PRINCETON, New Jersey — Malawi is a country in southeastern Africa with a population of 19.4 million people. About 70% of people in Malawi live in poverty. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 172 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index. Education is compulsory for children in Malawi aged 6 to 13. After that, however, it becomes an expense that many families cannot afford to pay for. Impoverished girls in Malawi attend secondary education at a rate much lower than the wealthier boys. Fewer than 5% of impoverished girls attend secondary school. The U.N. estimates that it will take until 2114 for them to catch up. Kids in Need of Desks is working to improve education in Malawi.
Kids in Need of Desks (K.I.N.D. Fund)
MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and UNICEF USA established the Kids In Need of Desks (K.I.N.D.) Fund in 2010. The K.I.N.D. Fund works to improve the state of education in Malawi by providing desks and chairs to the 65% of students who lack them. It also provides secondary school scholarships to girls who cannot afford to continue their education. The K.I.N.D. Fund has provided desks for more than 938,000 students and helped more than 10,600 girls receive secondary education.
COVID-19 in Malawi
Malawi is in the throes of a COVID-19 surge, going from fewer than 10 new cases a day in early December 2020 to hundreds by early January 2021. Since the start of the pandemic, Malawi has recorded more than 30,000 cases. The CDC has designated it as having a very high level of COVID-19 – the highest designation that the organization gives.
COVID-19 in Malawi has the potential to be disastrous even with vaccines incoming through COVAX. “Even a fairly low number of cases could overwhelm the health system, cause food shortages and reverse the path of progress the country has been on in recent years,” said U.N. resident coordinator, Maria Jose Torres. An outbreak could devastate an already struggling population.
The Impact of Kids in Need of Desks During COVID-19
COVID-19 has halted education around the world, but students in Malawi are at a particular disadvantage. Many students do not have the opportunity to complete their education virtually from their homes. As schools reopen after the March 2020 shutdown, children and teachers who return still risk their health. Overcrowding is prevalent in schools, especially in rural parts of the country. Even with mandatory masking, the lack of social distancing in classrooms could worsen the spread of COVID-19.
This is where the K.I.N.D. Fund comes in. The desks it provides are more important than ever because, without them, it would be very difficult to maintain social distancing in classrooms. Setting up desks six feet away from one another, the safe distance recommended by the CDC, allows for easy adherence to social distancing protocols. It also limits the number of students that can be in a classroom at once which has been a worry for many teachers in Malawi.
Smaller, more socially distanced classes because of desks donated by the K.I.N.D. Fund have helped to control the spread of COVID-19 in schools in Malawi and allow students to get the quality education that they need. According to UNICEF, there has been no increase in COVID-19 cases in Malawi due to school reopenings.
Other Contagious Diseases
Once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, desks in classrooms will still provide health protection in Malawi. Infectious diseases like typhoid, which is highly contagious and can be deadly, are prevalent in Malawi. In the early stages of infection when symptoms are mild but the patient is still contagious, students may still attend school which provides an avenue of transmission. Socially distanced classrooms facilitated by desks can help to reduce transmission rates.
Improving Education in Malawi
Beyond socially distanced learning, the desks provided by Kids in Need of Desks improve the quality of education for children in Malawi. Millions of children in Malawi struggle to learn on the floor of crowded classrooms. A desk and a chair give them a place to write and learn and allow them to better focus. The efforts of the K.I.N.D. Fund helps to keep Malawian children in school and learning and reduces the education gap caused by wealth disparities.
– Brooklyn Quallen