After more than two months of closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some African governments have announced the reopening of schools, universities, and training centers. However, the contagion curve is still ascending in most of the continent’s countries. Charlemagne Bio, Aide et Action Africa’s Program Manager, raises the question of whether this is a good initiative from these governments or a reckless risk.
What do you think of the decision to resume teaching activities by some African countries when the COVID-19 contagion curve is still rising?
I think it is very risky to resume teaching activities in the classic conditions of schools. Personally, I would not encourage the opening of classes in a context of uncontrolled flow of virus spread and constant increase in the number of new contagions. Even though most governments plan to implement barrier measures in schools, it is difficult to enforce them by students for two main reasons. The first is the recklessness of the students linked to their age (the term is not used in the pejorative sense) which does not guarantee strict compliance with the rules, even if teachers are asked to strictly monitor them. The second is the lack of control over the children’s actual route from their home to school and vice versa. If some privileged people are transported by their parents, the majority of learners travel unattended.
What should be the prerequisites for reopening schools?
The only valid condition would be total control of the propagation flow, the main indicators of which should be a significant decline. Sanitary measures must, therefore, be reinforced to limit the spread. Currently, they do not seem sufficient since the situation is not improving. The countries that have lifted the restrictive measures have seen the number of new infections double.
Now that the decision has been made, what needs to be done as accompanying measures?
It is certainly taken, but governments should be dissuaded from implementing it. If this is a non-negotiable decision, then we have to think of another strategy that allows academic activities to continue without necessarily opening the doors of schools and training centers. It is necessary to continue academic activities but it seems to me imperative to preserve the lives of learners. In my house, we have a saying: “when the tom-tom changes rhythm, the dancers change steps”. COVID-19, in its radicality, leads us to think outside the box and rethink education differently.
As an Association for Development through Education, what role can Aide et Action play?
I think Aide et Action can act on three levels:
- Strengthen community awareness of hygiene and health as well as the need to observe barrier measures
- Support States in providing prevention equipment such as handwashing devices, masks, gel, soaps, etc
- Propose the continuation of academic activities within the homes thanks to suitable support. The ‘burning hearths’ school remediation system could be tested here. All the teaching staff, as well as the volunteers and the communities should mobilize to develop such an alternative in the domestic offer of education.