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A former Deputy Education Minister is seeking explanations from the Education Minister on how day students become boarders in senior high schools (SHSs) without dormitories, dining halls and bathrooms.

Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa in a statement Wednesday, said government forgot to make provision for the 145 Day SHSs in the country “who do not have the luxury of boarding facilities.”

All final year day students in the various SHS are expected to stay on campus with their colleagues in the boarding house following the reopening of schools by President Akufo-Addo.

The directive forms part of measures outlined by the Education Ministry to ensure the safety of students and teachers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“All day students in boarding schools will be accepted as boarders. For pure day schools there will be enhanced protocols to look after the children,” Education Minister, Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh said at a press conference in Accra.

But Mr Okudzeto Ablakwa said, “When the Minister for Education announced yesterday that all final year day students are obliged to join their colleagues to become boarders in their respective schools; the Minister appears to forget that by my checks, there are as many as 145 Senior High Schools in Ghana which are strictly Day Schools and so do not have the luxury of boarding facilities”

“Even with the 576 Senior High Schools with boarding facilities, we do know the configuration of particularly residential facilities are very communal. There are only few bathrooms for many students to share.

“The lack of exclusive spaces would put many students at risk if one student is COVID-19 positive. Without any structural design changes or reconfiguration of boarding facilities which were not built with highly contagious diseases such as the novel coronavirus in mind, we all ought to be extremely cautious.”

Below is Mr Ablakwa’s thoughts on government’s programme to reopen schools:

1) The continuous assessment of final year students in junior high school (JHS) and senior high school (SHS) could have been deemed adequate for their progression to the next level.

2) Alternatively, in addition to the continuous assessment, a one-off entrance exam could have been considered at the point of entry into SHS and tertiary institutions in August/September at the beginning of the 2020/2021 academic year in order to avoid many risky weeks in school.

3) Considering that the 2019/2020 academic year had only two-weeks to run its course when schools were closed, there wouldn’t have been significant loss of contact hours if the above suggestions were implemented.

4) Tertiary institutions including universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and nursing training institutes should all have been required to complete their online studies (I am reliably informed most had completed) and made to sit for online examinations or submit term papers, thesis or project works as many tertiary institutions all over the world have considered; this would have avoided the risk of tertiary students congregating for some six long weeks.

5) When the Minister for Education announced yesterday that all final year day students are obliged to join their colleagues to become boarders in their respective schools; the Minister appears to forget that by my checks, there are as many as 145 Senior High Schools in Ghana which are strictly Day Schools and so do not have the luxury of boarding facilities. How do these students become boarders in such schools without dormitories, dining halls and bathrooms?

6) Even with the 576 Senior High Schools with boarding facilities, we do know the configuration of particularly residential facilities are very communal. There are only a few bathrooms for many students to share. The lack of exclusive spaces would put many students at risk if one student is COVID-19 positive. Without any structural design changes or reconfiguration of boarding facilities which were not built with highly contagious diseases such as the novel coronavirus in mind, we all ought to be extremely cautious.

7) The other matter that may have been overlooked is the financial burden on parents and guardians of day students. Data already reveals that most day students who currently make up 37% of students at the second cycle level belong to vulnerable households and often that is the reason they opt to be day students. How do we expect this category to comfortably purchase the long list of items on the prospectus needed for boarding within this short timeframe and within the current context of an excruciating economic pandemic?

8)It is totally dangerous, reckless and an utter dereliction not to make provision for teachers, non-teaching staff and students to be tested before placing all of them in the school environment for academic work. This must be fiercely resisted by the teacher unions, PTAs and SRCs.

9) Second year Gold Track SHS students should simply continue to stay at home. This would only worsen congestion and increase risk. Government must rescind its decision on this immediately.

10) It is absolutely surprising to hear Government’s position being articulated to the effect that parents would not be allowed to visit their children in Senior High Schools. Directives like this are unreasonable and would only make parents keep their children at home and wait for the resumption of BECE and WASSCE for Private Candidates. What happens when a student in boarding school is taken ill?

We are confronted by a vicious pandemic and it is naturally expected that parents would be more anxious and be on the look out for their children than they will in normal times. What Government could have considered are visiting protocols in line with best public health advice and not outrightly proscribing parental visits. Another clear indication that government’s school reopening plan is not well thought out.

11) The lessons from other jurisdictions such as France and South Korea where reopened schools in no time contributed to mass infections should guide us to make smarter choices driven by science and love for our children.

Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa
MP, North Tongu
Former Deputy Minister for Education