Overcrowded classrooms and lack of desks are common in schools with no support for students’ needs. The situation becomes even more challenging as the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic.

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But the Juaboso Forestry office is changing this by helping rural students contain the spread of Covid-19.

Dual desks are being produced from off-cuts for the students.

From KG to Junior High Schools in the Juaboso district, school children are having trouble learning as the lack of desks continues to impede the growth of children living in these poor rural areas.

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WHO, UNICEF, and the International Federation of the Red Cross provide recommendations to prevent and control Covid-19 in schools. 

The protocols include physical distancing measures and spacing desks.  

But the situation in the district is pretty tough. 

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Juaboso district education directorate has 30, 359 enrollments, with more than half in the primary level, representing 54.5 percent. 

25.3 percent of school children are at the KG level, 5.1 percent more than those at the lower secondary level. 

Figures from the district education directorate indicate, 80 percent of these pupils do not have desks to learn and practice social distancing.

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District Director of Education, Emmanuel Essuman says students are overcrowded in some schools.

Instead of 25 students in the classroom, schools like Frantraline D/A Primary and Antobia D/A JHS have more than 80 students.

“It is supposed to be 25 students for KG, 40 for primary, and 25 for JHS but some schools have over 80 in a classroom,” Mr. Essuman said.

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He says the situation is difficult and needs to be addressed.

Out of the 73 schools in the district, about 80 percent of them do not have adequate desks for sitting and learning.

In some schools, the available desks are broken, and students are compelled to sit on the bare floor to learn.

“It is a big challenge,” Mr. Essuman laments.

Furniture is made of wood. But it is surprising that a district that supplies the country with the largest volume of woods cannot find a solution to the furniture problem in schools.

According to Mr. Essuman, efforts have been made to change the narrative but that has yielded no positive results.

But there is an end to every challenge.

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With the arrival of the new district forest manager in 2018, campaigns such as the One Desk-One Child in Need of Desks program have helped shed light on the issue.

The Forestry Commission is converting timber off-cuts into school furniture for children. 

Timber off-cuts are leftovers or waste in the forest once licensed timber dealers have finished their final production and processing of timber.

According to foresters, this is what fuels wildfires in the forest.

The district forestry unit has identified the timber off-cuts in the various reserves to convert them into furniture for school children to help adhere to the social distancing protocols. 

District Forest Manager, Mark Aidoo says the idea came to mind when he got to know some students sit on the bare floor while others learn in overcrowded classrooms.

So far, 200 pieces of school furniture have already been produced and distributed to schools in Bia West and East districts.

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According to Mr. Aidoo, this is part of efforts to address the lack of furniture syndrome in the district.

The commission collaborates with licensed sawmills operators to produce the furniture free of charge.

The cost of processing the timber off-cuts into furniture is fully funded by the sawmill operators.

Receiving a hundred dual desks from the Forestry Commission, the district director says, the support came to alleviate their pressing challenge.

Mr. Essuman says the directorate will prioritize the urgent needs of schools before addressing others in future support.

“We have asked them (schools) to submit furniture needs,” he said.

Earlier in a meeting with stakeholders, the district resolved that schools with no furniture and enough classrooms would be on a shift to be able to comply with Covid-19 protocols.

While it is not the mandate for the Forestry Commission to provide furniture to schools, Mr. Essuman says, it is laudable that the Commission is embarking on that exercise.

He calls on the commission to allow forest communities to make good use of the off-cuts and leftovers by providing furniture for their children.

However, Mr. Aidoo says it is important to space the children. 

“That is not the end of the story. There are more coming,” he says.

There are plans to provide each district assembly with 500 dual desks to reduce overcrowding. 

“We have to encourage social distancing to avoid the spread of Covid-19,” he said.

District Chief Executive, Martha Manu expresses her gratitude for the Commission’s efforts.

She describes the situation in the schools as terrible. 

“Since the outbreak of Covid-19, furniture has become our challenge,” she noted.

Madam Martha says in 2020, about 850 pieces of furniture were distributed to the schools.

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One thousand more have been allocated this year. 

“It is in our budget. We are going to give the education officer a thousand pieces of furniture. 500 mono desks and 500 dual desks,” she said.

The DCE urged schools to take good care of the furniture supplied to them.