COVID-19 had affected our lives in so many ways and changed our lives so unexpectedly. The impact on children is catastrophic especially in low resource settings. Zimbabwe has an uneven education landscape and the inequalities are more pronounced in times such as we are in. UNICEF Innocenti Research Brief on Parental Engagement in Children’s learning reports that in Zimbabwe 13% of children in the poorest households. These inequalities become more glaring with the advent of home learning.
The school closures have impacted learning in significant ways. A qualitative study conducted by Deaf Zimbabwe Trust on the capacity of parents with children with disabilities has shown that most parents of children with disabilities are not able to provide learning support in the home.
Parents reported a number of barriers to providing home learning to children with disabilities.
Parents are unable to use sign language and communicate with their deaf children. While it may seem ridiculous that parents so not know how to sign, most parents of deaf children do not have enough sign language skills to enable them to teach and help their children at home. Most communication with Deaf children in the home is instructional and not intimate to enable fellowship.
Parents sighted illiteracy as a barrier to teaching their children. A significant number of children with disabilities are born to parents from low to poor families. These parents are not engaged with children’s schoolwork and think that the school should do all the teaching. In the wake of COVID-19, children with disabilities do not have anyone teaching them in the home. Research shows that there is a relationship between the home’s literacy environment represented by access to reading materials and the children’s reading scores. Parents are reporting that they do not have books in the home to teach children with disabilities. UNICEF Innocenta research brief shows that less educated mothers/caregivers are less likely to help children with their schoolwork at home.
The home environment for most children does not provide conducive spaces to enable children to study. Most children live in crowded environments without the necessary facilities for studying. There are no books in the home and in most cases, children have not seen their parents reading which does not provide a good role model. Help parents to create environments and spaces in the home that support learning at home.
What can be done to ensure children with disabilities get access to education during the lockdown?
Proposed interventions for distance or online learning should take into account the capacity of the parents to provide learning support and where this is lacking build their capacity by other means to support their children; Delivery or taking of learning packages to children or collection form schools by parents where Information technology or electricity is not available; Support and train parents and communities to read to children; Translate all learning materials to audio formats; Provide lessons in video formats with sign language interpretation; Radio lessons should provide instructions for the parents or caregiver or guardian so that they can help the students to follow.
COVID-19 exposes the inequalities and if measures are not taken to address these, children at risk of being left behind are left behind. While interventions that are inclusive have a cost, leaving children with disabilities behind is more costly for the nation.
Source: Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT)