THERE are concerns that COVID-19-induced lockdowns negatively affected female students who were forced into early marriages and other forms of abuse.

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the country experienced an increase in teenage pregnancies and child marriages due to prolonged school closure.

Speaking at a validation and dissemination workshop on social dialogue organised by the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) on Wednesday in Harare, Zimta education director and senior co-ordinator Dennis Sinyolo said: “We carried out a study here in Zimbabwe and other four African countries. We discovered that there have been big gaps in terms of learning during the crisis, especially for children. We don’t have statistics yet, but we discovered that girls have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Some of them got pregnant, while others got abused at their homes.”

Sinyolo pointed out that poverty levels also forced girls to drop out of school and fuelled child pregnancies, while recommending that government should take measures to support full recovery of the education sector.

“That’s why it is vitally important for the Government of Zimbabwe to put in place mechanisms to ensure full recovery of the education system. In that mechanism, teachers and unions should be involved and must be consulted continuously by the government in order to rebuild our education system, which has deteriorated for several reasons like lack of funds, insufficient infrastructure and teaching and learning resources. Government must attend to these things urgently,” he said.

Thembinkosi Tshabalala, who was part of the researchers, said some of the findings included that children indulged in alcohol and drug abuse during the pandemic.

“Learners were left to the vagaries of their cruel environment where the space and time hitherto used for learning, was occupied by vices like drug abuse, sexual orgies and engaging in illicit forms of survival. Teachers too, were also overtaken by the events that unfolded as a result of closure of school,” Tshabalala said.

He stressed the need for social dialogue to address challenges that affected the education system due to the pandemic.

Source Newsday