WHILE many countries are reeling under the Covid-19 impacts nobody knows for sure how the coronavirus will behave over the long term.
One of the immediate impacts of Covid-19 pandemic was school closure as part of measures to contain its spread. However, the closure led to a sudden surge in teen pregnancies which threaten to cut short the pursuit for education among school-going girls. Kijiti Bahati Ahmad is one of the girls who got pregnant when the schools were closed.
She said she would like to get back to school but stigma and little support from family have discouraged to go back to school life. She is now a petty vendor selling vegetables. Ms Kijiti (not her real name) who was supposed to sit for form four national examinations this year was impregnated by her school mate, a neighbour in her village in Pemba when schools were closed due to Covid- 19.
The young girl says she was very close to the young boy responsible for her pregnancy. "He is my neighbour and most of the time we were together at my home doing some studies, but our closeness resulted to sex for the first time, and that is when I became pregnant. The man has since then disappeared and I care for my baby on my own," she said.
Kijiti is among thousands of young girls, worldwide, whose pregnancy is linked directly with the closing down schools due to Covid-19. According to UNESCO many girls got pregnant in different countries when students remained at home.
A researcher and Head of the Department of 'Inclusive Education and Life Skills under the Isles Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Ms Fatma Mbarak Hashim, revealed that at least 69 students dropped out of schools during the period of the closure of schools due to COVID-19.
She said at a meeting with stakeholders in education here, it was revealed that a total of 69 students had dropped out of school, 15 students became pregnant, two students were married, and four female students were subjected to sexual harassment and 23 students engaged in child labour.
Ms Hashim said, the statistics were obtained following a small survey conducted in all five regions of Zanzibar in 15 schools (including 10 secondary and five primary schools) She said that although the ministry of education and vocational training, in collaborations with development partners, encouraged studying at home during the closure, the survey revealed that many students misbehaved in hands of their parents including engaging in love affairs.
"Viewing pornography, nude photos and moves, listening to music, and playing game through mobile phones and laptops were other problems identified during the survey as to have affected students study," she said. She observed during the survey conducted at the end of last year that many parents were unprepared with such pandemic on how to stay in-door with children for long as some stakeholders suggest for improving and strengthening of 'disaster preparedness.'
By June 2020 the Corona virus (Covid-19) was cited as a major global catastrophe by the World Health Organization (WHO) where deaths and cases of patients continued to rise in various parts.
Many countries have taken various measures to prevent further infections and to fight the virus, including school closures, estimated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as affecting more than 72 percent of the world's students.
Zanzibar with 529,687 students (92,098 preparatory, 313,096 primary, and 124,493 secondary) who are in the compulsory education system were at home for three months after the school closed. In February this year the Ministry conducted a study to assess the impact of gender on students during the three months of school closure following the outbreak of the 2020 Corona epidemic.
Ms Fatma Mbarak Hashim says this study focused on the following factors; early marriages and pregnancies, dropping out of school, sexual abuse and child labour. Fifteen schools (10 secondary and 5 primaries) in five districts of the islands of Unguja and Pemba were included in this study, which reached a total of 172 participants including assistant directors, students, teachers, education officers and parents.
Based on this study conducted to assess the sexual impact of students during the three months of school closure following the outbreak of the 2020 Covid -19 pandemic, the study identified a number of factors that affected students during that period. A total of 69 students dropped out of school during the 2020 after outbreak.
Female students are 43 percent or 62 percent and male students are 38 percent, with Chakechake district leading with the highest number of students (30) dropping, equivalent of 43.4 percent. The worst affected schools are Dr Omar Ali Juma Secondary, Chakechake district where a total of 24 female students dropped out of school after the school reopened.
Another school affected was Kisauni Secondary School, Unguja West 'B' district, where a total of ten (10) female students dropped out. "These results show that girls are the most affected by drop-out of school. This situation goes against the goals of the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar which has been ensuring that girls receive education to reduce ignorance and eradicate poverty," she said.
Participants [teachers, parents, and Civil Society Organisations (CBOs), and development partners] at the meeting advised the ministry education and vocational training to cooperate with the Commission for Disaster Management to promote set up early strategies to provide education to the community on how to respond to disasters including pandemics.
The Permanent Secretary (PS) - Ministry of Education and Vocational training Mr Ali Khamis Juma said that closure of schools due to Corona also contributed to child labour as some students decided to remain in their jobs after opening of schools.
"Let us, as parents and teachers, work together in supporting impregnated students to get back to school to continue with education after giving birth. It is their opportunity," the PS said adding that efforts should be made to help children in schools understand the importance of education.
The PS thanked the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for their financial and professional support. "Special thanks go to Dr Masoud Mohamed Salim along with Mr Muhammed Ali Muhammed (Ugoda) of the Department of Teacher Training for their collaborations that made the survey a success," he said.