A few broken chairs and benches, and an ancient chalkboard complete the furniture in Mabwe’s backyard college in Kuwadzana, a township 15km west of central Harare. Faced with schools being closed indefinitely across Zimbabwe, this garden classroom is the only option for many children and young people in Kuwadzana. Schools in the country were closed in March 2020. Some began to reopen in October for pupils taking exams, but all were then shut indefinitely in January as the cases of Covid began again to rise. The closures led to an almost 10% drop in the number of children passing their national grade seven exHome schools have sprouted up across Harare’s townships, but the government has warned teachers not to open their own classrooms, saying that these are illegal under lockdown rules. The government has banned gatherings of any kind because of the recent rise in case numbers. Since the pandemic began, Zimbabwe has recorded more than 35,000 coronavirus cases and 1,400 deaths. Before Covid, the government was already beginning to crack down on teachers establishing private colleges, or charging fees to hold extra classes outside the normal school day to subsidise low wages. Unregistered private colleges have been subject to frequent raids by the police and council officials. Some officials have demanded bribes to allow them to continue operating. More than 80 schools recorded no passes at all.
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