Gambia: parents raise safety concerns amid schools reopening during the Covid-19 pandemic

·2-min read

Education chiefs in Gambia say classrooms will be safe zones for pupils who are returning to schools and colleges after a seven-month shutdown during the country's fight to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The wearing of face masks is compulsory for everyone,” said Claudiana Cole, minister of basic and secondary education.

The education and health ministries have joined forces to create a package of measures for schools and colleges to follow.

"The ministry intends to complement the reopening … by promoting reduced classroom sizes, distance learning initiatives, extended school days, double sittings and catch-up plans to recover learning losses accrued during the closure,” said Cole.

However, some parents are concerned that the guidelines will not protect their children from the virus. Others complain that they do not completely understand how the proposals will be implemented.

"I don't know if children will be grouped together or seated each at a separate table,” said Isatou, a mother-of-five whose children are staying at home.

“The government did not tell us any reasons for the reopening," she told RFI.

She has not allowed her child, Wasse, to return to school due to her concerns for his safety.

"It’s been boring here at home," said Wasse. "I miss my friends and I want to see them again but my mother is saying something about the virus that it's not safe."

After the country registered its first coronavirus case on 17 March, schools, lomu (weekly markets), bars, night clubs and other public places closed in April to minimize the spread of the virus which has claimed 117 lives in the country.

With more than 2,000 students, Latrikunda Upper Basic School has resumed normal lessons.

The school has taken the guidelines seriously since reopening. Monitors check temperatures, ensure social distancing is observed and make sure pupils wash their hands before entering classroom.

“As part of our arrangements, the grade 7, 8 and 9s of each stream will have four days in a week so that they don’t crowd in the school,” said school principal Modou Lamin Sambou.

"The sitting arrangement is such that a class that was housing 50 to 60 students will now host 25 to 30 students," he added.

Some parents are also facing financial challenges to send their children back to school, as the education ministry gave parents less than two weeks’ notice that it was reopening the schools.

"I was at the school but I couldn't even get new uniforms for my children," said Manyima, a mother-of-eight who depends on monthly remittances sent by her brother in Germany to pay for her children’s school fees.