Back in class!

Looking at my recent post “Open our schools!” you might think I was dancing with joy when the president last Friday announced that schools can reopen. But I wasn’t. I do think it is the only way forward as children in government schools have missed out on six month of learning, but as for me and my youngest boys we were just getting the hang of it. I was even planning how to set up our new “classroom”. You could say I received the news with mixed emotions. And so did the boys. Six months away from what was routine meant it was like first day at school all over again on Tuesday, it didn’t make it any easier that we weren’t allowed to escort them to hostel or class, just drop off and go to avoid crowding. (I know it was all smiles by the end of the day but it was still hard!) My youngest only goes back next week and will hopefully get the excitement up, at least he made sure to load up on snacks today when we went grocery shopping. Thanks to technology and hard working teachers the children at Martin house have been able to keep up with work. Unfortunately, that can’t be said about many other schools that are now looking at catching up on all the lost time. 2020 is really a year for the history books for all the wrong reasons but I hope we can see a silver lining which for me has been all the time spent with my children (though I can’t lie, it’s been challenging too!) Now the question is how do we expect our kids to adhere to social distancing and wearing masks at school when most adults have failed so badly at it!?

Open our schools!

In Zambia all schools had to close in March following instructions from the president. It was announced just before the first cases of Covid-19 in the country were reported. We have now completed a full term from home (with only exam classes back at schools from 1 of June). For my children that’s in a well organised private school. The majority of children in Zambia that attend public/ government run schools have had no access to any form of education from home, and have instead been left unsupervised as parents go out to look for work. In the poor areas the children are left looking after young siblings or playing in the streets. I’ve noticed an increase of children begging for money at the traffic lights and children going around selling snacks. The purpose of closing schools was obviously to try and stop the spread of Covid-19 but when parents still have no choice but to jump on packed buses and go into crowded markets to make a living what is the gain by keeping the children out of school? Especially as the children are not sitting at home. Many countries have noted an increase in domestic abuse, this does not exclude children. Teenage pregnancies will most likely go up as well as drug abuse amongst teenagers with nothing better to do. WHO is now urging African countries to safely open schools as the dangers by staying out of schools may outweigh the risks of getting Covid-19. In two weeks time schools are du to start term 3, at this point the silence from our government is loud. Schools need to plan ahead, either for a safe reopening or a continuation of online/home learning (which is a challenge even for the most organised school with some schools seeing a sharp decrease in engagement from pupils) as of now nobody knows which direction we are heading. Covid-19 is going to be around for a long time, we can’t sit and wait for it to magically disappear. We can’t afford to write 2020 off, life needs to go on even under the circumstances of “the new normal”. Open our schools!

Read the article from WHO here: https://www.afro.who.int/news/who-unicef-urge-safe-school-reopening-africa

Recap part III: Mask up – mask down

When masks were made mandatory I had been making masks for just over a week. Easier said than done when power only comes back at 3 pm and four kids need to be done with school, but I needed something to keep my hands and mind busy. I was reluctant at first as a mask is only useful when used properly and made of the correct material. Anyway, as it was now mandatory I was able to donate to some institutions and make sure all the employees at the farm had a mask each. I lost count somewhere after two hundred but I probably completed over four hundred masks in about a month.

The idea with a mask is that you protect those around you in case you are asymptomatic, and so others protect you by also wearing a mask. But that is where it gets tricky as many don’t want to don the mask. Once it was made mandatory the question was how will it be enforced? Well, we soon got the idea. The police decided one day to pick up about 150 people in Kabwe town center that had no mask or were not wearing them properly. As much as I understand the urgency it was not the right thing to do. As masks are only a last resort for when we’re not able to keep enough distance to those around us, what sense did it make to bundle up 150 people, carry them to the police station only to caution them and send them off again? What if even one of them had been positive? It showed us how poorly informed the police force is on the issue of Covid-19. They seemed happier to have an excuse to harass people rather than informing the public. However this seems to have been a one off. And once people saw that there was no consequences for not wearing a mask the usage kept dropping. Last time I checked I could only see about one in five with a mask and too often the mask is under the chin.

As Covid-19 numbers are still relatively low in Zambia I don’t think most people take it seriously enough, some even think it’s not here at all, or that it is already over. Unfortunately that is wishful thinking. We can only get through this with a community approach, wear your mask to protect those around you and I will wear my mask to protect you!

Recap part II: Schools out for Covid!

A few days before our Ministry of Health went public with Zambia’s first confirmed Covid-19 case in mid-March they announced that all schools were to close as a precaution. At this time my anxiety levels were already on a high as I had been watching how the pandemic was spreading around the globe on my phone. With the school closure announced I felt like everything came crushing down and I had to ignore the new recommendations of social distancing to hug a friend and cry on a shoulder (in town centre in the middle of the day…). Somehow once we knew Covid had arrived in the country I felt as if my anxiety dropped, like “it’s here, now what?”.

I had my four children back at home and they needed to get on with school in its new format. Google classroom has proven to be a very useful tool in these times. I had three of my kids logged in from two different schools. However, with daily 6-8 hour power cuts and poor network this was already a challenge. After the long April break we came back to online school in a more organised way, the teachers had spent the past 4 weeks preparing and training and the children were now to attend actual live classes. If only technology could be of use instead of an obstacle! Trying to get three children connected to live classes all at once was simply too much for my phone hotspot (airtel) to handle, I got a mifi (mobile router) that only gave me more grey hairs. I then spent the whole of May pulling my hair out over slow internet, long power cuts (running a generator just to keep the laptops going), trying to keep everybody on track and focused. My oldest son had also changed schools in the middle of this and he needed a little daily motivational speech from me, or simply put, we argued a lot!

Somehow we still managed to keep up. But it took my full attention. On 1st June my oldest two were able to return to actual schools as examination classes (gr 7, 9&12) were given the go ahead to go back. My oldest couldn’t wait, the home school format wasn’t for him, while my daughter actually hoped for schools to remain closed as she was enjoying it (being a very diligent and disciplined student!). I’m left with my 10 and 7 year old sons at home and I’m finally enjoying it. I’ve even contemplated keeping my youngest at home until he goes to boarding school (he is in a day school) but he has told me he misses school so much, he is a social butterfly after all.

These past month have given us a lot to be grateful for in the middle of a global pandemic, we have had the kids at home for 10 weeks straight, I’ve been hands on with their learning, and they have managed to keep up despite not being at school. Yes, I did almost throw both the mifi and my laptop out the window a couple of times, and I’ve had almost daily mini-meltdowns, but the kids have manage to keep on track. Now we will enjoy an extended mid term break (two weeks! I think the teachers are tired too…) and then pull through what is left of this term, surely schools will be back to normal in September!?

I must also add that there has been a silver lining to all of this and that has been that the children has had time to do so much besides school, anything from building houses in the bush to rearing ducklings and adopting piglets, growing veggies and going fishing. There was also a lot of bonding taking place and we even got into a habit of taking morning jogs/walks together.