BY LIMBANI NSAPATO
The Malawi Minister of Education has announced today that schools will re-open in phases starting from 7 September with examination classes. The phased approach is welcome idea, as many stakeholders have recommended so. Bravo to Ministry on this point. Schools are supposed to follow strict guidelines to prevent soread of COVID 19 among learners and educators.
According to the Minister K2 billion has been set aside to assist preventive measures in primary schools. The Ministry has kept mum on the issue of risk allowances for teachers which has been subject of media coverage in recent days.
Surprisingly the Ministry has announced that assessment of schools on readiness to reopen will start on 31st August, which is a week before the schools are set to re-open.
So my question is: what should have started first? Was the assessment not supposed to start first before the decision to reopen? What has guided the Minister in arriving at the decision? What if the assessment results shows that schools are not not ready?
And I have no doubt most schools will not be ready by the set date !Secondly, government had prepared a budget of K5 billion. A week before reopening, it has only made available k2 billion; who is going to foot the shortage of k3 billion? Since the money is said to be from GPE, it means it will be used in primary schools. How about secondary schools, colleges and universities? How about ECD and adult literacy centres? Why should government just bank on donor money to prevent its citizens in schools from COVID 19? Where is the local commitment? Why can’t the treasury release the remaining K3 billion so that all educational institutions are adequately financed before the re-opening date?This means that most schools will not be ready to open while observing preventive measures.
The victims will be schools in rural areas and having most of the learners from poor households who can not afford to buy preventive materials without government support.
In addition, schools without water sources will also suffer unless boreholes and other water sources are provided to the schools within the next seven days. Such schools pose greater risk of infecting innocent pupils and teachers. This matter will widen the already existing disparities in the education system which work against the have-nots.
Thirdly, the issue of risk allowances for public teachers is so critical that if teachers decide to go on strike until allowances are paid, reopening of schools won’t happen. Why not address this issue right now? Is the Ministry taking teachers for granted?Fourth, what measures are in place to ensure that private schools comply with strict measures to prevent COVID 19 fromSpreading?
Most of the private schools have been bankrupt for 5 months, to the extent of not paying their teachers; how will they get ready by 7 September without explaining where to get the resources for readiness? What mechanisms are in place to ensure that private schools adhere to Covid measures?
Fifth, government has not explained how education centers that were designated as testing and quarantine centers will be prepared for the reopening. What alternative places have been arranged to keep the people that were being housed in those institutions?
Sixth, parents are given just one week to prepare to pay fees for their children and buy items needed to ensure their wards are ready when schools reopen. What measures are their to cushion parents who will not be able to pay the fees? Unless their is some form of control most learners will be chased from schools if they don’t bring full fees especially in private schools most of which will be demanding payment of fees as precondition to children getting back to class.
The Planning Taskforce advised a flexible and staggered approach to paying of schools fees. This needs to be enforced especially in private schools who will be taking advantage of the situation to squeeze unprepared parents.
I know that the Minister of Education is being politically correct to implement the announcement made by President Chakwera two weeks ago about schools reopening in early September. But clearly schools will be ill prepared and so not ready to ensure strict adherence to COVID 19 measures. Is it not better to wait for a week or two more to ensure that schools are reopened while ready than to put millions of lives of students and teachers at risk? After all the learners have been at home for 5 months. Let’s plan properly otherwise we risk bringing chaos in our schools on reopening date.