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No electricity, no Internet, no online learning: Lara’s story

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Shanghai, January 2020

I woke up one morning in the Chinese New Year holidays to find we were not going to return to school on February 3 as expected. Instead, we were told to prepare to teach online. As the pandemic spreads all over the world education has to reinvent itself rapidly. Teachers from all over the world have come together on social media to support each other and share experiences during these difficult times. But as I become more conversant with online teaching, my mind is still not at ease. I am one of the privileged ones lucky enough to have access to a huge number of resources. But how about those who are not so lucky? My thoughts were with the people in my home country, Mozambique, and other developing countries where the vast majority of the population has no access to electricity, let alone online learning.

 

Lara, a 13-year-old eighth grader, starts her day by helping the family with chores around the shack where they live instead of heading to school as she used to do before the terrifying pandemic. Lara and her family live in Manhiça, in the province of Maputo, Mozambique. She attends the Filipe Nyussi School in Maluana. Neither of Lara’s parents has completed primary education. Her father is the sole income provider and he earns about $45 per month, which he needs to manage carefully between food for the family and education for Lara and her seven brothers and sisters.

Despite the difficulties, Lara’s father says his dream is to see his daughter complete her education. He beams with pride as he describes Lara as a smart, passionate, and dedicated student. Sadly, he also expresses a lot of concern about the uncertain future.

Due to the pandemic, schools in Mozambique have closed. Lara’s daily routine has changed dramatically. She must stay at home while her father walks to school to collect school assignments. When he gets home after work, Lara completes the assignments and later submits them for the teachers to review and grade. Occasionally, her father has had to pick up assignments twice, paying up to 160 meticais (about USD 2.40).

Lara is very eager to learn. She is frustrated that while she would spend four  hours a day learning when she could go to school, her current routine only allows her to study for one hour a day. The family agrees that the current level of education is extremely weak, but unfortunately there is little they can do. They complain about the additional costs for the printed material.

Lara and her family have no access to electricity and consequently have no TV or Internet access at home. This type of situation is very common throughout the country. For this reason, schools have resorted to providing written material prepared by the teachers for students to study at home. Many other children in rural areas, especially girls, face similar challenges. While school is meant to be free, many have complained about the fees for the printed material. In addition, not going to school exposes young girls like Lara to hidden risks of premature marriages and/or pregnancies.

Private schools in urban areas are investing in online schooling for their pupils. However, the level of investment is not standardized and not consistent among schools. Some private schools are moving faster with online platforms and online classes to better meet the needs of their students. Nevertheless, they also rely on parents’ willingness or financial ability to invest in access to technology such as Internet connectivity, computers, and mobile devices.

Studies have shown that the quality of education in Mozambique lags behind that of its neighboring countries and the level of school retention for young girls in the country is still a challenge. On top of that, the country also struggles to provide proper training for its teachers.

Online education is not a feasible option in a country where most people have no access to the Internet. While teachers from all over the world get together in social media to collaborate and give education a face-lift, some teachers and schools in less privileged countries are forgotten.

Nadya Faquir

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This piece is part of the Teacher Task Force’s #TeachersVoices campaign, created to bring forward the experiences of teachers working every day to ensure their students continue to benefit from a quality education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To participate, go to our dedicated webpage.