By Barbra Nyangairi
ZIMBABWE like the world over is struggling with the impact of COVID -19 which has changed our lives in ways that are profound.
The Government and Schools authorities are thinking about ways to resume learning for children. The lockdown presents more challenges and opportunities for distance or on line learning in Zimbabwe.
In times of crisis, the weaknesses of any system become more glaring. Children with disabilities particularly the Deaf are children at risk of being left behind and in times of crisis, they are easily forgotten.
Deaf Zimbabwe Trust has observed actors in education both in private and state seek online and distance learning solutions for learners. The challenge with the Zimbabwe’s education system is the lack of infrastructure and systems that support online and distance education.
Before COVID-19, the Education system was exclusionary to learners who are Deaf, without sign language capacities in schools and resources units for Deaf learners.
The crisis presents challenges for a system that was already exclusionary and which marginalised learners who are Deaf. Solutions such as radio learning programmes are options that cannot be used by learners who are Deaf and hard of hearing.
WhatsApp audio teaching that seems to be popular among schools as part of their online solutions are not accessible to learners who are Deaf and hard of hearing. Children with disabilities are more likely to belong to families that are poor or with severe resource constraints.
This has implications for the capacity of children with disabilities to have access to appropriate technology for on line learning such as laptops or smart phones that make on line learning possible.
It is important to remember that for any online learning system to be successful, there are fundamentals that need to be in place including:
• The availability of appropriate technology for the learners and teachers: Do our learners who are Deaf and broadly those with disabilities have appropriate technologies to enable on line learning to take place
• The infrastructure to support on line or distance learning: Do our schools have the infrastructure that enables on line learning for learners who are Deaf
• Availability and affordability of internet in the homes of teachers and learners: Internet is expensive and beyond the reach of many. Downloading is costly for many families in Zimbabwe who are struggling with bread and butter issues.
• Teacher and student competencies for online learning and distance education: What resources are available for teachers and learners that will ensure successful distance learning.
• Availability of teaching and learning resources: Given the resource constraints in areas such as textbooks and teaching and learning aids, how will distance education be rolled in the context of resource scarcity?
These are all things to consider as on line or distance education is becoming a central way to learn. Deaf Zimbabwe Trust urges the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to put in place provisions for children with disabilities and in particular Deaf children who need language accommodations to make learning accessible.
COVID-19 presents opportunities for actors in the education sector to think outside the box, stretch and innovate in ways we never imagined. Let us remember that inclusion is an attitude.