By Mwayi Gowelo, MANA
In order to allow primary school students continue with their studies at home since schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in collaboration with UNICEF, has launched an Emergency Radio Education Program (EREP).
At the launch on Wednesday, Minister William Susuwele Banda said the radio program was to encourage the learners to continue concentrating on their studies while they are home and plans are on board to introduce a similar television program.
“We have also looked at the possibility of online learning but this has proved to be difficult because not every student has access to internet,” Banda said.
Apart from the radio program, the Ministry plans to distribute print materials to students while it is considering setting up a television learning programme.
Banda added that the Ministry wishes to continue with the radio programs even after schools re-open, saying they are not dependent on teachers, unlike the previous attempted radio learning programs.
“The program we have launched today directly addresses learners, hence no need for a teacher to be present,” he said.
The Ministry will simply reschedule the program to ensure that after knocking off from school, learners may continue with their studies with the help of the radio.
The Ministry has set up a task force to monitor the pandemic and the team is expected to report back the best time to re-open the schools, as according to Susuwele Banda.
“This task force is also responsible for guiding us in terms of measures that can be put in place to make sure that students are safe when they go back to school,” he said.
Representing UNICEF Malawi, Rudolf Schwenk said the COVID-19 pandemic has globally affected children as their education is greatly interrupted.
He said almost 8 million school-age children that attend pre-primary, primary and secondary education in Malawi have been at home since March 23.
“By working together, we can ensure that COVID-19 does not threaten the gains we have made in the education sector and also not threaten the dreams and hopes of millions of children and young people.”
Schwenk, therefore, commended government for prioritising the urgent need to ensure school-age children continue to learn despite closure of schools.
He said the EREP, as an innovative initiative to keep learners in a positive education routine, is expected to serve almost six million children in primary schools across the country with focus on literacy, numeracy and science through Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Radio 1 and 2.
He said UNICF is aware that school children, especially girls, who are out of school for extended periods of time are much less likely to return when classrooms re-open.
He also said the closure of schools eliminated access to school-based nutrition programmes and during malnutrition rate might have gone upwards.
“I encourage all parents and the community at large to support their children and help them participate in these lessons and make full utilization of this opportunity.”
UNICEF takes cognizance that radio is by far the most likely used medium and a crucial source of information source for people, especially in rural areas in Malawi.
And since many children in Malawi have now reading proficiency, the use of radios is very suitable solution for distance learning.
UNICEF says it will continue to collaborate with the government and other partners to reduce learning disparities, while increasing access to quality education programmes to be successfully incorporated into both formal and non-formal education settings, provide access to learning to children in urban and in rural areas — including those in most isolated areas.