Africa: COVID-19 - Africa's Education Dilemma

Schools in parts of sub-Saharan Africa will remain closed because of a hike in coronavirus cases, further crippling already-fragile education systems on the continent. Those that have opened risk new viral infections.

Schools in parts of sub-Saharan Africa will remain closed indefinitely because of a hike in coronavirus cases, further crippling already fragile education systems on the continent. Those that have opened risk new viral infections.

Like elsewhere in the world, the coronavirus has grossly affected the education sector in Africa, and there worries that it will take some time for many countries to recover from its effects.

In Kenya, for example, where there 8,250 confirmed cases and at least 165 deaths, authorities announced that schools could only open in 2021.

The academic year 2019-2020 has been canceled much to the dismay of all stakeholders. That includes students, teachers, and education policymakers.

The decision left many high school finalists who were looking forward to completing their high school studies devastated. At the same time, some finalists are happy that the delay gives them more time to revise for their final exams.

"I am not happy because I wanted to finish school and embark on plans, and I'm sure many like me, wanted to finish school this year," Catherine Njoki, a finalist in Kenya, told DW.

Unlike Njoki, fellow finalist Tom Mwangi thinks that the dead year is a blessing in disguise since it will give him more time to prepare for his final exams next year.

"If you look at it from a positive perspective, I have more time to prepare for the exams ... but also you should know you had that excitement that you are going to finish school and go to university," Njoki said.

West Africa challenges

On the west coast, the reopening of schools is a positive development; however, students have concerns that the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) could jeopardize individual efforts to bring down COVID-19 cases.

In Ghana, students are reluctant to resume classes because of coronavirus.

Joel Sonne, a student doing his finals, told DW, "we have to go to school to write our exams to be admitted to the university. But with coronavirus around to, it is terrifying."

"It makes me feel insecure because you never know who has the virus. From what I am hearing, some people have the virus but don't show any symptoms. In case I go to school and contract the virus, I might unknowingly pass it on to my parents. So in a way, I am concerned about my safety and the safety of all."

There are concerns that the coronavirus epidemic risks overwhelming Ghana's health sector if the government does not take urgent action, such as guaranteeing health workers have sufficient protective gear.

On July 5, Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo went into self-isolation for 14 days on the advice of doctors after a person in his close circle tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a government statement.

Parents' concerns

Parents and guardians have different worries about the future of their children. In Kenya, where the academic year was nullified, they are worried about tuition fees.

Some are opting for homeschool, which comes with its challenges, such as lack of educational materials and skills.

"It is excruciating that a whole year has gone to waste, and some of us usually pay full-year school fees for our kids," Mary Wanjiku told DW. "Will the school fees that I had spent in 2020 cover the 2021 calandar year?"

"I used to pay for internet learning through Zoom and WhatsApp for my children to at least go on with studies," Wanjiku said. "So, what about the expenses we have incurred to ensure our kids are learning at home?"

However, in Ghana, safety matters come first. Joshua Kortey told DW that he was not sure that his child would be safe from school because safety protocols are not observed.

"The very first day we brought our children exactly two weeks ago, they told us that they would use the thermometer guns to test their temperature, they didn't do that. Nobody's temperature was taken, Kortey said.

For Stephen Amo, another parent in Ghana, nothing can change his mind to allow his daughter to stay at school where there are no safety measures.

"I can't keep her here when I know there is an outbreak because if you have about six or seven having it, the possibility of them getting it more is there," Amo said.

Teachers' welfare

In Kenya, all is not in vain. The teachers welcomed the government's decision to reopen schools in January 2021.

"The safety of teachers and learners in the workplace is also very critical and important," Wilson Sossion, the secretary-general of Kenya National Union of Teachers said. "We urge all Kenyans, parents, and stakeholders to support the decision, and we must accept to forfeit certain programs and not to have a lot of exaggerated expectations."

The decision to cancel the academic year also affected primary school leavers. But the government defended its position regardless of the students' and parents' feelings.

"The 2020 Primary and high school leaving examinations will be done at the end of 2021," Kenya's education secretary, George Magoha, said. "This year's school calendar will be considered lost due to COVID 19."

And in Ghana, the government has defended its decision to have schools reopen and not cancel the academic year. the country's nformation minister, Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah, said precautions had been taken to avoid new infections.

"The president has tasked a sub-committee of the COVID-19 presidential task force to be set up to quickly address any challenges that may arise in the next eight weeks while final year students are on campus," said Opong-Nkrumah.

Education analyst Amos Kaburu thinks that African governments should follow Kenya's decision no matter what curriculum they are complying with to protect the lives of children.

Governments have to be very realistic about the safety of the children. So any responsible government should do what the Kenyan government did, and that is to take a conservative approach.

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