Last week, the government announced a phased resumption of school-based learning, starting with Grade Four and Standard Eight pupils and Form Four students, after a prolonged closure of the institutions. The teachers are already back.
The Ministry of Education has, in conjunction with that of Health, developed health and safety protocols to enhance safety at school. For adherence to social distancing, most schools will have to adjust the number of students per class. Guidelines for all other shared spaces have also been issued.
Face masks will have to be worn always at school by learners, teachers, non-teaching staff and parents or other visitors. There will also be temperature monitoring and record-keeping. Handwashing stations will be installed and soap provided at strategic places in schools with running water and hand sanitisers for those that do not have.
This is in a bid to stop further loss of learning and start a cautious return to normalcy in education. Sensitisation on these guidelines will continuously be done.
Schools are now safer for learners than they were a few months ago. Statistics show infection rates are falling. Our understanding of the occurrence, spread and control of the coronavirus is clearer. The World Health Organization, Unicef and other organisations, and also paediatricians and educators, have provided a school reopening framework that supports a phased, safe return to school.
The benefits of taking children to school abound. One, they learn best in a physical classroom, learn the academic subjects from teachers and acquire social and emotional skills from peer interactions.
Two, it will address the inequalities occasioned by online learning during the closure. All children will get high-quality instruction under face-to-face learning. As Horace Mann observed, "Education, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equaliser of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery".
It will also inculcate resilience in learners and provide an opportunity for them and their parents and other stakeholders to reclaim what recently looked like a lost school year.
Learners from marginalised and deprived backgrounds or with disabilities and other at-risk populations may have suffered more learning losses than those from privileged backgrounds. Parents and schools must bring them back to school and ensure they are supported to succeed.
The extended suspension of schooling revealed that school is a place for learning and also a sanctuary for vulnerable learners. It provides structure and discipline and helps them to focus besides protecting them from the widespread vices. Students will be returning to a place suitable for not just learning but personal growth and development.
It is important that learners return when asked to and understand and follow the safety guidelines.