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Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has disrupted socio-economic activities, including formal and non-formal education, across the world at lightning speed. By mid-April 2020, it had interrupted the formal education of nearly 1.6 billion students in 192 countries. COVID-19’s disruption of education in Africa, and especially in southern Africa, has been severe for several reasons. However, educational responses to COVID-19 suggest that it has stimulated the appetite for developing educational innovations – silver linings to the COVID-19 cloud.
This paper is based on interviews conducted with 56 parents, students and educators involved in formal and non-formal education in Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We identified the main educational challenges in these countries as being concerned with adapting to: (i) online education and learning, (ii) continuity of education from home, and (iii) community-based learning in small groups. The silver linings that we identified are: (i) putting greater emphasis on finding context-specific solutions to education and health problems (improvisation), which is important for educational relevance and reveals the value of local actors, (ii) making linkages between social and ecological systems clearer, which is making the value of education for sustainable development (ESD) in this century more explicit, and (iii) revealing structural inequality and justice issues in education, which draws attention to the need for urgently addressing them as part of transformative change in education and sustainable development.