When Rwanda confirmed the first Covid-19 case on March 14, 2020, schools were among institutions that were immediately closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
However, when cases of Covid-19 eased in September, the cabinet ordered a gradual reopening of schools among other activities, assigning the Ministry of Education to oversee the exercise.
In October, the ministry released a school calendar, stipulating that the reopening would begin with upper primary, secondary schools, Teacher Training Colleges (TTCs) and TVET schools.
"Lower primary and pre-primary will resume studies later," the ministry said, adding that; "Details of their calendar will be communicated in due time."
More than two months, parents have now voiced their concerns over the "delayed" reopening of nursery and lower primary schools.
They, on one hand, base the concerns on the fact that some international schools, which follow a curriculum different from the one set by the government, have students in the above class levels who are currently attending classes.
Some international schools that The New Times visited in November last year had put in place preventive measures such as hand washing facilities, social distancing and having a Covid-19 taskforce, before getting the go-ahead to resume studies.
Diane Kayitesi, a mother whose child is in nursery said that the government should also speed up the reopening of private and public schools.
"My child always asks me why some of our neighbours' children are going to school and not her while they are all in the same class level. I think the government should look at ways non-international schools can also be given a green light," she said. "We, parents, are also committed to, where possible, help our children adhere to set preventive guidelines."
According to Leonile Mukanyandwi who has three children, one in nursery and two others in primary, her children have been affected by "the late" reopening of schools.
"It is now about nine months since my children stopped going to school due to the restrictions in place. This has affected them because we (parents) leave them at home with maids and they end-up forgetting even the little things they had learned before the Covid-19 outbreak," she explained.
Responding to these concerns, Dr Alphonse Sebaganwa, the Acting Director-General of Rwanda Education Board (REB), said that the solution is in the pipeline.
"Thank you for voicing those concerns that are founded. Mineduc and REB are doing necessary preparations and the plan of reopening will be communicated soon," he tweeted on Monday, January 4.
He was replying to someone who also had suggested that pupils in pre-primary and lower primary level should be given the opportunity to resume classes, just like those in international schools.
Another side of the coin
According to John-Bosco Nyemazi, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Civil Society Platform, the decision to permit nursery and lower primary classes to resume studies should be based on a health assessment.
"The right to education should not compromise the supreme right to life. Reopening of schools should be based on a health analysis that will assure parents that once their children are going to school, they will not contract the virus," he underscored.
Nyemazi also explained that; "Rights should go hand-in-hand with the reality. Competent institutions should put into consideration the current overcrowding in schools and the fact that even up to now they are operating schools that do not have washing facilities and parents who can't afford facemasks of their children."
From a health point of view, Dr Menelas Nkeshimana, who is part of Rwanda's Joint Taskforce for Covid-19 agrees with Nyemazi.
"Parents have to keep in mind that the pandemic is continually becoming severe, the cases and fatalities we had when schools first reopened are far different from the ones we have today, leave alone the new variant of Covid-19 whose situation in Rwanda is not yet known," he explained.
The concerns raised by parents have come at the time the government has further tightened the Covid-19 measures, including restricting travels in and out of the City of Kigali as well as between districts.
Nyemazi also highlighted that even when the class levels in question are given a green light, parents and schools should prioritize the safety of these young children.