CSEC asks for decongestion of the schools
* Calls for conscious and pragmatic decision for closure of schools
* Should be based on evidence/data that gives full account of potential risk of maintaining schools
* While the State has the duty to protect life, it still has duty to protect the right to education
* This comes after President Chakwera has already declared National State of Disaster
* Government should allow Form 4 students to sit for their examinations and other to finish their academic year
By Duncan Mlanjira
There are public concerns asking the government to consider closing academic institutions following the nasty second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic but Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) is of the view that any decision to close schools should be based on evidence/data that gives a full account of the potential risk of maintaining schools.
CSEC takes cognizance that “Malawi is at war [with this silent enemy] and these unprecedented times call for nothing but conscious and pragmatic decisions to deal with the pandemic for both the present and posterity.”
CSEC’s statement, issued on Wednesday (January 13) — signed by Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe and Board chairperson, Jennipher Mkandawire — comes after a day after President Lazarus Chakwera declared National State of Disaster which empowers him to impose downs and curfews as well as to impose limits on citizens’ freedoms.
The President has directed that an emergency meeting be convened by the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 to develop additional measures that meet the demands of a state of disaster.
The President will actively lead efforts by the Taskforce to help it develop levels of severity for the pandemic and measures to enforce for each level and give the nation regular updates.
CSEC says it is in “support the idea that there should be a rapid assessment by the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 for informed decision making”.
“In the same context, education sector disaster cluster should also examine how the current efforts in the schools have fared in the face of the pandemic in order to guide on strategies moving forward.”
The second wave of the pandemic has hit the country hard as from New Year’s Day, there had been over 62 related deaths and the total number of active cases are at 3,084.
The deaths include two senior Cabinet Ministers — late Sidik Mia (Minister of Transport and Public Works as well as Malawi Congress Party (MCP) Vice-president) and late Lingson Belekanyama (Minister of Local Government and Rural Development), who died on Tuesday.
The country has also lost Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Information, Ernest Kantchentche, who died on Monday, also through COVID-19 related complications.
“We deeply convey our condolences to the nation, families and friends who have lost their beloved relatives to the pandemic,” says CSEC. “We pray that their souls should rest in peace!”
“While appreciating the above concerns, anxieties, grief and the moral duty that we all have towards the nation to fight Covid-19, we would like raise some of the fundamental foundations upon which any meaningful decisions should be made in respect of the calls for closure of schools.”
CSEC contends that while the State has the duty to protect life, it must be acknowledged that it still has the duty to protect all other rights, including the right to education.
“This would entail providing proper safeguards in order to protect the right to education. It is on this basis that greater attention should be made to intensify and enforce the preventive measures, risk management and containment of the pandemic.
“We believe that every effort should be made to make schools safe by providing more resources and health surveillance support.”
The civil rights organisation further applauds the institutions that are practicing temporal closures to allow for disinfection as a short term measure, even in cases where a student or staff has tested positive or indeed died as this allows learning to continue while the situation is being monitored.
In dependent on the state of affairs, CSEC says it would be worthwhile to consciously consider that in keeping the schools open, there’s need for decongestion, employment of double shifting and strict compliance to health guidelines.
“This can work if we increase the labour force and infrastructure. In this instance, Government will need to recruit additional teachers, provide tents or temporary learning structures.
“Further, close monitoring of cases is required, and education institutions should have access to testing facilities to allow for periodic and random testing to monitor the situation.
“In case a teacher or a student is found positive, testing should be intensified followed by determination of whether the institution should remain open or be closed temporally.
“There is also need to continuously update school managers and teachers on Covid management as there are gaps in knowledge among some school managers and teachers on the pandemic.”
CSEC also suggests that if schools are to close depending on the severity of COVID-19 infections, in case of partial or full lock down, the closure should be gradual and pragmatic.
“We are of the view that government should allow Form 4 students who are sitting for their examinations and all those who are about to finish their academic year to wind up without disruption.
“In addition, closure should be geographic in that schools in the most impacted areas should be targeted first rather than using a single incidence to close all schools across the country.
“As a country, we can help such affected schools on a case by case basis to catch up using different strategies and modes.
“Appreciating the shortfalls of radio and online learning to reach all learners, there will be need to look into distance learning or self-paced learning by having resource packs which can be used at home in order to guarantee continued education.”
During the closure of schools last year from April to September, there were increases in the number of teenage pregnancies as well as illegal teenage marriages.
As such, CSEC is asking the Government to seriously put in place measures to safeguard learners from such social challenges.
“We will expect Government to work with stakeholders to engage the learners, parents, guardians and communities at large to curb any potential social breakdown as a result of the school closures and this will require multi-sectoral approach.
In conclusion, CSEC takes cognizance that it is a tough they are making that closure of schools should be done after been informed by data to determine the cumulative damage to the system and the children.
“It’s a tough decision to make but should be the very last resort after we try intensive prevention, risk mitigation and containment measures.
“This is a very serious decision that requires extensive consultations, deep analysis and sober thinking. Hence, we support the direction that five ministries should bang heads before advising the Presidential Taskforce.
“Thus, the abrupt closure of schools as other quarters are proposing without being pragmatic will be disastrous and have dire consequences that will be irrecoverable for decades to come.
“We trust that every Malawian will play his or her part in the fight against COVID-19. Should the situation merit closure of schools, we urge all Malawians to have belief in the counsel from our medical experts, and continue to support our children affected by such a decision in our homes as we have done before.
“CSEC will continue to monitor the situation and engage with the relevant authorities. COVID-19 is real — we all have a moral responsibility to ourselves and others.
“And every person’s little effort is key in the fight against COVID-19,” says the statement.