The attention of the Ministry of Education has been drawn to an article written by the Member of Parliament for North Tongu and a former Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa in relation to government's plan to reopen schools following President Akufo-Addo's earlier announcement regarding the easing of restrictions.
The article raised a number of issues regarding the reopening, to which we respond in turn as follows;
• Continuous assessment should have been used to progress JHS3 and SHS3 to the next level: This option was considered but it was subsequently discarded. We engaged the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), and their advice was that it was possible for them to conduct an examination tailored for Ghana.
• Alternatively, entrance examinations for entry into SHS and tertiary: This was considered and it was decided not to pursue this route as students normally apply to one institution for their tertiary or SHS education. This proposal would mean students sitting multiple entrance examinations for different institutions. Again, WAEC was actively consulted on this.
• Only 2 weeks remained to the end of the 2019/20 academic year: This is incorrect. For basic schools, the school closure came two weeks to the end of the 2nd term, with 34 term to resume on 4th May 2020. For SHS and tertiary, the break came halfway into the second semester.
• Tertiary students should have been required to complete their online studies, do online examinations, and submit project works: Many students have had practical difficulties in assessing online studies and in some cases, students have protested at the online exam route being pursued by some universities. Enabling students to be on campus for revision and examinations provides a level playing field for all of them.
• How do students in strictly day schools become boarders when there are no facilities for boarding in those schools? It is not the position of government that students of strictly day schools should be in the boarding house, as it is not possible due to the unavailability of facilities. Such students arc to proceed with the status quo of attending their schools as day students.
• Facilities in boarding schools are communal and there is a lack of exclusive spaces for instance in the bathrooms: With only Form Three and Form Two Gold Tracks in school, any such risks will be considerably lower as these students will spread out across the school, observing social distance and hygiene protocols.
• Financial burden on poor parents having to buy boarding house items for their children from the long prospectus list: Day students coming to boarding house for only 11 weeks before leaving school will not be required to conform to the school's exhaustive prospectus list given to first year students. In any event most will have basic items they use at home anyway. It is to be noted that parents will save on transport costs to and from school and daily feeding costs.
• It is dangerous and reckless not to make provision for mass testing of staff and students ahead of reopening: The advice from government's health experts was that mass testing is not a panacea, as a positive test in the morning may not remain positive in the evening. In their view, it is more important and effective to observe strict hygiene and social distancing protocols. Interestingly, Hon. Ablakwa does not disclose in his write-up whether his demand for mass testing is based on his personal opinion or expert advice from the NDC's COVID- I 9 Response Team.
• Second year Gold track students must simply stay at home, as it would otherwise increase risk: It must be noted that after first reporting for the 2019/20 academic year in mid-November 2019, Form 2 Gold Track Students were sent home at the end of November 2019, to resume in the first week of March 2020. Barely 2 weeks into the month, schools were closed down. This group has therefore lost a considerable amount of academic work for the year and it is therefore important that they get the opportunity to catch up.
• Parents must be allowed to visit their children in boarding schools as it would otherwise cause parental anxiety: What if a child falls ill? It is important to note that exposing the children to outside visits enhances the risk of infection, and parents are assured that it is both in their interests and those of their children/wards that visits are not allowed.
Currently, schools are mapped to various health facilities in their communities and the necessary protocols will be activated when a child falls ill, as is always the case.
The Honourable Minister wishes to assure students, parents and guardians and the general public that in its decision to ease restrictions, government was guided by the importance of the need to ensure that public health is maintained whilst seeking to return to some normalcy in our lives.
The Ministry of Education remains committed to the welfare of students and staff in our schools and toil continue to ensure that the necessary standards and protocols provided by the health experts are adhered to in our schools.
Source: Daily Graphic
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