Mchinji — Rose is a 16 year old girl in Mangochi in the area of Traditional Authority (TA) Chimwala.
She is quite an ambitious girl, she wants to be a nurse when she completes her studies.
Being the first born in a family of three, she is a rose in her family as her mother believes she could go to University and be a role model in her village which has never produced a graduate.
But alas! The coming of Corona virus has brought a new twist to the standard 8 girl. The abrupt six-month school break due to Covid-19 got Rose pregnant, rendering her academic dream shut for a moment. She blames Covid-19 for her fate.
"The holiday was too long, and I had less hope that school would resume any time sooner, so, I relaxed just like everyone else. During the holiday, I had more time meeting with my boyfriend, and the result was that I got pregnant," she explained.
The story of Rose is just one of the many cases in Mangochi. Dozens of girls in the district have gotten pregnant over the Covid-19 period.
Probably, Covid-19 has left the entire education system shaken globally, not to mention, Malawi, the often touted 'Warm Heart of Africa.
The Covid-19 school break left more than 5,600 primary schools and over 1,300 secondary schools closed in the country.
The result was that about 5.2 million primary school learners stayed home for over 180 days, or about two academic terms without school life.
While Covid-19 has so far claimed close to 200 lives, thousands of girls and boys have been lost to child marriages, and some girls like Rose will become young mothers. Undoubtedly, Malawi has suffered two pandemics.
But mental Psychologist, Chiwoza Bandawe said education must not stop, it is a continuous process.
He added learners who have an opportunity to concentrate on studies over the holiday had an opportunity to stay focused academically, and are likely to perform better now that schooling has resumed.
"Learning requires something to be on-going, otherwise we tend to forget. And for those who had not had any schooling might find it difficult to get back to schooling mood in the short term, but it requires patience and re-learning really," Bandawe pointed out.
He takes us to a very important aspect of the Covid-19 narrative. In this view, if learning had not stopped, then in that logic, we may have had less pregnancy cases, who knows!
As a way of ensuring continued learning midst Covid-19, government rolled out a radio learning programme for primary school learners which is broadcast during school days.
However, the efficacy of the Tikwere radio programme has not been one hundred per cent as some learners had not been able to access the radio programme due to financial challenges.
Deputy Director for School Health and Nutrition in the Ministry of Education, Virginia Kachigunda affirms it all.
"One of the challenges with the radio programming is the buying of batteries as most parents in the rural areas struggle a lot, and in most of the cases they are looking for food to feed their children, so it becomes harder to save for batteries, so radio learning has been a challenge among rural children," she said.
But coming in to complement government's efforts in ensuring that education was not disrupted even during Covid-19, World Vision Malawi (WVM) introduced a concept dubbed 'home schooling.'
In the initiative, the organization trained teachers, caregivers and parents to teach their children in their homes.
In Nkhoma in the area of TA Chitekwere in Lilongwe hundreds of little boys and girls have been learning for some time now.
According to the arrangement, teachers were trained to train parents on how they can handle their children at home during the Covid-19 period.
A 26 year old, Kyton Asibu at Mphizi village in the area was one of the community members that attended the parents' training.
"WVM organized a training for parents to learn how they can help learners at home as schools were closed. So, apart from the training, they gave us books which we have been using to teach the children, and the concept is apparently so powerful as leaners which had difficulties to read and write have now had their literacy skills improved," he explained.
Random interviews with beneficiaries of the home schooling initiative proves that most of the children like it because they were only few of them learning which made them have ample time to ask questions and seek clarity.
"When school was closed due to Covid-19, I was stranded home without any idea of when I could get back to school. But when my parents started to teach me home, I was happy. Previously, I had difficulties to read properly, but, my literacy skills have since improved with this initiative," narrates 10 year old standard 3 pupil Amos at Mphizi village in the area.
In the initiative, World Vision gave out over 1,000 solar-powered radios to households to boost access to the radio learning lessons.
In Kasungu, in the area of TA Chulu, hundreds of learners have had an opportunity to learn not only through the home lessons, but follow the lessons via radio through the Tikwere radio programme.
A 36 year old, Sellina Moyo of Kadewere Village noted that home schooling and the radios rekindled her hope that her children could not be lost academically in the Covid-19 period.
"When schools closed, I was so anxious that my children would forget entirely about school, but this home schooling concept has helped in so many ways." She said.
Moyo added that, "I have been able to maintain schooling life in my children through the daily lessons, and secondly, the initiative helped to reduce mobility of my children outside the home, which in a way was an assurance of safety during this period. But above all the radios which are solar powered have enabled us have access to other information via radio and at the same time save I money since I do not buy batteries."
WVM Director of Programmes, Charles Chimombo said the goal of the home schooling initiative was to ensure that learning was continuous even during the Covid-19 period.
"Education is the best gift that we can give to the children, it is a treasure that can enable them to become better citizens of this nation. So when Covid-19 struck, we have been working together with Malawi government to find means to make learning possible even during Covid-19 without compromise," he said.
Chimombo said they came up with a quick training of parents to teach the children at home.
"In complementing the radio programme by government, we sourced over 1,000 solar-powered radios to boost access to learning facilities during the period," he added.
Kachigunda commended WVM for the initiative saying it would not only improve education quality, but also access to information for the parents.
"Government is pleased with the intervention by WVM. The home schooling is so relevant now as we are trying to manage Covid-19. It is so important even after school re-opening as learners will be going to school in shifts, so the initiative will still be relevant in getting the learners engaged when out of school. The solar-powered radios are cost-effective as they are solar powered, so parents will not be pressured to buy batteries," she said.
Through the home schooling initiative, WVM engaged 7,451 care givers and 8,597 home teachers, eventually reaching out to over 79,000 children with 9,813 books.
The initiative was replicated in 12 districts, four in the southern region and six in the central and two districts in the northern region.
The home schooling came as quick education emergency response with funding from World Vision New Zealand to the tune of US$12 million.