Soon after the suspension of classes, I have been mobilising the learners within my community to come and learn through the radio-Kalilombe

(Standard 3 learners in class)

It's been about five months since schools were closed in Malawi due to Covid-19.

Throughout the five months learners have been searching for teachers within their homes to support them with lessons.

Teachers and parents have also been fighting to maintain the learners especially girls in school considering the fertile ground which Covid-19 has created which may lead to dropouts.

On the other hand, authorities have also been up and down trying to find ideal means of offering lessons to learners which included airing lessons on radio and including some materials online for the learners to source.

Covid-19 pandemic is not only depriving the learners especially girls but also demanding parents, teachers and authorities to be more innovative and creative to maintain the learners in school amidst cultural practices which rarely support girls’ education.

During this time, with no clear guidelines to follow in helping the learners continue with their education some teachers are taking heroic initiatives supporting learners with education.

(Mrs Kalilombe with her standard 7 learners)

One such teachers taking self-initiatives in supporting the learners and rising above Covid-19 pandemic is Lucy Kalilombe, a teacher at Mpitilira primary school in Salima.

Kalilombe, is mobilising learners in her community and help them to listen to the lessons on radio.

According to Kalilombe, since the government of Malawi started airing lessons on radio, she has been mobilising learners with her community, according to their classes and help them learn through the radio.

"Soon after the suspension of classes, I have been mobilising the learners within my community to come and learn through the radio. Later I give them assignments which I mark and give them back", said Kalilombe.

Kalilombe further says it was hard for learners to get used to lessons offered through radio but as time is passing they are now used to the lessons.

She says she had to segregate the learners according to their classes and develop a time table for each class depending on the time the lessons are offered on radio.

"I grouped the learners according to their classes, I have learners in standard 1, standard 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8. So I make sure that by 8 o'clock in the morning, standard 1 learners start attending lessons in that order until in the afternoon where they air lessons for standard 8 learners," added Kalilombe.

Tamanda Maluwa, a standard 7 learner at Mpitilira Primary School said throughout the five months she has been attending classes which were being arranged by Mrs. Kalilombe, saying they have helped her to remain in course.

Tamanda further says the classes have helped her to remain active and avoid engaging in bad behavior which could have hampered her career.

“It has been a good continuation since schools were closed. Listening to radio classes and later writing assignments organized by our teacher has helped me to remain vigilant and of course prevented me from engaging in bad behaviour which most youth in my community are doing,” said Tamanda.

Commenting on the initiative, a school committee member for Mpitilira school Joyce Kalilombe, said the initiative so far has helped learners within the community to continue learning and maintain their interest in school.

She says, the area is flooded with video shows and other cultural activities which may easily divert girls from the path to education but through the initiative the learners are kept busy throughout the week.

"To us we recognise such teachers as heroes, they are offering lessons, providing assignments and helping the learners with all required skills and knowledge during this period where formal education has been suspended," said Kalilombe.

On her part, mother group chair for Mpitilira school, Rhoda Kadango said they supported the teacher by providing masks to the learners.

"Through the UNJPGE interventions we promote girls’ education and helping them to remain in school, so as mother group, we considered the initiative as good as such we provided face masks and guided the teacher that she should always be following Covid-19 preventative measures," said Kadango.

Kadango further says they are also going door to door engaging with learners in their area to help them overcome challenges experienced due to the pandemic.

“We were equipped with skills of door to door engagement with learners, parents and chiefs by Story Workshop, so we are using such skills in promoting girls’ education by having dialogues with the learners, parents and authorities so that together we help girls remain in school,” added Kadango.

Commenting on how she is keeping herself and learners safe from Covid-19, Kalilombe said she makes sure that learners have washed hands with soap thoroughly and put on a mask while maintaining at least 1-meter distance among each other.

"I know am safe and the learners are safe because I always maintain the social distance and encourage the learners to wash hands with soap while putting on their masks. The learners and parents are loving it because to me it is part of promoting the girls’ education and so far I have 14 learners of which 8 are girls,"said Kalilombe.

Currently, Kalilombe is administering examinations for the standard 7 learners having done the same to all the learners in other classes in the past few weeks.

"I give them tests to measure their understanding and it is good because it is helping me to assess their knowledge levels and appreciate areas to consider when radio lessons resume," added Kalilombe.

Head teacher for Mpitilira primary school, Martha Mpatsa, while hailing the initiative hopes it is helping to keep the girls in school which is part of their work under UNJPGE.

"Throughout the Covid-19 holiday, mother groups and school committee members have been reaching out to girls to help them remain in school. We have also engaged leaders to reinforce bylaws which were developed as part of the UN joint Program on Girls Education, so, having such initiatives by teachers with the catchment area is recommendable as it is helping the girls to remain in school," said Mpatsa.

In his remarks School Health and Nutrition Coordinator for Salima, Moffat Makuluni said it is good to note that some teachers are taking further steps in helping learners access education in their homes during the pandemic.

Makuluni said innovative approaches in promoting education in the communities are required especially this time where learners can no longer attend the classes.

“It is good that some teachers are taking further steps in supporting learners within their community to access education. Such efforts are good in protecting the girls from abuse and violence which most of them are facing while in their homes,” said Makuluni.

Story Workshop is supporting the implementation of UNJPGEII interventions with communication for development interventions in the districts of Dedza, Mangochi and Salima where 3 UN agencies, namely UNICEF, WFP and UNFPA are working together in collaboration with government departments to reduce poverty through improved quality education for adolescent girls.