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.

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.

Scuffles and tear gas at Zimbabwe opposition headquarters

Scuffles and tear gas at Zimbabwe opposition headquarters

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Zimbabwe police arrest opposition supporters outside their party headquarters in Harare, Friday, June, 5, 2020. Armed riot police fired teargas and arrested several opposition leaders who had gathered at the party offices after it had been forcibly occupied by a … more >

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By FARAI MUTSAKA

Associated Press

Friday, June 5, 2020

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – Zimbabwe police fired tear gas Friday and arrested several opposition leaders who gathered at their party’s headquarters after it was forcibly occupied by a rival faction with the help of state security agents.

The MDC leaders, including the party’s vice president, Tendai Biti, were blocked from entering the building to address a press conference and, after scuffles and tear gas, were shoved into a truck.

Police were not immediately available for comment.

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The MDC, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, is fractured after a court ruled in March that Nelson Chamisa, who narrowly lost to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the 2018 election, is not the party’s legitimate leader. The court ordered the MDC to elect new leaders within three months.

Chamisa’s rival for the post, Thokozani Khupe, enjoys warm relations with the president. She is also part of a group of opposition leaders that routinely meets with the president for “dialogue.” Mnangagwa has asked Chamisa to join the talks, but Chamisa refuses to accept Mnangagwa’s election win and insists on an independent arbitrator.

Chamisa had remained in control of the party building until Thursday’s takeover. He accused the government of taking sides in the internal feud to destroy his “popular movement” while promoting “a pliant opposition.”

Chamisa said the arrested officials were taken to a downtown police station in the capital, Harare, and were yet to be formally charged.

The U.S. Embassy criticized the actions of the police. “We are dismayed by the politicized use of security forces to take over the headquarters of an opposition party and arrest its members,” the embassy said in a tweet.