher, Jean-Paul Mira, who said, “”If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?” He compared it to some AIDS studies: “In prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves.”

“The narrative we got is our continent is a dumping ground,” Phasha said. First ensure the vaccine works elsewhere before bringing it to Africa, she added.

The French researcher later apologized for his comments, but they continue to circulate on social media among those opposed to vaccine testing in Africa, Meanwhile, anger among African health officials and others was swift.

The Ethiopian director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called the comments “racist” and a “hangover from a colonial mentality.” The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, called the remarks “very disgusting” and “condescending.”

“Africa CDC will continue to work very closely with the World Health Organization to ensure that only ethically and scientifically sound clinical trials for vaccines and therapies will be conducted in Africa, using exactly the same standards and principles as those employed elsewhere in the world,” Nkengasong said in a statement. “These principles will be guided by respect for the dignity of Africans, the beneficence and non-maleficence, and justice.”

Madhi, the professor in charge of the South Africa vaccine trial, has said volunteers were given an explanation about the trial and possible risks and then had to score 80% on a questionnaire to take part.

But why not target more affluent parts of South African society? Phasha asked.

“I believe in science,” she said. “And I believe that science has managed to solve most of the problems society is faced with. I’m not against vaccinations, I’m against profiteering.”

Fellow protesters sang and danced with banners saying “We not guinea pigs” and “No safe vaccine.”

“If you want to test, test in the areas which they call the epicenter of the world,” demonstrator Sean Goss said.

It’s not clear when Africa’s first vaccine trial will begin showing results, but a worried Madhi has said the local surge in confirmed cases could mean seeing them months earlier than expected.

South Africa now has more than 151,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, the most on the African continent. Africa overall has more than 400,000 cases.

As the pandemic picks up speed in Africa, health officials are urging that any vaccine be distributed equitably around the world. A quarter of all vaccines for other diseases are used in Africa and yet the continent has little production capacity, putting its 1.3 billion people at risk of being near the end of the line for any COVID-19 vaccine.

The new global attention to racial injustice creates a key time to act, the head of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control told the AU vaccine conference last week.

“If we don’t use this moment when, for better or worse, we have the political attention of people, we will regret it,” Chikwe Ihekweazu said.

Africa must play a role in the new vaccine trials, the vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Mamokgethi Phakeng, and the chair of South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Thokozani Majozi, wrote this month in the Sunday Times newspaper.

They, too, brought up the French researcher’s comments and they criticized the calls for an “African-only” approach to finding a vaccine, saying it would pull the continent even further from the global stage.

“It would be tragic if Africa chose not to take part, at all levels, in clinical trials of a Covid-19 vaccine – or any medical treatment that could save lives,” they said.

___

AP journalist Nqobile Ntshangase in Johannesburg contributed.

Pulling down statues of racists? Africa’s done it for years

Pulling down statues of racists? Africa’s done it for years

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In this April 9, 2015, file photo, cheering students surround a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes, as it is removed from the campus at the Cape Town University, Cape Town, South Africa. New campaigns in the U.S. and Europe … more >

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By Andrew Meldrum

Associated Press

Friday, June 12, 2020

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Queen Victoria, Cecil Rhodes, King Leopold. Statues honoring these leaders of colonial rule have been pulled down over the years in Africa after countries won independence or newer generations said racist relics had to go.

New campaigns in the U.S. and Europe are now following Africa’s lead. Monuments to slave traders and colonial rulers have become the focus of protests around the world, driven by a reexamination of historical injustice after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in the U.S.

No protests have been spotted this week around the remaining statues in Africa, but several have faced furious demonstrations in the past.

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A boisterous student-led campaign pressed the University of Cape Town to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes from the school’s entrance in April 2015. The statue had been defaced and covered in excrement by students protesting against the colonial leader who supported white minority rule in South Africa and the colonization of the southern African territories named for him, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, which later became independent Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Students celebrated as a crane lifted the statue off its base. Now the statue is covered by a tarpaulin at a local army base.

Another statue of Rhodes was toppled in Zimbabwe in July 1980, a few months after the country became independent. When the statue was downed in the capital — then known by its colonial name, Salisbury, now Harare — demonstrators cheered and pounded it with a hammer.

A statue of Britain’s Queen Victoria in Nairobi, Kenya, was knocked down and beheaded in 2015 by unknown vandals. The headless statue lies next to its plinth in a downtown square.

“This statue reminds me of the suffering our forefathers went through in the hands of colonialists and whenever we see them, the memories are fresh,” Nairobi resident Samuel Obiero said. “We need to get rid of them. All over the world they must be brought down and all people who suffered due to colonialism need to also be saved from all these kinds of memories.”

In Congo, a statue honoring colonial ruler King Leopold II of Belgium — a copy of the statue that is now the focus of demonstrations in Belgium — was pulled down decades ago. Erected in 1928, it was ordered taken down by then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko seven years after independence in 1960.

The statue made a return in 2005 with an updated plaque, intended by authorities to serve as a reminder of the horrors of colonial rule. Public outcry was so great that it was taken down a day later.

Now it stands in a park of colonial monuments set up on the grounds of the Institute of National Museums set up by the U.N. mission in Congo. Although the park is technically open to the public, access is limited because of its proximity to the president’s residence in the capital, Kinshasa. The park also has statues of explorers Henry Morton Stanley and David Livingstone.

There have been so many protests against the statue of Paul Kruger, an early white ruler of South Africa, in the capital, Pretoria, that fencing has been erected to keep people away from it. “Killer Killer” is prominently painted on its base.

“It just reminds me of, like, what’s written over there, ‘Killer Killer,’” said Rogue Wanga, a 19-year-old street vendor. “Those people were killers literally. And they never liked us. I feel like we should replace it. Maybe a fountain or a Madiba (Nelson Mandela) statue wouldn’t hurt.”

A different view came from student Sambeso Soxa, 23.

“I think maybe maybe we could put, like, a statue of someone else next to it. You know, maybe (black rights activist) Steve Biko next to the statue, maybe above it to show that we’ve gone past now,” Soxa said.

“But I don’t think we should necessarily take it down, … because it’s a reminder of something that happened in the past and something we should avoid in future,” he said.

South African author William Gumede said pulling down statues is just the first step in a process.

“It’s important for these symbols of injustice to be pulled down,” Gumede said. “This has been going on for decades, and we are grappling with ridding ourselves of these monuments to domination.”

African countries must find ways to celebrate their own heroes, “not just politicians but artists, social justice activists and many others,” said Gumede, who is also chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation, which promotes good governance in Africa.

“Pulling down statues of colonialist is not enough,” he said. “We must put forward positive representations of our history, representations that instill pride in our identity.”

___

Nqobile Ntshangase in Pretoria, South Africa; Josphat Kasire in Nairobi, Kenya; and Jean-Yves Kamale in Kinshasa, Congo, contributed.