Like many other parts of the world, Africa braces itself as the COVID-19 Delta variant makes its rounds. To date, it has found its way to 29 African countries, including Tanzania. (African countries impacted by all COVID variants number 47.) (1)
Photo Credit: Fusion Medical Animation / Unsplash
In some ways, the pandemic on the continent of Africa looks a lot like what we’re seeing in the U.S. For example, parts of the population remain skeptical of the virus. But Africa does not completely mirror the U.S. or other western countries. It has a relatively low infection rate, and its position to receive vaccines is at the end of the line.
Ahead is an overview of how Africa is faring with the pandemic. We will also take a look at how Tanzania has evolved in its own approach to coping with COVID.
COVID-19 Cases Remain Relatively Low
The key word is relatively. We can all agree that any case of COVID-19 is one too many. As of August 2021, the WHO has reported a total of 5,580,789 cases across the African continent and 135,182 deaths. (2) This represents under 4 percent of infections globally.
Why are these numbers lower than what we are seeing in many other parts of the world?
In a recent study, (3) several health experts offered multiple theories. The first involves demographics. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the median age is 18. (The same number of people in this region are under the age of 18 as over it.) To put it another way, the number of older adults is low. By now, we know that COVID-19 has been especially brutal on older adults, particularly in its first wave. This is one reason that the U.S. is the country with the highest number of cases and deaths - at 38, the median age in the U.S. is much higher.
In addition, how elders are cared for may contribute to Africa’s (again, relatively) low rate of deaths. In Sub-Saharan Africa, most elders are cared for at home rather than in a long-term care community, so they have been somewhat shielded from contagion. Here in the U.S., deaths due to COVID-19 that occurred in long-term care account for over 30 percent of overall deaths. (4)
One telling detail is the number of cases and deaths in South Africa. South Africa is a Sub-Saharan outlier in several ways. At 27.6, its median age is higher than most other Sub-Saharan countries, and its system of elder care communities is much more established. South Africa is also the hardest hit country in Sub-Saharan Africa. The number of COVID-19 cases diagnosed in South African long-term care communities has reached 33 percent. (5)
Other contributing factors for the low rates on the African continent include possible cross-protection from previous exposure to other coronaviruses, limited testing which may not accurately reflect actual numbers, and proactive moves made by some African governments and organizations.
As of August 2021, just 24 million, or 1.7 percent, of Africa’s population is vaccinated. International leaders are trying to change that. The World Health Organization is leading the effort to distribute vaccines in Africa. Their goal is to vaccinate 10 percent of the population by September 2021 and 30 percent of the population by the end of 2021. (6) Hopefully, the month of July is a harbinger of things to come. During that month the vaccine doses delivered to Africa numbered greater than the previous three months combined.
Photo Credit: Hakan Nural / Unsplash
“After a tough three months, we’re seeing more positive prospects in terms of vaccine shipments to Africa. Unsteady supplies are the main reason Africa’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been slow, so as shipments ramp up it is crucial that African countries put comprehensive vaccination strategies in place to swiftly and efficiently protect the most vulnerable,” said Dr Phionah Atuhebwe, New Vaccines Introduction Officer at WHO Regional Office for Africa. (7)
Did You Know? Morocco is the African country with the highest vaccination rate. The country has vaccinated 36.9 million residents, or 37 percent of its population. (8)
Did You Know? Morocco is the African country with the highest vaccination rate. The country has vaccinated 36.9 million residents, or 37 percent of its population. (8)
Similar to the U.S., some skepticism about the vaccine exists. In Congo, false messaging and conspiracy theories are circulating, and many are refusing the vaccine. In fact, the country returned over one million doses that had been donated by the African Union. (9)
Some African leaders are downplaying the risks of COVID-19, too. Tanzania’s former president, John Magufuli, is one example. Rather than promoting vaccines, social distancing and mask-wearing, Magufuli advocated healing prayers, herbal remedies and steam inhalation. At one point, he famously declared his country “COVID-free.” In March 2020, Magufuli died from heart complications at the age of 61. He had not been seen in public for over two weeks, and rumors have spread that Magufuli died of COVID-19.
Tanzania’s New President and a New Approach to COVID-19
Samia Suluhu Hassan, previously Tanzania’s vice president, was sworn in as the president just a few days after publicly announcing the death of Magufuli. She has quickly enacted change, first allowing international organizations and embassies to import vaccines for their employees and then applying to join the global COVX vaccine distribution program. She also accepted a donation of one million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine donated by the U.S. government in July, instituted a vaccine purchasing program and released data on infections. (10)
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy Tanzania/Twitter
Hassan is also sending a different message to her countrymen and women. Not only did she receive the vaccine, but she was photographed having it administered for all to see. She has also publicly advocated for hand washing, mask-wearing and social distancing.
However, not all public officials are sending the same signal. Josephat Gwajima, an evangelical preacher and member of parliament, instead argues that the vaccine interferes with human DNA.
As of August 2021,Tanzania has had a total of 1,1367 cases of COVID-19, which amounts to .02 percent of cases in Africa. The country has had 50 deaths. (11)
Students at Saving Grace School in Arusha, Tanzania mask up. Photo Credit: Brighter Tanzania Foundation
Did you know that one of the world’s earliest libraries was established on the continent of Africa? It was around 323 B.C, (B.C.!) that Ptolemy built the Library of Alexandria in present-day Egypt. It may have included as many as 500,000 papyrus scrolls with works of literature, history, law, math and science. Its vast collection attracted researchers from around the Mediterranean region including Euclid and Archimedes.
Today, some of Africa’s best libraries are still located in Egypt, such as the Royal Library of Alexandria and Six October University Library. Other parts of the continent boast of their own libraries, both for their architecture and their collections. For example, the National Library of South Africa holds a collection of rare manuscripts and maps. Kenya’s Kenyatta University Post Modern Library is a five-story, high-tech facility built in 2011. And Ghana’s Balme Library contains over 100,000 books, six departments and a special library for the physically handicapped.
Libraries, at their best, should be easily accessed by all segments of the population. This has not always been the case in some countries in Africa, particularly in rural regions. Yet, an important shift is taking place. As more and more collections are becoming digitized, access to library materials is becoming more widespread.
Photo Credit: Shunya Koide/Unsplash
Historically, many of the continent’s current libraries were established by colonial governments. Replicating European models, they were not always relevant or accessible to the general population. Often, the libraries were only used by the highly educated elite. As more of the population becomes educated, the popularity of libraries has grown. Still, some think there is untapped potential for the use of libraries to assist with social development and economic growth.
One researcher had this to say: “The unique opportunity to reach people with vital information in areas such as agriculture, health, and employment and poverty reduction - in addition to education - is largely untapped.”
NGOs play a part in increasing this access. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the major funders of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in libraries on the African continent and throughout the world. It supports efforts to raise awareness of public libraries and to provide free internet access.
At the end of 2020, the TLSB announced some good news. The system is set to go digital. All materials within the system’s libraries will be able to be accessed digitally. In preparation, they have begun training librarians nationwide on the workings of the future e-library.
Prior to this large investment, NGOs established or advanced libraries on a smaller basis. For example, the PeerCorps Trust fund set up a digital library in the Central Tanzanian city of Nzega. Because the area has frequent power outages, they use a laptop system. And in the city of Ilembula, they founded a specialized digital medical library that serves 200 nursing students.
Research shows a strong connection between high-quality school library programs and high achievement, one of the reasons that Saving Grace School established their own library.
Photo Credit: Saving Grace School / Brighter Tanzania Foundation
However, most primary and secondary schools in Tanzania do not have their own libraries. In 2017, only 19 percent of students in first and second grades reported that they had used a school library. Often the Office of the Head Teacher is used to store books for teacher reference only. Another NGO, Project Concern International, which worked in the Mara region of Tanzania, discovered that a perception existed that students would damage books, leaving them with no resources to replace them. Therefore, they kept any resources that they had, locked away.
The program included increasing student access and educating communities about the benefits of libraries. They also trained teachers on how to promote reading habits. This included setting aside one day each week for students to pick out a book that they could take home with them.
With the assistance of a Brighter Tanzania Foundation fundraising drive, we are happy to report that Saving Grace School established their own library in 2018. The staff continues to add to their collection at the beginning of each school year. Part of BTF’s mission is to help build the local economy while contributing to the education of Arusha’s underserved population. And so the teachers purchase all books for the Saving Grace library in Tanzanian stores.
Grace Silas Laizer, founder of Saving Grace School and its library, shares in the knowledge of an ancient truth: books transport. It might be Dr. Seuss who said it best: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
In the United States, we see the impacts of climate change directly, from increasingly severe hurricanes, droughts and wildfires. We see it indirectly, too, from the many families migrating north from countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Though a number of factors drive these families north, climate change undoubtedly contributes. Their home countries are located in what is known as the Dry Corridor, an area of extreme drought and erratic rainfall. For those who depend on smallholder farming, climate change is devastating.
Photo Credit: Jasper Wilde / Unsplash
Across the globe, another developing nation faces similar danger. Over the past 40 years, Tanzania has also endured severe and recurring droughts. The average annual temperature in Tanzania has increased by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1960 while rainfall has become unpredictable. By 2060, the average annual temperature is projected to increase by 1.0 to 2.7 degrees Celsius. By the 2090s, it is expected to increase 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius. On a human level, these worsening weather patterns lead to greater food insecurity, risk of disease and burden on vulnerable populations such as women.
Like the imperiled Central American countries, many of Tanzania’s residents are small-scale farmers. In fact, more than 80% of the population works in agriculture. (Read about Tanzanian agriculture in a BTF blog post, “Tanzanians Celebrate Nane Nane Day.”) Agriculture accounts for 32% of its GDP.
Severe weather has led to a $200 million annual loss for the agricultural sector. It is fair to say that climate change has exacerbated food insecurity. According to UNICEF, roughly 2.7 million children were stunted in 2015 and more than 600,000 suffered from acute malnutrition. It follows that those living with food insecurity are more vulnerable to disease.
Photo Credit: Pixabay
We listened with dismay as reporters told of the locust plague on SubSaharan Africa in February 2020. It reminded us of the dangers that insects, small as they are individually, pose collectively to humans. Changes in temperature and precipitation impact the habitat and behavior of vectors, leading to an increase in diseases like malaria and dengue. In addition, changes in rainfall patterns and increasing droughts impact water supply. Many rural areas already lack sanitation and treated water. The stress on the country for safe and plentiful water will only increase as climate change worsens. Without widespread sanitation and hygiene, the population is more vulnerable to water-borne diseases like dysentery. Finally, with increased drought and temperature increase, those living in poorly constructed housing or shacks which lack proper ventilation are at risk for conditions such as dehydration, heat stroke and asthma.
In order to build resistance to increasingly severe weather patterns and prevent disease and hunger, the best place to start in Tanzania is agriculture. Efforts are being made to increase the use of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices. These practices act to increase agricultural output while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, because livestock contribute the most to emissions, ideally more focus would be placed on crop production.
Other CSA practices might include using improved seed varieties, cover cropping, rainwater harvesting and composting. Some have proposed public-private partnerships and investments so that smallholder farmers could form cooperatives where they would have greater access to credit for CSA investments.
Because women in Tanzania do not share equal rights or socio-economic status with their male counterparts, they are disproportionately impacted by climate change. While women make up half of the workforce and produce more than 70% of the country’s food, they have lower access to climate information, early warnings during a natural disaster and agricultural services. One study in Tanzania showed that widows, especially the elderly and illiterate, are most at risk from climate change.
Photo Credit: Pixabay
Indeed, the empowerment of women is one of our most powerful tools in mitigating the impact of climate change. In 2019, policymakers from nine East African countries pledged to lobby their governments and other influencers to embed gender mainstreaming in climate change policies.
A leader of one of Tanzania’s neighbors said it best: “The seeds of success in every nation on Earth are best planted in women and children.” - Former President of Malawi Joyce Banda
At a glance
Population: 11,757,124 (estimated in July, 2020)
Ethnic Groups: 85% Somali, 15% Bantu and other
Official languages: Somali and Arabic (Italian and English are also spoken.)
Official Religion: Sunni Muslim
Fertility rate: 5.51 children per woman (one of world’s highest)
Life expectancy: 54
Literacy rate: 37.8%
Natural resources: uranium, copper, iron ore, tin, salt, natural gas
Currency: Somali shilling
GDP per capita: $314.54 (2018)
Form of government: Federal parliamentary republic
Image Credit: Wikipedia.com
Somalia is bordered by three countries to the west: Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. The country’s northern border touches the Gulf of Aden, and the eastern border lies on the Indian Ocean. It is the edge of what is known as the Horn of Africa.
Somalia’s terrain is 25% desert, mostly flat, with hills in the northern section of the country. The climate is arid with hot and humid periods between the monsoons. Its natural disruptions can be ferocious with recurring droughts, frequent dust storms in the summer and floods during the rainy season.
Image Credit: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/so.html
Ethnic Cushites were the original settlers on this sometimes harsh terrain. In contact with Arab traders, they were one of the earliest peoples to convert to Islam. Though sharing a large border with Christian Ethiopia, the two nations lived peacefully for many centuries. This changed in the thirteenth century when Ethiopia invaded Somalia and dominated the country for a century. When the Somalis did retaliate, the Portugese came to the rescue of the Ethiopians, defeated the Somalis and then established a colony in Somali based on textile manufacturing. This was the beginning of the European colonization of Somalia, a land that would switch hands among European powers several times.
In the seventeenth century the Ottomans kicked out the Portugese and claimed sovereignty over the entire Horn of Africa. The Ottoman Empire would retain control of the area for two centuries. As the Empire declined in the nineteenth century, Britain, France and Italy all turned their eyes to Somalia with its strategic ports along the coast. Britain took control of the North, Italy control of the South and France control of the interior.
Late in the nineteenth century, the Somalis began resisting colonialism. After fighting Britain for two decades, the Somalis were devastated by a British aerial bombing campaign. By the time hostilities had ceased, over one-third of the northern Somali population had been decimated.
The destruction in the North would contribute to the rift that developed between the northern and southern sections of the country. More violence later in the twentieth century would result. While the Brits were fighting in the North, the Italians were investing in infrastructure in the South and the region surged ahead economically.
During World War II and the period following, the entire country switched hands between the British and the Italians several times before Somalia achieved independence in 1959. Only ten years later, the president was assassinated and Mohammad Siad Barre seized power, aligning with the Soviet Union and beginning a brutal Marxist dictatorship. By 1988 a Civil War broke out with Siad overthrown in 1991 and more turmoil ensuing. The conflict destroyed crops, bringing famine in 1992. Starting in 1994, Mogadishu became divided between two warring factions, each with its own “national government.” This division ushered in a long period of instability.
Somali Economy and Culture
Somalia’s informal economy is based on money transfer companies; telecommunications; and livestock/ agricultural products including bananas, sorghum, corn, coconuts, rice, sugarcane, mangoes, sesame seeds, beans, cattle sheep, goats and fish.
Somali cuisine is influenced by Arabic, Turkish, Indian and Italian culture and varies by region. In the North, pancake-like bread called canjeero is eaten for breakfast along with soup or stew. Meanwhile, in the Mogadishu area, a porridge with sugar and butter is often eaten for breakfast. Lunch might consist of spiced rice or pasta with vegetables or meat. In the South, hummus, falafel, fava beans and kimis are common.
Clothing styles differ depending on locality with most urban dwellers wearing western-style clothing and rural dwellers wearing traditional garb. For women, this includes guntiinos, long garments draped around the waist and tied over a shoulder. A man might wear a macawis, a sarong-like garment, and a colorful turban.
Marriages are still often arranged especially in rural areas, and polygamy is common. A man can keep up to four wives at once.
Somalia suffers from a poor economy and educational system. With only 40% of children attending primary school, it has one of the world’s lowest enrollment rates. Because young people lack education and job opportunities, they are left vulnerable to recruitment from pirates and extremist groups. Girls are also vulnerable to child marriages.
In addition, Somalia rates as the third highest source country for refugees in the world. Many factors contribute: drought, floods, food shortages, a lack of security and a poor economy.
In 2020, two other concurrent miseries arrived - COVID-19 and a locust invasion.
Sometimes the finest words of wisdom come from our youth. On how to continue developing the skills essential to succeed in the 21st century, particularly during the pandemic, take a look at what a few young people had to say.
Omoyeni Tolulope from Nigeria: “Despite the shutdown, we should explore and not allow the shutdown to shut us down.” (2)
Yousra Assali from Morocco: “Be open to any new technological method or material coming your way, whether studies or work. Be adaptable. Don’t be afraid to implement a new habit.” (2)
Hamden Alhammadi from the United Arab Emirates: “The most important skills for the future are adaptability, problem solving and good communication skills. You get what you work for, so no matter what, work hard and stay safe.” (2)
Photo Credit: Oluwakemi Solaja / Unsplash
All three students attend universities or technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions. They responded to the call from UNESCO to submit video stories explaining how they were grappling with their studies during the lockdown and what they viewed as the most important skills to succeed in the future. The videos were posted as part of the campaign to mark World Youth Skills Day (WYSD), a day that provides an opportunity for young people, TVET institutions and other stakeholders to recognize the importance of preparing young people for sustainable employment and entrepreneurship. The 2020 theme for WYSD, “Skills for a Resilient Youth in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond,” pinpoints the tumultuous days in which we live. (#skillschangelives) (1)
Developing flexibility to learn new skills in a rapidly changing world must be an essential piece of learning in the 21st century, said Shyamal Majendar, Head of Office at UNESCO. Changes are rapid, not incremental, and have serious consequences, he said in a statement to honor WYSD. (1) Indeed, 65% of children entering grade school today will end up in jobs that do not yet exist, according to a World Economic Forum Report. (5)
Photo Credit: Saving Grace School /Brighter Tanzania Foundation
Think about that for a minute. How do we prepare students for future employment that will likely look very different from today’s workplace?
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared some ideas on the occasion of WYSD. “The mantra to stay relevant is: Skill, re-skill and upskill,” he said. “Skill is something that you learn - like building a chair from a piece of wood. You increased the value of the wood by doing some value addition, and to stay relevant, you need to keep adding stuff to it. But it is important to expand our skill further. This is known as upskill.” (4)
How does one learn “to build a chair” online when classrooms have been closed, some might ask. Lee Hee Dong, a South Korean student who submitted a video story, expressed the frustration that many of his generation are feeling. “Students will lose interest if they learn skills only through video education and not direct experience,” he said. (2)
Photo Credit: Unsplash
Jessica Love, the Executive Director of AfricAid, believes that soft skills are key. Resilience, inner strength, confidence, internal motivation and leadership are among the essential qualities that she cites. (3) Though the non-profit organization that Love runs is geared towards assisting young women advance in society, these skills are required of all future workers and entrepreneurs.
Even before the pandemic, rising youth unemployment presented challenges for the global economy. Now, it is believed that one in six young people are out of work due to COVID-19. In addition, one in five young people globally are Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET). Three out of four of these NEETs are women. (1) (For more on the economic impact of educating girls, read our blog post.)
Finding work in today’s environment requires hard skills that young people must access from TVET institutions and universities, but even accessing this education requires the soft skills that Love says our world demands. Navigating an educational path during the pandemic is an exercise in resilience and adaptability. Maybe this is the silver lining: persisting during the pandemic demonstrates readiness for the future workplace.
A playground on a midsummer day is a whirlwind of activity. Children on the jungle gym hanging, climbing, swinging, running, tagging, sliding. Little ones in the sandbox digging, pouring, sifting, building. Kiddos on the pavement, hopping, skipping, cartwheeling, make-believing. They are having fun, yes, but they are also working hard at the work kids do - learning.
Play is essential in every child’s life, so much so that the United Nations recognizes it as a human right. Pediatricians identify play as a necessity for developing creativity, imagination, dexterity and physical, emotional and cognitive strength. (1) Through play children learn and develop social skills, too: how to work in groups, share, negotiate, resolve conflict, advocate for themselves and regulate emotions. It helps children develop traits needed for successful adult life, confidence and resilience among them.
Photo Credit: Saving Grace School
In 1929, Mildred Parten Newhall, a sociologist and researcher at the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development, developed a classification of six types of play. While at a busy playground, if you observe carefully, you might see each type operating.
The first can be found in the infants sitting on their caregivers’ laps reaching for the blue sky or wiggling in their strollers, feet kicking out. Newhall considered these random movements a form of play that she called unoccupied play. Slightly more advanced, an infant sitting on the grass with a few toys or a toddler digging a hole on his own in the sandbox are examples of solitary play. A more developed form of play might be the toddler standing on the sidelines watching a game of jump rope. This child is engaged in what is called onlooker play. (3)
Photo Credit: Markus Spiske/ Unsplash
Parallel play is the next stage and occurs as young children play side by side without interacting, marking the beginning of a desire to play with other children. When a young child begins to ask another why she is going down the slide backwards or talks about his swing set at home,associative play is at work. Associative play can usually be found in children around the age of 3 or 4. It is goal-oriented, does not yet involve rules and sets the stage for learning how to get along with others. Finally, social play involves following rules, cooperative play, role playing and the beginning of sharing toys and ideas. A playground example might be the children playing tag. Through this advanced form of play, children learn and practice cooperating, being flexible, taking turns and solving problems. (3)
In the U.S., concerns have arisen over the reduction of children’s playtime. Contributing factors include changes in the family structure and a hurried lifestyle; an increased focus on structured extracurricular activities at the expense of free play; in schools, a prioritization of academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess; in some neighborhoods, a lack of safe play space and everywhere, an excessive amount of time watching screens. (2)
Different circumstances in many developing countries may also put play at a premium. This includes child labor and exploitation, armed conflict and limited resources.
Because of concern over reduced playtime, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued recommendations for parents.
Between the years of one and three, the AAP advises providing simple, inexpensive items for play. (As most parents come to realize, the box a gift comes in is often more exciting to a young child than the gift itself.) It is also recommended that these toddlers have opportunities to play with peers, engage in make-believe play and explore different types of movement such as jumping, swinging and running. The AAP encourages parents to sing songs and read books to their little ones. Finally, when choosing daycare or preschool, it is important to look for a setting that includes unstructured playtime. (2)
When a child is between the age of four and six, the AAP recommends scheduling time to play with friends, providing opportunities for singing and dancing, and seeking opportunities for slightly more advanced movement such as climbing and somersaulting. When reading to a child this age, the AAP encourages parents to ask questions about the story or role play with the child. Importantly, though many children begin using screens during this time, the AAP recommends firm limits. (2)
In days as far back as the fourth century BC, our earliest educators even recognized the value of play. Plato once said, “Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” The importance of play for children is nothing new, but instead a concept we adults need to be reminded of as we navigate life in a busy modern world.
Never has there been a time more apropos for expressing our appreciation to teachers.
Schools and universities in 166 countries have closed in order to stanch the spread of COVID-19. Approximately 1.5 billion children have been affected. (1) Teachers have had to quickly adapt, feet to the fire, to teach these students from afar.
The challenges are immense. Most have turned to the use of technology. This may mean quickly getting up to speed with unfamiliar software or online programs. It involves reinventing lessons and finding new ways of doing things. And this is for those teachers and families lucky enough to have devices and broadband access at home to accommodate learning. (More on the digital divide later.)
Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash
According to Education Week, plans for synchronous (real-time interaction) sessions can take up to three times as long to plan. Plans for asynchronous lessons (occurring through online channels but not in real-time) can take five to eight times as long to plan. (4)
Teachers also face an onslaught of emails, texts, and telephone calls from parents, students and principals. Many of these teachers are juggling the needs of their own kids and families with the increased demands of their jobs.
Preschool and kindergarten teachers face different obstacles. With curriculum less academic and more focused on learning through play and interaction with one another, using technology for instruction is less conducive. Indeed, many preschools have strict no-technology policies. Studies on brain development discourage the use of technology at these younger ages. What then is a teacher of these youngest learners to do?
Some teachers have mailed sanitized activity packets home to parents. A packet might include play-doh, a few picture books and learning manipulatives.
Still, the use of technology has been used in small doses. In Education Week’s “What Happens to the Youngest Learners During This Crisis,” several teachers shared their adaptations. Some offer optional circle time over Zoom. The teacher leads students to sing their favorite songs, talk about the day and the weather or read a story. One teacher uses a photo of her classroom as the backdrop. (5)
Some schools have encouraged parents to share pictures and interact with other parents using free apps such as See Saw.
Teachers try to balance the need of providing constructive learning opportunities with sensitivity to the parents who are trying to teach and work from home at the same time.
Is Online Learning Effective?
Some 85% of educators who teach online courses believe that those that learn through online instruction are as successful as those who learn in the classroom. However, experienced teachers believe that in order for online instruction to be successful, it needs to include key elements. Simply sitting and listening to an online lecture isn’t enough. The instruction needs to include interaction with content, with the teacher and with peers. (2)
Photo Credit: www.thoughtcatalog.com
The Digital Divide
The pandemic has exposed many of the world’s inequities and the digital divide is certainly one of them. With only 60% of the world’s population online, a large number of children do not have equal access to instruction. In California, only 56% of low-income households have broadband subscriptions.
In many places, schools have needed to quickly come up with alternatives.
An investigation conducted by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune found that roughly 9% of school districts are using paper and pencil methods exclusively. Instructional materials are being delivered by bus or through the mail. (6)
One school district near St. Louis is creating Wi-Fi hotspots in parks using school buses equipped with Wi-Fi. If people don’t have connectivity at home, they can pull up to within 300 feet of the bus to download needed information. (6)
On the African continent, countries rank in the bottom third of those with internet access. (Learn more here.) This deems virtual learning difficult if not impossible for many schools. What many of the segments of the population do have is access to radio and television. An advantage to these modes of communication is that teachers need little training. In addition, both are familiar and engaging to students. Most African countries have at least one state-owned television station. They also have state, private and community radio stations. Some educational programming existed before the pandemic led to the closure of schools. For example, Botswana Television offers daily educational programming, mostly in math and science. Others have added programming to address student needs during the pandemic. (7)
Winnie, a student at Saving Grace School, shares an important message from home.
Regardless of the method used, teachers around the world have had to quickly alter their teaching methods in order to meet the needs of their students. Perhaps modeling the ability to do so may be one of their greatest lessons of all.
For more on Teacher Appreciation Day, read our previous blog post.
The African continent has not been one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19, but that is beginning to change. On March 25, The Guardian reported 2,400 confirmed cases and 60 reported deaths in 43 countries on the African continent. A large number of these cases (709 as of March 25) are in South Africa. (5)
Image Credit: Pixabay
Behind the Numbers - COVID-19 on the African Continent
Some have pointed out demographics specific to African countries that may help keep the number of deaths relatively low. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average age is the lowest in the world with only 3% of the population older than 65. (6) It has been reported that older adults are most at risk of dying after contracting the virus.
Some scientists have also hypothesized that high temperatures may be keeping the virus at bay with the number of infected still relatively low. (6)
Still, a number of other factors cause worry that this is simply the calm before a colossal African storm. First, substandard health care systems could exacerbate a crisis. This includes a shortage of hospital beds, lack of access to disinfectant as well as the personal protective equipment that is in scant supply elsewhere around the world. In addition, health care workers are not always well trained in protecting themselves by using this equipment. Finally, many of the health care systems are not digitized which will likely lead to an ineffective sharing of data. (3)
Many African countries face other challenges that could further stress the system. While social distancing has become a worldwide mantra, it is easier said than done in Africa’s overcrowded cities and slums. In addition, an informal economy is the norm in many spots. People must go out every day in order to simply feed themselves and their families.
Photo Credit: Avel Chucklanov / Unsplash
Poor sanitation may also worsen conditions. Of Sub-Saharan healthcare facilities, 42% lack an improved water source in close proximity, 16% lack improved sanitation and 36% lack soap for handwashing. (7) Many households also lack improved water sources as well as the hygienic practices that help prevent community spread of the virus. In the 38 countries for which data is available, handwashing prevalence was at approximately 50% before the crisis began. (8)
Also of concern is the high rate of HIV-AIDS on the African continent. In 2018, 25.7 million people in Africa were living with HIV. Approximately 1.1 million people were newly infected by HIV in 2018, nearly two-thirds of the global total. (9) In addition to HIV, many areas are also battling cholera, malaria and tuberculosis outbreaks. The COVID-19 high-risk pool on the African continent is a mixed story with a smaller than average group of older adults but a larger than average number of vulnerable individuals due to illness and disease.
A Closer Look at Tanzania
Following the first confirmed case of COVID-19, the Tanzanian government announced a series of actions to stem the spread. On March 17, President John Magufuli closed schools for 30 days across the country and suspended all sporting events. On March 23, travel restrictions were put in place. This included mandatory isolation for 14 days at designated facilities for those travelers arriving from the world’s most affected countries. All travelers are also ordered to undergo intensive screening upon entering the country, and advisories were given to all residing in Tanzania to avoid non-essential travel. (2)
More recently, President Magufuli made controversial statements encouraging Tanzanians to continue visiting places of worship. In response, the opposition party called on the government to ban all public gatherings and close the country’s borders. (1)
Tanzania reported 12 cases of COVID-19 as of March 23. (1)
Saving Grace School Continues to Track and Care for Students
While Grace and the other teachers at Saving Grace School adhere to social distancing guidelines and stay at home as much as possible, they attempt to remain in contact with school families to ensure that the students have remained healthy. To the best of its ability, Brighter Tanzania Foundation plans to cover costs associated with any student hospitalizations.
Photo Credit: Brighter Tanzania Foundation
The school lunch program continues during this time of crisis. After the school was closed, teachers visited families to notify them that students can come to the school during predetermined times for a meal. Students eat at the school in groups of five, staggered throughout the day. The teachers make certain that children wash their hands before and after their meal and sanitize the eating area after one group of students leaves and before another enters.
For updates on Saving Grace School during the Coronavirus crisis, visit us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter @BrighterTZFund.
Population: 11,865,821 (July 2020)
Political Capital: Gitega
Commercial Capital: Bujumbura
Ethnic Groups: Hutu, Tutsi, Twa (Pygmy)
Official languages: Kirundi, French, English
Religions: Roman Catholic (62.1%), Protestant (23.9%), Muslim (2.5%)
Fertility rate: 5.28 children per woman
Life expectancy: 66.7 years
Literacy rate: 68.4%
Natural resources: nickel, uranium, cobalt, copper, platinum, gold, limestone, hydropower
Currency: Burundi francs
GDP per capita: $700 (2017)
Form of government: Presidential Democratic Republic
Image Source: Wikipedia.com
Image source: Encyclopedia Britannica
Burundi is a landlocked country that shares an eastern border with Tanzania, a northern border with Rwanda and a western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The southwestern corner of the country also borders Lake Tanganyika. The country is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland but also one of the most densely populated countries on the African continent. Most of the population is concentrated in the north and on the northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. (1)
Photo Credit: Matthew Spiteri / Unsplash
Most of Burundi’s landscape is hilly and mountainous. The country is located just over 200 miles south of the equator but has an average altitude of 1,700 meters; therefore, the climate is generally moderate.
The Hutus were the first people to settle the area now known as Burundi, arriving prior to the 1300s. Later, the Tutsi settlers arrived. While the majority of Hutus were agriculturalists, the minority Tutsis raised cattle and became the aristocratic class. Still, it is believed that the two groups lived peaceably prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the nineteenth century.
The Germans arrived first, in 1894, claiming both Rwanda and Burundi and calling it Ruanda-Urundi. When the Germans invaded Belgium at the beginning of World War I, Belgium retaliated by moving troops east from Belgian Congo into present-day Burundi and occupied the area. Though Belgium ruled the area until 1962, they handed administrative power over to the minority Tutsis, exploiting the uneven status of the two groups. Antagonism between the groups grew with the Hutus at times being subjected to forced labor. Other stigmatizing political actions were taken including a law requiring everyone to carry a race card. (3)
When Ruanda-Urundi gained independence in 1962, the two regions separated, becoming the Kingdom of Burundi and the Republic of Rwanda. ( 3) It wasn’t long before ethnic conflicts erupted. By 1963 thousands of Hutus fled the region. In 1966, the Burundi monarch was overthrown, and the Republic of Burundi was established. The next several decades were marked by instability and violence. In 1972, a reported 120,000 Hutus were massacred in the South. In 1993, the president of Burundi was assassinated which triggered a full-out ethnic war in which 300,000 died. The following year a plane carrying the next Burundi president and his Rwandan counterpart was shot down in Rwanda triggering an ethnic genocide in that country. The Burundi Civil War that began in 1993 persisted through 2006. (2)
As recently as 2015, violence was sparked anew when President Pierre Nkurunziza declared that he would run for a controversial third term. Hundreds were killed and half a million people fled, many of them to Tanzania.
In Burundi, the cow is considered sacred. Traditionally, people named their cows giving them monikers describing their beauty or character. Specifically, Ankole cattle are considered the embodiment of beauty. The Burundi people revere their cattle to such a great extent that they recite poetry to them as they lead them to water or out to pasture. (4)
Photo Credit: Mike Suarez / Unsplash
Not surprisingly, beef is not eaten in Burundi. Goat and sheep meat, on the other hand, is commonly eaten. Other staples include beans, sweet potatoes, plantains, peas, cassava, maize and fruits. A popular snack in Burundi is the profiterole - a French filled pastry.
Oral literature is an important part of Burundi culture. With a low literacy rate and the turbulence of civil war, written literary works are difficult to find. Storytelling, however, relays Burundi values. Many of the stories revolve around cattle.
Singing is also an intrinsic part of the culture. Imvyino, songs with a strong beat and short refrain, are sung during family gatherings. In addition, men sing Kwishongora, rhythmic songs with trills and shouts while women sing bilitos, softer songs.
Craftmaking can be found in Burundi, too. The Tutsis are known for their basket weaving while the Twa are known for their pottery.
In the world of sports, the Burundi people love football. In fact, the country even has a national team. (5)
Burundi faces several complex challenges ahead. The flow of refugees into and out of the country is one that impacts everything from education to infrastructure to healthcare. With the renewed violence in 2015, many were forced to flee, and now the densely populated country with limited resources is working to reintegrate the refugees. Over the past decade, over 500,000 Burundi people have returned home. At the same time, Burundi hosts other refugees fleeing Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In addition, environmental challenges abound. Deforestation and soil erosion has resulted from overgrazing. In fact, little forested land remains in the country. With 90% of the population relying on subsistence farming, this environmental degradation impacts the ability of the country’s inhabitants to feed themselves. Finally, destruction of habitat threatens the wildlife population.
A third challenge for the country is human trafficking. Following decades of unrest and with high rates of illiteracy and poverty, Burundi’s population is vulnerable, children and women the most vulnerable among them. Unfortunately, trafficking for labor and sex are another destabilizing problem in the country. (1)
“We must do far more to advance Sustainable Development Goal 4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
-UN Secretary-General António Guterres
In a nutshell, Tanzania has come a long way in advancing education for its citizens, yet still has a long way to go. On this International Day of Education, taking a good look at the Tanzanian school system in 2020 helps illustrate the continued need for schools like Saving Grace.
Recent Advances in Tanzanian Education
One of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is that “all countries must offer free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education by 2030.” The government of Tanzania has made some recent improvements as they move towards this goal.
First, primary school enrollment (grades 1 through 7) has vaulted from 53% in 1975 to 94% in 2018. (5) This increase was helped along when the government, in 2015, banned all school fees that prohibited students from poor families from attending. (2)
In addition, gender equity has been achieved in primary schools. (1)
Quality Lacking in Primary Schools
While attendance has reached a high rate in primary schools, the quality of education remains deficient. U.S. AID reports that only 5.4% of students read with comprehension. (1)
At the end of primary school, all students take an exam that determines acceptance into secondary school. With preparation inadequate and students unable to retake the test, secondary school is prohibitive to some.
Quality, Enrollment and Gender Equity Poor in Secondary Schools
Let’s start with enrollment. A little over half of Tanzanian children enroll in lower secondary school and even fewer are able to complete it. (1) Those who do attend are often stymied in receiving a quality education because of very large class sizes (an average of 70 students in a classroom); facilities that lack essentials such as libraries, labs and learning materials; and qualified teachers, particularly in math and science. (2)
Photo Credit: Doug Linstedt/Unsplash
Unfortunately, gender equity has not been achieved in secondary schools as it has in primary schools. Only one in three girls who begin secondary school are able to complete it. (Read more about gender inequity in our blog post, “Here’s to Malala!”) Government policies that discriminate against girls exacerbate the issue. Girls can be expelled from school if pregnant or married. (2)
Hurdles to Receiving a High-Caliber Education in Tanzania
Although the government has abolished student fees, parents still bear costs including transportation, uniforms and school materials. As a result, the most marginalized families are unable to access education. Also, because fees were banned, many schools have holes in their budgets, rendering them unable to fund basic needs such as school maintenance and the hiring of more teachers. (2)
Transportation is another obstacle, particularly in rural areas. Schools are sometimes located far from students’ homes. With few or no transportation options, they must either walk long distances or not attend. Some secondary students are able to board at private hostels, but this option is out of reach for poor families. (3)
Abuse by adults en route to school or by school staff harms children and sabotages their educational opportunity. Corporal punishment is legal and still used in the classroom. In addition, sexual harassment and abuse are common. (2)
Aside from abuse, girls in secondary schools are especially vulnerable to inadequate conditions. They face obstacles due to a lack of sanitation facilities. During menstruation, girls often miss school. (2) (Read more in our blog, “World Toilet Day.”)
Children with disabilities are another group that face sometimes insurmountable obstacles. Because of a lack of inclusive equipment and qualified teachers, few who are disabled attend secondary schools. (2)
As a new decade dawns, many eyes will watch for continued improvement in the Tanzanian school system. Others, such as the teachers at Saving Grace School, will continue to provide a safety net for those most marginalized.
Photo Credit: Brighter Tanzania Foundation
Brighter Tanzania Foundation is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization. Donations may be tax-deductible.
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