Girls Ed Students
Dear Girls Ed Supporters,
We hope this message finds you in good health with access to your loved ones. In these challenging times, the Board of Directors of Girls Ed wants you to know that we continue to work with our partners in Tanzania and Pakistan to ensure that the educational needs and well-being of our students are being met. We have been on a brief pause as schools closed, but things are changing this month, which we highlight in this report.
The first paragraph of an article from Global Citizen about the impact of COVID-19 on girls education is very unsettling:
“Girls in developing countries are so afraid of dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, that they are considering marrying and having children sooner, according to new reports.”
Of course, we have been in touch with our partners in Tanzania throughout the pandemic. Schools in Tanzania were closed when the very first case of COVID-19 was detected in Tanzania. All large gatherings were banned – weddings, funerals, sporting events, concerts, etc. We were initially quite impressed by Tanzania’s swift response, however, things took a surprising turn when President Magafuli began to deny the severity of the situation and urged citizens to go to their mosques and churches to “pray away” the virus, putting thousands in harm’s way. He opened the country to international flights in May and on June 1st, he returned all students to universities and high schools.
This week, he announced that all primary and secondary students will return to school on June 29th. We’re upset about this decision and the harmful impact it will have on the many communities we work with and care for. While he says that everyone should proceed while abiding by the hygiene recommendations of health professionals, he seems to be failing to recognize that most students attending schools in remote villages are in class with as many as 90 other students. They will likely not have masks and obviously, social distancing when you sit in closely arranged desks in rows is next to impossible.
Going back to the paragraph shared above – girls are afraid of dying of COVID-19. We wanted to know if our students were feeling the pressure to marry and start families now, to abandon their education amid the impact of the pandemic. Our in-country director, Lucas, spoke with some of our students as well as local teachers.
We are delighted to hear that there is no pressure from families or communities for girls to stop attending school and marry or find work. The families are completely on board as mentors and support their daughters and sisters in their educational endeavors. A few of our students made the observation that although their parents had not been able to attend secondary school themselves, they still see education as an important and necessary tool to excel in life and do their best to guide and influence them.
During the early phase of the pandemic, students were not permitted to gather in groups for tuition (tutoring) sessions, but our students continued to study on their own. As many of our girls are from the five villages we’ve partnered with since 2009, they were able to meet in smaller groups to discuss their studies, often while doing domestic chores (gathering water, preparing meals, collecting firewood, etc.).
As far as we know now, there are no changes to the end of the academic school year (set for October 2020), which means there will be a gap in learning and the academic content will likely still appear on national exams. The students and teachers have committed to doing all they can to make sure students are prepared to sit for their exams. Teachers and headmasters want them to succeed and are in their corner. At some schools, teachers have committed to provide additional preparation time to ensure the students succeed when the test time comes.
In his conversation with teachers at Amahoro, Kagongo, and Mungonya secondary schools, Lucas discovered that teachers are ready to go back. They miss working and miss their students. These schools, in compliance with government directives, have set up washing stations with sanitizer. They have been ordered to observe distancing practices. We can only hope the village schools are provided the resources needed to maintain these safe practices. Teachers said they will be incorporating the advice from the Ministry of Health into their classroom instruction to keep everyone safe and informed.
As a professor at a large U.S. university, I am watching the situation unfold here. There are plans in place for us to return to campus in the fall, but there are concerns, and even dissent among faculty (which was discussed in this piece in the Washington Post). Things could change – especially in light of a recent outbreak among students at our university, but most signs point to a return to on campus learning. Tensions are high and there are many stakeholders to consider when making these decisions. Only time will tell what decisions were the most appropriate as pandemic-responsive educational models unfold globally.
In all sectors of life, we are grappling with how to restore practices so that we can begin to resume teaching and learning, rebuild hard hit parts of our economies, and engage in the lives we left behind months ago. There is no way to know how this will shake out, and we can only hope for the best for our students as they begin their re-entry into the schools in Tanzania.
Our partners at Project Wezesha are putting together the invoice for the upcoming school year. We know it’s a difficult time to give, but we need you now as much as ever. Please consider making a contribution as we prepare to pay for our students’ next year of high school, vocational training, and university studies. As needed, some of our funds may be re-directed to make sure all students have masks and access to healthcare as they return to school.
Thank you for your support! We wish you and your family health and security in these uncertain times.
on behalf of the Girls Ed Team