By Duncan Mlanjira
Five months after learning institutions in Malawi were closed due to COVID-19, the Ministry of Education Science and Technology has developed guidelines for reopening of schools and teacher training colleges.
A communique from the Ministry says the schools should reopen for members of management and teachers first to prepare for the return of the learners and thereafter introduce the learners through a phased approach by priotizing examination years first (Standard 8, Form 4).
Schools, districts and divisions must use the Education Management Information System (EMIS) data on situations of schools, teachers and learners to inform decision making process.
The scaling up of other students should be considered after two weeks, following the review by district councils (DEYs, DEMs, EDMs and DHOs) and national MoEST and MoH committees.
“It is anticipated that schools must meet minimum standards on a checklist, conducted by school head teachers in collaboration with School Management Committee and District,” says the communique.
“When schools reopen, the learning shall resume from term 2 to term 3 curricular content with a strong focus on remedial education and catch up.”
The guidelines further says steps should be taken to reduce class sizes by every available measures,including but not limited to those methods outlined in the “strategies to decongest schools”.
Instruction time should be minimized for learners, with appropriate adjustments made to the school timetable to account for remedial instructions before and after classes.
“All schools will complete a preparedness checklist to be administered by head teachers in collaboration with School Management Committees with support from Primary Education Advisors, Secondary Methods Advisors for Director of Education Youth and Sports and/or District Education Managers for primary schools, Education Division Managers for secondary school approval before reopening.”
It furthers says all school buildings should be disinfected before reopening following CDC guidelines and that all buildings must have hand washing stations (water and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer) to be available at the entrance to classrooms, library, dining areas, hostels and administration offices and by toilets.
The school administration, led by the head teacher, should fully engage stakeholders (teachers, communities), in liaison with School Management Committees and Parent Teacher Associations on reopening plans, health protocols and strategies to ensure safety and learning.
“All teachers should be orientated on remedial education strategies — health and hygiene education and psychosocial support for learners.
“The Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, through the District Health Officers and District Environmental Health Officers will ensure periodic disinfections at schools.
“The referral system will be created for schools with health centres and Health Surveillance Assistants, and call to helplines (929) for suspected COVID-19 cases [and] the schools to establish a temporary waiting site for suspected cases, while reporting to local health authorities.”
The Ministry of Health and Population shall provide guidance to all food vendors at the school facilities with regard to COVID-19 preventative protocols and Health Surveillance Assistants will support the conducting of periodic assessments of learners at school.
Social distancing practices will be implemented at school and in classes through:
a) Ensure that one metre markings are explicit inside classrooms and/or open-air classes and by sanitation facilities;
b) Reducing class sizes through double shifting, and creation of additional class streams by using outside spaces;
c) Staggering the beginning and end of the school day. Stagger break times and/or school feeding to prevent congestion in eating areas; and
d) Cancelling assemblies, sports games and other events that create crowded conditions.
Learners will be orientated and monitored to ensure appropriate use of handwashing facilities and other hygiene and daily practices to limit exposure to Covid 19.
Management and staff will:
a) Educate everyone in the school about COVID-19 prevention that includes appropriate and frequent hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, mask use if mandated, symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if you feel sick. Non-contact greetings should also be advised.
b) Create a schedule for frequent hand hygiene, especially for young children, and provide sufficient alcohol-based rub or soap and clean
water at school entrances and throughout the school; and
c) Schedule regular cleaning of the school environment daily as per national IPC guideline.
Schools shall develop a school policy on wearing of masks or a face covering in line with national or local guidance and to enforce the policy of ‘staying at home if feeling unwell for students, teachers and other staff if feeling COVID-19 symptoms.
“If possible, connect with local health authorities to provide health care support and ensure communication between home and school.”
In order to ensure quality learning:
1) All teachers will be trained and re-orientated ahead of school reopening on remedial lessons;
2) Schools will be expected to deliver remedial lessons and ‘catch-up’ classes, with extra support for marginalized students;
3) Formative assessment conducted during the first week of school to assess learners’ retention over the break period, with continuous assessment employed during the remedial periods to track progress;
4) Schools must be able to enlist teaching surge support in order to effectively and efficiently reduce class sizes and maximize instructional time for learners;
5) Timetables must be extended to accommodate additional, daily remedial instructional periods for at least the remainder of the school term;
6) schools will closely monitor key education indicator s on attendance, absenteeism and drop-out (disaggregated by gender, age and vulnerability); and
7) District councils will closely monitor school level absenteeism and dropout, as well as compliance against checklist and guidelines, identifying which schools need additional support, and to inform revision of national guidelines and their implementation.
Additional requirements are the examination centres should ensure provision of desks to enable learners to sit within the prescribed examinations and COVID-19 required social distancing.
And to also provide face masks, soap, continuous supply of water and buckets for hand washing at entrance of every room used for examinations and/or hand sanitizers as well as weekly disinfection of desks during the examination period.
“Schools should develop School Improvement Plan (SIP) focusing on response and recovery needs (school water, sanitation and hygiene), remedial packages based on the school self-assessment for readiness to re-open.
“And explore possibilities to mobilize materials and funding to support schools to promote teaching and learning and school environment improvement,” says the communique.