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OPINION

Education Minister providing the leadership for the reopening of schools

July 3, 2020

By Katie Gberie

The Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), Hon. Dr. David Moinina Sengeh is working assiduously together with Senior Management Officials of the Ministry to provide the enabling environment for the reopening of schools for public examinations classes.

At the hit of the Coronavirus pandemic that forced government to order the closure of schools in the entire country, the MBSSE immediately responded by creating an Education Emergency Task force that comprised of five pillars: Communications and Social Mobilization, Distance and Continuous Learning that spear headed the radio teaching programme, School Reopening Pillar, Coordination and Organization, Resource Mobilization Pillar in response to COVID-19, and the Radical Inclusion Pillar ensures inclusive education for all children in the country irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, disability socio-economic conditions, and other conditions.

The school reopening Pillar, like the other four pillars worked for over 8 weeks in the background understudying all of the circumstances and scenarios around COVID-19 in Sierra Leone. The Pillar came up with recommendations for the reopening of schools to the leadership of Ministry, including the Honorable Minister.

Education for all being the flagship project of the government, the Ministry immediately convened a critical stakeholders meeting where the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, National COVID-19 Emergency Operation Center (NaCOVERC), Sierra Leone Teachers Union, Teaching Service Commission, National Council of Head Teachers, Council of Principles of Secondary Schools, Association of Private Schools, Ministry of Gender, and development partners including UNICEF, DFID, World Vision, critically reviewed the presentations on the reopening of schools by the senior management of  the Ministry. 

At this critical review meeting, a unanimous decision was taken to reopen schools for public examination classes. After the consultations and working on the recommendations of the stakeholders for the reopening of schools, the Education Ministry went to work by establishing working groups to prepare the ground for the reopening of schools for public examinations.

Conscious of the challenges posed by the COVID-19, the transportation of pupils and teachers to their various locations after being entrapped by the inter district lockdown was key. Training of school staff and training materials in the form of guidance note and psychosocial support was another important pillar suggested to facilitate a conducive atmosphere for the reopening of schools. Working with development partners, the Education Ministry realised the need for the procurement and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and WASH facilities to ease the process of returning of pupils to schools with the pandemic in mind. Also, the Communications and Guides working group was charged with the responsibility of effectively communicating with parents, guardians, community stakeholders and the public on the Ministry’s activities in preparation for the school reopening. It was also charged with the responsibility of developing and distributing the guidance notes and psychosocial support manual for both training of staff and for use in school to support the pupils during the health pandemic.

The Education Ministry decided not to work in isolation of the communities thereby establishing the monitoring and social mobilization team entertaining the intent that communities should be encouraged to take ownership of the reopening of schools. 

In another vein, the Education Ministry insisted on having an emergency and response committee that would respond to incidents during the entire schools reopening process. Taking into cognizance the current difficult situation in the country where there continues to be confirmed cases of Coronavirus, the Education Ministry has fostered a school feeding program for pupils preparing for the NPSE examinations across the country where dry rations are to be made available to each pupil.

The committee on the reopening of schools have since made frantic efforts to ensure the requisite environment is provided that will make returning to schools for pupils comfortable, and without threat. 

The stoic Education minister has left no stone untouched as the Ministry prepares to return the pupils to schools for the NPSE, BECE, and WASSCE examinations. 

The President Bio led government has hurriedly paid Le 42 billion of subsidies to schools across the country to augment the reopening of schools since education is a premium on the President’s agenda. All demands to fast track the reopening of schools have been attended to by the Education Ministry and her partners. 

However, parents are encouraged to make sure their school going children continue to adhere to the hand wash propounded by health educators, and that parents should not send their children to school once they show any signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

Though the Education Ministry is in full gear to reopen schools, the monitoring and social mobilization pillar of the Ministry on the reopening of schools is appalled that some schools in the provinces have manifested lapses in readiness for the resumption of schools as stipulated. Some schools are yet to keep the school environment clean for the return of their pupils. It is observed that some classrooms in some schools are still dusty, with some schools having grass growing on campuses though school administrators have received subsidies from the government in order to keep the schools up and ready for the return of the pupils in the examination classes. Unfortunately, some school authorities are yet to sanitize their schools but frantic efforts are in place by the Ministry’s monitoring and social mobilization working group to ensure these anomalies are speedily responded to.

It should be clear to school authorities that school subsidies are meant to upkeep the school environment, and to also smoothly run the administration of the schools.

On the resumption of schools, the Education Ministry has continued emphasizing on maintaining social distancing in schools, such as prohibiting the gathering of pupils in lunch areas/cafeteria, and that pupils are required to stay in their respective classes during the 20 minutes lunch break.

 It is mandatory with the reopening of schools, that there should be no extra classes within the premises of the school compound after the normal school sessions. It is a responsibility on parents to ensure their children wash their face masks each day, and to also provide lunch for their children in the BECE and WASSCE classes. 

Moreover, as pupils return to schools, the local councils should endeavour to readily make the school buses available to the pupils as it is incumbent on all sectors of government to prioritize the Free Quality Education for the benefit of our Sierra Leonean children.  

The government, through the MBSSE has done quite a lot, based on the accounts above regarding the resources, organization, coordination and support to ensure the safe reopening of schools. It is important to emphasize the need for all stakeholders, including heads of schools, local councils, community stakeholders, etc. to get involved in the school reopening readiness activities so that our children will return to safe and secure school environments.