Staying connected: Supporting the girl child during lockdown

A Grade 11 learner at Mafahleni High School in Impendle, Kwa-Zulu Natal was eagerly awaiting the announcement that schools can reopen.

A school is more than a space for learning; it occupies a multi-faceted role in the life-world of a child. Schools are spaces where children can access key support services, enrichment programmes and meals.

Accessing support mechanism outside of the school environment is not easy for disadvantaged communities, particularly in rural areas. But that’s not all. Schools are also spaces for socialisation and structure where learners become rounded individuals.

The Covid-19 school closures coupled with the economic impact of the pandemic are disrupting the homes and personal lives of vulnerable learners. For girls, the school closures exacerbate gender inequalities, making it tougher for them to stay connected with school than their male peers, increasing their risk of disengagement and dropout.

The girl child is vulnerable to dropout because of:

πŸ“Œ Exposure to gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and teenage pregnancy outside the classroom[1];
πŸ“Œ Gender roles and norms mean girls often have domestic and care responsibilities at home, taking time away from learning;
πŸ“ŒPoor families are more likely to invest in boys than girls when there is little money to go around during an economic crisis[2]

Mentoring and psychosocial support

To assist vulnerable learners, our implementing partners incorporated elements of “virtual support” into their programmes soon after the lockdown began. These programmes are helping children to stay connected with school life and each other.

The National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) provides school-based services to meet the complex needs of vulnerable adolescents in KwaZulu-Natal. When schools closed in March, the organisation established a virtual initiative allowing child and youth care workers (CYCWs) a platform to continue providing services to learners via WhatsApp.

Girls’ experiences in rural KwaZulu-Natal

Ntandokazi is a 16 year old Grade 11 learner from the Ntshiyabantu village in KwaZulu-Natal. She has been connecting with other learners and mentors via WhatsApp as part of the NACCW’s virtual initiative.

“It has helped me because they create a space for us to be able to talk about things, even if they are topics that are sensitive or we feel uncomfortable talking about…they allow us the space that we can actually share and talk to them.”

Nozipho is a 17 year old learner in matric. She lives in the Enguga village in KwaZulu-Natal and goes to Mafahleni High School, which is a 40 minute walk from her home. Nozipho lives with her grandmother, mother, aunt and younger brother – all of whom are not working. The NACCW programme is supporting her beyond the classroom by offering information about reproductive health, providing sanitary pads, and help with studying at home.

“Motivation [to stay in school] is my home, I want to change it. So without education I know there is nothing I can do that will bring me money.”

Nobuhle is a 17 year old Grade 11 learner. She attends Khayelihle High School in Umbumbulu in KwaZulu-Natal. She lives on the edge of a sugar cane field in a homestead with her mother, seven siblings and other family members. Nobuhle is also part of the NACCW virtual initiative.

β€œSome of the topics we cover affect me personally. They help me make better decisions…help me understand the situation better so that I can manage it.”



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