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Cyclone Freddy and Education in Malawi: Part 1     

In this special, two part series, Fanny Nombulelo Malikebu, our ambassador for Malawi, explores how challenging learning circumstances have been exacerbated by natural disasters. 

By Fanny Nombulelo Malikebu

 

Introduction 

A learning environment refers to spaces and context in which a young child grows and learns. Many factors can affect a child’s learning experience such as parents, caregivers and the presence of other children can affect the child’s learning and receptiveness. A conducive learning environment is devoid of both physical intimidation and emotional frustration. It provides learners with the freedom of interaction, safety, and respect when learning new skills. 

 

Background 

The World Meteorological Organization said that the cyclone that formed in February off the northern coast of Australia, before making its way to southeastern Africa, may have been the longest lasting storm in the southern hemisphere. In neighbouring Mozambique, officials reported at least 20 people died since the cyclone made landfall in the port town of Quelimane. 

 Schools were also shut down in Blantyre and across the entire southern region of Malawi. Consequently, 165 camps were built in school yards and classrooms across the city to provide shelter for affected households. 

Early in March 2023, the Ministry of Education suspended schools for three days to protect children from the deadly cyclone but, later, extended the break by three weeks to April 17, 2023.  As of March 27, 2023 at least 530 schools had been affected across 15 education districts with a total of 139,929 learners impacted in primary and secondary schools of which 23,066 were adolescents and 1,853 were learners with disabilities and at least 307 teachers had been affected. Although the Ministry of Education announced that schools opened on March 27, 2023, that seemed like a tall order as the displaced people were yet to be relocated from the affected school, as “242 schools were being used as spaces for internally displaced people,” the Ministry of Education said in a statement. 

 

What is Cyclone Freddy? 

 A cyclone has been defined as a very intense tropical cyclone. This was an exceptionally long-lived, powerful, and deadly storm that traversed the Southern Indian Ocean for more than five weeks in February and March 2023. Freddy is both the longest-lasting and highest-ACE-producing tropical cyclone ever recorded worldwide (Center for Disaster Philanthropy, March 7, 2023) 

 

Problem 

 According to a government report, as of March 15th, Cyclone Freddy had so far claimed 225 lives, injured 707 people and displaced over 83,000 people, including school-going children and over 500 teachers from 18, 689 households. They are now hosted in 165 evacuation camps, with 153 schools turned into evacuation camps for flood survivors. One of the sectors that has been especially affected by the cyclone is the education sector, the union leaders reported. The cyclones severely damaged infrastructures such as classrooms, toilets, teachers’ houses, or water facilities of 129 primary schools and 22 secondary schools in the 13 affected districts. The natural disaster so far claimed the lives of 5 teachers, rendered about 500 teachers homeless, while over 409 teachers were indirectly affected by the cyclone – teachers staying in schools. 

 

How Freddy has affected learners’ achievements 

 So many students in boarding schools and away from sites of the cyclones proceeded with sitting their examinations. Teaching and learning went normally, as they were not aware of what had happened outside their school environment. Moreover, it all happened during the end of the teaching and learning week, and in my school, we followed the normal academic calendar by allowing students to sit for their end of term examinations, as expected before departing for a week’s holiday. 

But how did they find their homes? Obviously, some came from the districts of the Freddy disasters; for others, their families were either directly or indirectly affected and even lost their close loved ones. The reality was seen on the school opening day, as only a few came back as expected from the holiday, with the majority of them coming towards the end of the week or the next week. 

 

 

Students in one Secondary School. (Photograph by Fanny Malikebu) 

 This is at my teaching school, a school with students who completed their Term 2 without being knowledgeable of what happened until they went back home for holidays. 

 What about those students whose classroom blocks were washed aways? Some were swept away with water on traces of their notebooks. The schools which were turned into relief camps. What about those school going children who woke up to the hands of new caregivers? Should we expect them to perform the same as those away from the sites? 

 

Join us next week, when Fanny explains how the Commonwealth Education Trust has been supporting her through this challenging time. To help a teacher like Fanny, click here to donate.

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