Exploring educational lives of the excluded youth under COVID-19 in the SADC region.

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Muchanga, Manoah
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JET Education Service
About 80.5 million learners from early childhood to tertiary levels of education in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are affected by countrywide school, college and university lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of these48% are female and 52% male, some already experiencing some forms of exclusion that, under COVID-19,further hampers their learning. In this research project, the term ‘excluded youth’ refers to any person between the ages of 10 and 35 who has been systematically disadvantaged and discriminated against as a result of pre-existing conditions and is unable to access equitable and quality education in the changing teaching-learning landscape precipitated by response to the pandemic. The aim of the research project was to explore educational challenges experienced by excluded youth amid COVID-19 among selected SADC countries in order to inform policy decisions and actions that improve their educational lives. The objectives of the project were to: document excluded youths’ understandings of COVID-19; explore life stories of how excluded youth were living, surviving and adapting or not adapting to the changed and changing learning environments amid COVID-19; document how the learning needs of excluded youth are being addressed by governments, their partners and other development stakeholders; explore possible learning opportunities for the excluded youth arising from the COVID-19 crisis and how these are, or can be effectively utilised; and devise regional policy recommendations on how to address the learning needs of excluded youth amid COVID-19. The project was a phenomenological exploratory nested study in which semi-structured interviews were used to gather information with the aid of Google Forms which was used to record the collected information. The sample consisted of 89 youth participants who were purposively sampled across six SADC countries namely, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Six key informants were interviewed from universities, non-governmental organisations and government education and youth departments so as to inform the research with their expert knowledge. The study found that excluded youth are more knowledgeable about the symptoms and preventative measures of COVID-19 than its origins. The use of masks and social distancing were the widely adopted preventative measure on account of being cost effective. New forms of learning exclusion include: lack of access to internet and e-learning, lack of access to e-learning gadgets, lack of adequate exposure to emerging learning technologies, lack of electricity for operationalisation of e-learning, psychological distrust of one another, isolated learning, high cost of internet, poor radio and TV signal, among others. The study indicates that before COVID-19,the learning experience was conducive and inclusive. There was opportunity for youth to socialise and discuss school work, share notes and ideas, and it gave them confidence in their individual academic progression and potential success in the examinations in spite of their socioeconomic exclusions. However,duringCOVID-19, learning and learning environments have become exclusive, favouring those from socio-economically advantaged families who are familiar with the use of educational technologies, have access to electricity and connectivity, and can afford to buy TVs and other e-learning equipment. Social distancing has unanimously been cited as the main source of learning exclusion because pupils can no longer be, and learn, together as per Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) principles. The study recommends the need to urgently devise strategies to address the impact of social and physical distancing on the learning process which has affected the process of learning together among pupils and teachers. Moreover, the timing for online and TV channel classes should not coincide with peak hours for domestic chores such as sweeping, cooking, and others which tend to disadvantage girl children. Rural schools should be re-opened subject to strict adherence to all public health rules because rural learners have been the most affected and widely excluded by the current mode of learning. Further research to investigate the impact of COVID-19 and responses to the pandemic have affected the educational lives of persons with disabilities is also highly recommended. Radio broadcasts of school programmes is also recommended for continuous delivery of lessons, especially for the underprivileged.
Youth. , Marginality,Youth--Zambia. , Education--COVID-19.
Muchanga, M. et al. (2020). Exploring educational lives of the excluded youth under COVID-19 in the SADC region. https://www.jet.org.za/resources/sadc-theme-3-exploring-educational-lives-of-excluded-youth-final-aug.pdf/view