Now that the President of the Republic, H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has in collaboration with other relevant stakeholders, made a decision regarding the reopening of schools, we must move to the next important stage of ensuring safety in our schools.
We must ensure that the relevant health and sanitation protocols are adhered to in our schools in order to ensure that our schools do not become the new epicenters for the spread of the Covid-19. So far, Ghana is not alone in taking the decision to reopen schools, and that is why we must be guided by practices elsewhere in other countries much as we recognize that there is no one-fit-for-all solution to the issues we are dealing with.
On Tuesday, 26th May, 2020, I took part in an International Zoom Conference organized for teachers across the world by the Varkey Foundation in collaboration with UNESCO. In all, 75 countries representing all continents took part in this conversation. In this conversation, especially in my breakout session, one factor stood tall – wellness of teachers and students.
As countries move towards lifting restrictions on school closures, the Varkey Foundation and UNESCO are urging them to prioritize school safety and wellness. Already, some countries are responding to the call just as we in Ghana are doing.
To ensure the safety of our schools and the wellness of our teachers and learners, I suggest that in addition to all the suggestions by stakeholders such as the teacher unions, media, Conference of Directors of Education [CODE], CHASS and GMA, we consider the Jamaican model of developing an emergency school reopening manual for all heads of Basic and Second Cycle Schools.
This document which will be developed by the GES in collaboration with the Ghana Health Service and the National Covid-19 Response Team will encapsulate the various health and sanitation protocols that school heads must insist on in their respective schools.
It will include how schools can receive students or learners back to school. It should also address the psycho-social needs of learners and even the school staff considering that Covid-19 has not only disrupted the flow or delivery of education, but that it has caused job losses and uncertainties in the lives of parents who are depended upon by the learners.
The point is made that some of these students will carry these anxieties and stress to the schools, hence they will require psycho-social help from the school. Further, the document will spell out spacing requirements in classrooms, labs, workshops, dormitories, dining halls, school canteens, school gatherings and other outdoor activities in the school. With this document, the GES can guarantee that there will be a near uniformity in the application of and adherence to the protocols in our schools. This will also serve as a check on the school heads and the teachers.
Meanwhile, in other jurisdictions such as the UK, the BBC has reported that schools are breaking out classes into smaller ‘bubbles’ and are insisting that members in same ‘bubbles’ or groups learn, eat and play with each bubble using a nominated classroom and a set of toilets to prevent cross infection. Though these measures will be extremely difficult for us to practise in our schools considering that we do have infrastructural issues, we can still pick a thing or two from these examples. Our Ministry of Education may consider providing portable toilets and urinals for schools that are in need. For some schools, we may either have to engage the services of cleaning agencies or recruit emergency cleaning staff to provide regular cleaning of our school facilities especially toilets and urinals.
Still in the UK, part of the protocols demands that children will not be allowed to take bags to school. They will be required to work in new exercise books and their teachers will not take them home to mark. They may not have to take them to Staff Common Room for making. Doors to classrooms and other school facilities will be left propped open and handles cleaned properly. They are also considering scrapping the uniform policy as children are expected to wear clean clothes every day. The UK is also requesting students to come to school with their own stationeries which they cannot share with their friends.
This is one area we may have to look at as our schools reopen partially. Almost all our JHSs are day schools whilst a significant number of our senior high school students are also day students some of whom board vehicles to school. Meanwhile, most students wear these uniforms two or three days in a week before changing them. This, if not handled well, can be a source of the spread of the virus in our schools. Towards addressing this issue, we may have to consider the proposal by the Conference of Directors of Education [CODE] for all final year students to be made boarders at least for this period. Having done that, we may have to work out something convenient and appropriate for the students of Junior High Schools too.
Furthermore, we may have to reactivate our School Health Education Programme [SHEP] systems in our schools. For schools with their own infirmaries or clinics, the Ghana Health Service will have to provide them with adequate PPEs and alcohol based sanitizers as well as other equipment they may require. Schools without infirmaries may have to be assigned nurses who will be expected to visit the schools daily and be on the lookout for symptoms being equipped with infrared thermometers. The Ghana Education Service may also have to consider placing a temporary moratorium or ban on school visitations by parents and guardians.
We also need to strengthen our guidance and counselling systems and ensure that students and staff who require counselling and reassurances are provided same timely and adequately. We need to work towards changing the attitudes of our students and even the staff if the schools are to adhere to the various protocols. The practice of teachers keeping markers and chalk with class prefects must also cease forthwith whilst we discourage students from sharing stuffs such as cutlasses, spoons, cups, footwear and jackets, cloths or mattresses. In a similar vein, schools must discourage the practice of passing round markers and chalks for students to solve questions on the white marker board or chalkboard. We may have to work towards reducing contact among our students whenever they are back to the dormitories. School choirs and cadets may have to be discouraged from donning their choir robes or uniforms at this period in time.
Schools must cut down on school gatherings such as assemblies, and instead make use of school sirens and public address systems to make announcements to students. Where it is urgent to organize Wednesday worships, mass or vespers for the students, school authorities must ensure that such events are brief by cutting down on some aspects whilst observing social distancing protocols. Schools may also have to assign dedicated seats to students at all social gatherings by numbering the seats and giving the students specific numbers.
Boarding schools which do not already have teachers supervising preps may need to consider adopting the practice. In areas where it will be convenient, government may have to consider assisting schools financially to use their school buses in conveying day students to school whilst observing social distancing protocols.
Where this is not possible, the schools may have to consider staggering the daily periods for reporting to school and the period for closing. This may be done on programme or class basis. There may be intervals of 15 or 20 minutes. Now that schools will not be in full session, Assistant Headmasters of academic must ensure that alternating subjects which used to study under trees, dining halls and chapels are provided dedicated classrooms with individually assigned furniture to ensure that students are not seen moving furniture from one place to another.
Practical subject tutors and instructors may have to encourage the use of hand gloves among their students. They should be discouraged from sharing tools and equipment during practical sessions. Schools that provide water in Veronica buckets for drinking by students should provide disposal cups for the students, or better still, request of students to have their individual cups or use water bottles.
The District Covid-19 Response Teams will need to provide timeous responses and interventions when required by the schools.
The writer, Gborse Nicholas Mawunyah, is a writer and conference speaker on topical issues in education, political-history, school leadership and innovations. You can contact him via: email@example.com or nicgborse.wordpress.com