Abraham Mulbah, [email protected]
As students across the country get prepared to fully return to school despite the Covid-19 pandemic, students and Administrators are faced with the task to abide by safety protocols.
The wearing of face masks, social distancing in classes and regular washing of hands is a daunting challenge.
Government authorities in the past few months have been struggling with the reopening of schools safely without putting teachers and students at the risk of contracting the virus which has infected more than 1779, killing about 83 across the country.
The country’s current number of cases is about 290 active cases and more than 83 deaths. Despite those numbers, the ministry of education has ordered that schools be open across the country while administrations ensure students observe all the preventive health protocols.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Checklist to support schools’ re-opening and preparation for COVID-19 resurgences or similar public health crises list 38 essential actions to be considered by different stakeholders as they work together on school reopening.
According to data collected by UNESCO, classrooms for nearly 1 in 5 schoolchildren globally – or 320 million – are closed as of 1 December, an increase of nearly 90 million from 232 million on 1 November.
According to UNESCO prolonged school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are presenting an unprecedented challenge to children’s education, health and well-being worldwide. The longer a student stays out of school, the higher their risk of dropping out.
Though WHO cautioned governments on ensuring full safety protocols before reopening schools, warning that 43 percent of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019 – a key condition for schools to be able to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other safety measures expected in place before reopening include temperature checking thermometers, a COVID-19 infantry, face masks and adequate maintenance of social distancing.
The Stage Media (TSM) visited several schools across the country to observe the level of safety as schools resume full reopening.
In Paynesville, Christian Mission Fellowship International School noticed that schools’ administrations are not making sure that students adhere to safety protocols, such as washing hands, wearing nose masks, and social distancing.
Though there is handwashing equipment, students and administrators decide on adhering to the mandate.
Mr. Benjamin Norwu, Vice-Principal said the administration has been doing everything possible to make sure that students observe various measures especially social distancing but cite difficulty.
He said, “Before the covid-19 we had two twelve grade classes but because of the virus we divided the classes into four to be able to observe the social distancing as per the covid-19.”
“The issue of students wearing nose,” he admitted, “masks and frequently washing their hands is something that has been a major challenge over the past time.”
“Students are not wearing their nose masks and they are also finding it difficult for them to constantly wash their hands. We are ensuring that they abide by it, but we are finding it difficult because they will wear the masks for some time when they get in class, they will take them off,” Norwu said.
Norwu indicated that students are still hugging and shaking hands despite administration efforts in making sure that students avoid such things.
“Sometimes we see students hugging and shaking hands and at times they say there’s no virus in the country, so we were trying but it is not easy students are really hard-headed,” he said.
Students of the Christian Mission Fellowship International School in an interview said the fight against the virus is over and that they have gotten used to their normal lifestyle.
Stephen Tokpah, “There is no virus in this country again, we are doing our normal things because I believe the fight against covid-19 is over those figures are just formalities.”
“We believe that the virus is not in Liberia that is why our administration is not really enforcing the preventive health protocols as they used to do. For me, I think the virus is not in existence anymore, because if it were so they would have not ordered all schools to reopen in the country,” Precious Noah a female student said.
At JW Pearson Primary School, on Carey Street, students entered the school premises in twos and threes, but none practiced handwashing despite a big container of water and soap positioned close to the gate.
For about 15 minutes of sitting on the block, which was close to the gate, no student washed their hands. No temperature checks were being conducted likewise.
The students did not maintain physical distancing in the classrooms to achieve a COVID-19 comply with sitting arrangement.
The principal of the Once International School, Mr. James Harris said his institution is doing everything to abide by all safety protocols adding that the wearing of masks and washing hands are mandatory.
“We are abiding by all the protocols as you can see, in fact, any student that will not wear their masks or even wash their hands, that particular student will be sent home and if not suspended,” he said.
Harris calls on schools that are overlooking the existence of the virus to stop and safeguard students adding that the virus is still in Liberia.
On a visit to the St. Simon Baptist School, a private school, By-Pass the students were writing Literature.
At the school gate, they and their teachers were not screened, before entering the school premises.
There was no hand sanitizer but there was provision for hand washing at the school gate for students and administration discretion.
Moreover, most of the students did not wear face masks and did not observe social distancing in classes.
At the Slipway Preparatory school, a government-owned school, there was no hand sanitizer but provision for hand washing at the school entrance.
Most students did not wear face masks. They did not also observe social distancing.
At Best Minds High school, Gardnesville– government-owned, there was no hand sanitizer at the school gate. No provision for hand washing at the school gate. All the students, however, wore face masks.
Dr. Soka Moses, an Epidemiologist said the pandemic may not end anytime soon and it is time that the Ministry of Education introduces e-learning in primary and secondary schools.
“We need to find better ways of running school, is it possible for schools to be supported so children have access to online learning platforms in that means we have to train our teachers.”
He said the Education Ministry has to work with mobile services providers to ensure the internet is affordable to students.
“We need to expand coverage, you know, internet coverage for your online learning needs to now be integrated, you know, within our educational system, we need to now bring health closer to education,”