On Monday, March 23, 2020, schools in Ghana were closed down because COVID-19 had made a rude raging entry. Ten months on, schools are back in full force when another variant of the same COVID, said to be ferocious than the March one is tossing higher.
Back to school thus means strict adherence to safety protocols including adding a new dress code, face mask, to all school uniforms.
On my morning walks this week passing by at least 4 notable schools, I have been watching parents dropping off their children in school with their face masks solidly in place. A most obvious thing I have noticed is the worrying look on the faces of parents.
Who can blame them? Which parent would not be nervous sending their children back to school at this critical time of a second surge of the pandemic? But go, the children must in order to continue with their education and of course, learning.
Back to school is a dicey one. Parental eye is not going to be around to remind excited little children the importance of not taking off their masks and the need to observe all the other Covid-19 safety protocols. The teachers would do their best but their eyes would not be everywhere for the duration of the time the children would be in school.
On Wednesday, I stopped to speak with a parent who was dropping off her two children. Both of them were under ten years. She was visibly worried because her older daughter who is seven years old and the outgoing type. She is popular with teachers, older as well as younger children in the school. She hugs, will hold hands, offer help and readily shares whatever she has with her friends. Now, she just does not understand why she should not share, hold hands or hug.
Possibly, like many parents, this mother said she and her husband had done a lot of education with the children regarding wearing face masks and following other protocols. For countless times the children have asked why and countless times they as parents have provided answers. But despite all that, they still did not feel comfortable in their minds wondering if the children would stay in their masks or wash hands regularly for the number of hours they would be in school.
This indeed is a critical period for everyone, particularly, parents, teachers, schools and the Ghana Education Service (GES). However, if we all agree that it is necessary for schools to reopen despite the surge in the disease, then we should all, in our small ways support the GES with ideas and other means to keep the children safe while in school.
Innovations, classes under trees
Luckily, working from home has fast become the new normal. It has been embraced by many organisations. Some are also running the shift system were due to social distancing minimum staff take turns to come to work. At any given time, therefore, there are some parents at home working. What innovations can evolve to help police safety adherence by the children?
This is the time, therefore for Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) and heads of schools, in consultation with GES, to begin to set up volunteer parent groups in our schools. This group of volunteers led by PTA chairpersons could draw up schedules for signed-up members to be on duty in the various schools especially during break time.
Their duties would primarily be to ensure that, when the children are out of the constant supervision of their teachers, they have their face masks on and are observing the necessary safety protocols. This workable innovation should help school children, especially the younger ones, to gradually come to terms with the new normal in school.
They would be encouraged to see their own parents or friend’s parents volunteering at break time to help in that direction. PTAs, working together with their schools could easily device means to help maintain discipline as far as Covid-19 protocols are concerned.
While volunteer PTA members are at play, classes under trees or canopies could also be adopted by schools. One of the protocols of the disease, we are told, is the regular use of open-air spaces. I dare suggest that classes under trees or canopies are some measures schools should consider to encourage social distancing and exposing the children to open-air while learning.
Back to school is necessary for learning and education to happen. In doing that therefore, it is also time to innovate and find unique ways to circumvent the spread of the disease in our schools.
Tough one but it is not insurmountable.
Writer’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org