When President Peter Mutharika declared the State of Disaster in March 2020 due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) scare, Hawa Juma was oblivious to the consequences this would have on her child’s right to education.
Eliza, Juma’s four-year-old child, attends Early Childhood Development (ECD) classes at Mlambe Community Based Child Care Centres (CBCCs). The centre also serves meals to the learners to facilitate their mental and social development.
According to Juma, when the government recommended that all schools close to prevent the spread of Covid-19, parents and children in Machinga suffered a huge blow since closure also forced Action Aid Malawi to suspend provision of meals in ECD centres.
“It came as a plug being removed from the main source of power. Most of us relied upon the centres to get nutritious meals for our children,” she explains.
United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) states that ECD is a long-term strategy for addressing poverty, since a strong foundation in training and education for children prepares them for productive economic lives.
The UN agency adds that ECD enhances efforts to protect children within the framework of human rights, prepares children for primary education and contributes towards retention and higher levels of attainment in school.
“ECD creates an enabling environment for the care of the child at home as well as in the community, as it releases parents to concentrate on other productive work. [On the other hand], ECD also provides support to vulnerable children, including those affected by the impact of HIV and AIDS (notably orphans),” Unicef reveals.
With financial support from the Rodger Federer Foundation, Action Aid Malawi is supporting a 10-year ECD project in Machinga and nine other districts of Dedza, Chitipa, Lilongwe, Mchinji, Ntchisi, Rumphi, Neno, Nsanje and Phalombe.
Statistics from Machinga District Social Welfare Office indicates that there are 543 CBCCs and 12 registered ECD centres spread across 20 traditional authorities (TAs). The ECD centres include Mlambe, Chipowo, Kachere, Mwangata, Nancholi, Mawangula, Thandizo, Mwayi, Chikaonda, Mulipo, Tigwirizane and Tadala.
Paramount Chief Kawinga of Machinga acknowledges that suspension of schooling was the most necessary step government needed to take to prevent the spread of coronavirus into the country.
However, the chief admits that the suspension of schooling not only impinged the children’s right to education, but also their right to food since children who attend ECD classes receive meals.
“Most parents are worried that their children would eventually suffer malnutrition because most of them cannot manage to buy or make nutritious meals to feed their children. They depend much on the support the children receive through ECD centres,” he explained.
Action Aid Malawi Country Director Assan Golowa Golowa says his organization has taken note of the impediments the measures for preventing the spread of Covid-19 have created in the provision of smooth teaching and learning at all levels, including in ECD centres.
He discloses that, in collaboration with Save the Children International and the Malawi Government, Action Aid Malawi will support the production and airing of new radio materials targeting learners and caregivers in ECD centres.
He says they are strongly of the view that early learning opportunities can easily be sustained through developing radio content for pre-primary children.
Golowa therefore states that the goal of the project will be to promote a comprehensive approach to ECD programmes for children aged 0-5 years to safeguard their rights to fully develop their physical, socio-emotional, cognitive, spiritual and moral potential.
“We have set aside K150 million for the first phase of the project, which intends to devise mechanisms and innovative approaches to deliver education and food to the children in their homes. The initial phase of the project targets Machinga, Phalombe and Nsanje, with 1, 600 children expected to benefit from the programme in Machinga alone,” Golowa narrated.
“Our organisation values the rights of children and further recognises that every lost day of learning can have a detrimental impact on a child’s future. We are therefore introducing a radio learning programme to ensure that the children do not skip school even amidst Covid-19 measures. We will also be doing some awareness programmes as well as making sure that children continue to learn through radio programmes, but following all the health procedures that the Ministry of Health is recommending,” he added.
Golowa further states that his organisation will also be donating soya flour as well as soap to the parents of the children.
He said more than ever, his organization will require partnership with other stakeholders in the basic education sub-sector to come together and lend their expertise and resources to ensure students’ path to a prosperous future is not interrupted.
District Commissioner (DC) for Machinga Rosemary Nawasha said radio learning will help minimize the negative impact on children during these school closures.
Nawasha therefore encourages parents and caregivers to support these remote learning opportunities as much as possible, saying “it is only with your help that, together, they can minimize the negative impact on children during these school closures”.
“Even amidst the Covid-19 crisis, we cannot afford to give up on a child’s education. It is therefore delighting that AAM has taken steps to ensure there is continuity of education,” she said.
The National Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Development in Malawi (2009-2014) indicates that children who participate in ECD tend to be more successful in school, are more competent socially and emotionally, and they show higher verbal and intellectual development during early childhood than children who do not access ECD services.
The plan says investing in ECD is clearly justified because it improves the child’s survival, growth, development and participation in society.