Across Africa, many countries have postponed the start of the school year – some until January 2021 – to try to adapt, as best as possible, to the constraints linked to the Coronavirus. But, despite this additional delay, the effective resumption of classes is proving very difficult and is already seriously behind schedule.
Malagasy schools had to remain closed throughout the lockdown from March to July 2020. Only students in examination classes resumed classes at the end of April, then in August, so that the official end-of-year exams could take place. For this new school year, while some private school children returned to school from the beginning of September, the resumption of classes in public primary schools only took place on Monday, October 26, after seven months of closure.
To compensate for this delay, the 2020-2021 school year will end on July 30, 2021, extending the course for an additional month. Thus, the government hopes that teachers will have enough time to catch up with school programs for the 2019-2020 school year that could not be completed during the health crisis.
Barrier measures such as wearing a mask, washing hands and distance are compulsory in schools. And to avoid overcrowding in the classes, which are often busy, students are expected to be present on an alternating basis. Finally, an exceptional measure has been adopted for this year: registration in public schools is free and any contribution by parents of students is abolished until further notice in order to alleviate the costs of parents in a precarious situation. In addition, primary school students are provided with school kits and aprons.
The new school year began in Ivory Coast on September 14, with reinforced health measures. The Ministry of National Education made the wearing of masks and hand washing compulsory in all schools. In addition, special measures have been taken to protect students and teachers on the one hand and on the other hand, to ensure that students are upgraded.
A COVID-19 watch committee was set up in all schools with the mission of ensuring compliance with barrier measures and raising awareness on the fight against the spread of the virus and health clubs will allow the strengthening of hygiene and sanitation through health clubs. At the same time, a systematic updating of pupils is planned during the first eight weeks of the school year; the promotion and sustainability of the achievements of distance education must be carried out; educational programs have been reorganized and adapted to the new context; and pedagogical supervision has been strengthened with the recruitment of 1,211 preschool and primary education advisers and 400 secondary education advisers.
Despite these arrangements, difficulties have arisen such as the lack of masks or washbasins in some establishments, the too great delay experienced by some students completely cut off from school during lockdown, or the fact that some parents have decided that their children would only return to school after the elections scheduled for October 31, 2020 because of the political crisis.
In Benin, the resumption of classes took place on September 28, again with provisions to avoid the spread of the virus. The arrangements for the start of the school year are as follows: no more than 50 pupils per class, obligation to wear masks; free distribution of masks in public schools, colleges, and universities; systematic use of hydro-alcoholic gels; obligation of social distancing of at least one meter; obligation to disinfect all classrooms; recruitment and assignment of postulating teachers to make up the shortfall in tenure; and finally, reorganization of recreation.
However, the decision to accommodate only 50 students per class poses a serious infrastructure problem. The strict application of this decision is difficult to envisage without a review of the reception capacities of schools and educational establishments and an increase in the number of teachers.
In Togo, after several months spent at home, students returned to school on November 2 only. 2,600,000 schoolchildren and learners from preschool, primary, general, and technical secondary and vocational training have finally returned to school. With the persistence of the pandemic and the concerns of parents of students, the government has prescribed a series of new measures. For each school, this means having hand wash and hydroalcoholic gels in all classes, and the obligation for students to wear masks. As each class had to accommodate a maximum of 30 to 60 students, this imposed a new organization on the school administration via a double flow system in the schools.
Two-thirds of the school year in the Sahel is effective, particularly in Burkina Faso and Niger, where it took place on September 20 and October 15, 2020, respectively. But in Mali, it will only be effective nationally from January 4, 2021! This government decision follows the school, health, and socio-political crises that the country is currently experiencing.
In Burkina Faso, the new school year is also taking place against a background of strong security challenges. Indeed, as of September 20, 2,206 primary schools and 192 post-primary and secondary establishments were closed in 7 regions. In the east, particularly in the province of Gnagna where Aide et Action operates, 75 primary schools are currently closed.
For a peaceful and secure 2020-2021 school year, the ministry in charge of education and its partners have drawn up a plan with the following guidelines: the organization over a month and a half of lessons for the completion of the programs of the intermediate classes of the 2019-2020 school year; the dissemination of a course on COVID-19 in all classes as the first course of the school year; the organization of awareness sessions for the educational community; the acquisition and endowment of masks and soap in schools, as well as the development and dissemination of a COVID-19 treatment protocol in educational structures.
In terms of the particular difficulties for the start of the new school year in Niger, there is also the coincidence of the start of the school year with the harvest period. This creates a situation of retention of students and other learners by parents who need them for this work. The actual start of courses in some establishments is therefore very relative, especially in rural areas.