It is 9am and lessons are in progress at Namadzi Primary School in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mpama in Chiradzulu.
Every classroom has hand-washing utensils. Inside the classrooms, learners have face masks on and are sitting one and half metres apart. The situation also applies to those learning under tree shades.
While this learning environment is exceptional among many rural schools that disregard preventive measures against the Covid-19 pandemic, Namadzi’s atmosphere is common in other 16 sister schools under Nkhande Zone, which looks after 11 595 learners.
The adherence to Covid-19 preventive measures is also visible in other nine schools in St. Michael’s Zone, which has a population of 14 628 learners.
The safe and healthy environment in these two zones covering the areas of T/As Mpama, Chitera and Likoswe in the district has been achieved and enhanced courtesy of mother groups.
The mother groups run the initiatives with assistance from National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust.
This happens under a school-based civic engagement and community mobilisation for parent-teacher associations on Covid-19 response in collaboration with the district’s education management office.
Namadzi Primary School mother group chairperson in Nkhande Zone Ruth Truwa says the five-month long school break enforced due to Covid-19 was a burden on their efforts to have girls attain education.
“The announcement hurt us because it was a great disturbance to girls’ bright future. The prevailing events made us accept the situation, but our interventions to promote girl-child education were frustrated,” she says.
There was a sigh of relief among the mothers when the government announced the reopening of schools on October 12 2020.
Says Truwa: “We have been praying to God to take away the pandemic so that our children should go back to school.
“Now that schools have reopened, we are committed to do anything that enhances the observation of Covid-19 preventive measures to the communities and in the schools.”
Her counterpart at Lisao Primary School in St. Michael’s Zone Imiless Paynot says they are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that schools are not closed again.
“We want girls to attain education and become productive citizens to break the vicious cycle of poverty in our communities. It is possible if schools cannot be closed again,” she says.
Equipped with tailoring skills to make reusable sanitary pads to keep girls in schools during their monthly menses, the mothers are now using the skills to make and sell face masks.
The mothers give the face masks for free to learners from poor households.
They also promote hand-washing habits and adherence to all stipulated preventive measures among learners in and out of classrooms.
St. Michael’s Zone Chikowa Primary School management committee chairperson Mangani Kachelenga marvels at the mother group’s involvement in the school affairs.
“The participation of mother groups on school matters together with other community structures has taught us a lot of lessons. It has motivated us to develop a spirit of active ownership and participation,” he says
Kachelenga says the initiative has also helped to address many challenges learners experience in schools, thereby reducing dropout rates and addressing school governance weaknesses.
Considering that the reopening of schools brought fears of a surge in Covid-19 cases, Chiradzulu Nice Trust civic facilitation expert Clemence Sendeza says there was a need for community-led groups to encourage intensive prevention interventions in schools.
“We roped in parent-teacher associations [PTAs], mother groups, school management committees and communities to ensure schools are conducive and safe for learners and teachers amid the outbreak,” he says.
Sendeza says the institution is happy with the stewardship role of mother groups in the fight for children to learn safely.
Nice Public Trust regional civic education officer (South) Christopher Naphiyo says the institution looks at Covid-19 through governance lenses.
“A lot of resources have been invested in the fight against the pandemic and it is proper for community-based school governing structures to be involved in line with the principles and values of governance,” he says.
“As such, structures such as mother groups are key for communities’ sustainable adherence to measures and monitor resources schools are receiving to curb the virus.”
Chiradzulu District coordinating primary education adviser Redge Gopanikufa says the mother groups’ efforts are critical in containing coronavirus.
He urges that as stakeholders such as the mother groups are doing their part, teachers should also do their part by monitoring learners.