Monday, 17 June

Reopening schools: Listen to teachers, parents – Mahama to gov’t

Former President John Mahama


Former President John Mahama has told the government to listen to the concerns of teachers and parents before reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I must indicate here my support for the position of the various teacher unions and parents who have spoken and cautioned against the hasty reopening of schools. The Government must pay close attention and take into consideration, the concerns of the various unions and parents”, Mr Mahama wrote in a weekend message to Ghanaians on Friday, 29 May 2020.

“As I have always said, any decision taken by government to ease restrictions must be based on the utmost respect for human life and the science of the disease we are dealing with”, adding: “Decisions based on false premises will have grave consequences for us all, Ghanaians”, the flag bearer of the National Democratic Congress said.

Mr Mahama also called for mass testing for students, teachers and churchgoers should the government ease restrictions such that schools and churches resume.

“In the face of the imminent easing of restrictions, let me repeat the call on the government to consider conducting mass testing, at least, at the point of need”.

“What it means”, he noted, “is that, for instance, all students, teachers, and ancillary staff returning to school or church attendants, following the easing of restrictions, should undergo a mandatory COVID-19 test as a safety precaution”.

In his view, the government has “accumulated enough resources in the name of COVID-19 to be able to fund a mass-testing, even if it has to rely on private laboratories; for the sake of the life and health of Ghanaians”.

“My party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), congratulates once again, all our health workers, still at the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus. Ghanaians truly appreciate your sacrifices, and you can be assured that your commitment and sacrifice will never be forgotten”, he noted.

Last week, President Nana Akufo-Addo announced that stakeholder consultations were taking place on the way forward toward the easing of COVID-19 restrictions so that the social and economic lives of Ghanaians “can go back to normal”.

“I expect these consultations to conclude this week”, he said at a virtual national Eid celebration on Sunday, 24 May 2020, adding: “So that I can announce to Ghanaians a clear roadmap for easing the restrictions”.

“We have to find a way back, but in safety, for we cannot be under these restrictions forever”, the President said.

President Akufo-Addo said at the Eid ceremony that his confidence in easing the restrictions is “fortified” by three considerations: “Firstly, sad though any premature death is, the hard fact is that the rate of deaths in Ghana amongst confirmed cases is very low – one per one million, i.e. 0.0001%, one of the lowest in Africa, and, indeed, in the world, this, despite the very high number of tests we are carrying out”.

“This has been so since the very beginning of the outbreak over two (2) months ago. The number of positive cases stands at six thousand, six hundred and eighty-three (6,683), out of one hundred and ninety-four thousand, seven hundred and sixty-three (194,763) tests conducted, with one thousand, nine hundred and ninety-eight (1,998) recoveries. This means that our positivity rate, that is the ratio of confirmed cases to the total number of tests conducted, is 3.43%, which, again, is one of the lowest in Africa, and in the world.

“Furthermore, virtually all the thirty-two (32) corona-related deaths, that have so far been recorded, were of persons with, what the doctors call, comorbidity, i.e. with other underlying causes and diseases. Most of them died within twenty-four (24) hours of admission to hospital. May their souls rest in peace. It appears that, by the grace of God, Ghanaians are not dying of this virus in the numbers that were originally anticipated and feared”, he observed.

Secondly, the president noted, the “numbers of severe virus cases that have been hospitalised have been persistently low since the outbreak”, adding: “The fear that our hospitals would be overburdened, and, indeed, overwhelmed has, so far, again by the grace of God, not materialised. As we speak, there are sixteen (16) severe cases in six (6) hospitals across the country, none of them on a ventilator. We pray for their speedy recovery”.

Thirdly, he announced: “We now have a more robust mechanism for enforcing our central strategy of defeating the virus – the application of the 3Ts, tracing, testing and treating. The tracing teams are more experienced and more efficient; testing capabilities are no longer concentrated in Accra and Kumasi, but spread more evenly across the country in Ho, Tamale, Navrongo, Takoradi and Cape Coast; treating capacity has been considerably enhanced with isolation facilities better distributed across the nation”.

“These developments, and continuing strong adherence to the social distancing and hygiene protocols, including wearing masks and strengthening our immune systems by eating our own foods, will enable us to face the future with greater confidence, as we battle to defeat the virus, and pray for our healthcare workers. And, it is appropriate that we should end this unique Ramadan with this declaration of confidence in the future, because, as I have said, this too shall pass! For the battle is the Lord’s!!”         

"Don’t rush into reopening schools, it'll be chaotic; listen to teachers, Accra not Ghana" – Ivan Addae Mensah

A former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof Ivan Addae Mensah, recently advised the government against rushing into reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, warning it could be “chaotic”.

In his view, the government must listen to the teachers and headteachers and do extensive consultations with the necessary stakeholders before reopening schools.

“It’s a very complex issue, especially with regard to the rural areas”, Prof Addae Mensah told Benjamin Akakpo on Class91.3FM’s Executive Breakfast Show on Thursday, 21 May 2020, explaining: “If you take the rural areas, they have no other alternative to school for learning anything. The poorer people, apart from what they learn in school – if you talk about learning from computer, from this, from that – they just don’t have access to it”.

“On the other hand, they are the most crowded group of schoolchildren. You go to some rural areas, one class can have as many as 80 people in a class, so, you go and pack these people in; even if you divide them into three groups, that is going to be about 25 to 30 in a class, that’s a handful.

“So, it’s a very very complex issued and I would want to advise that if the government has any intention, the discussion should not be unilateral, it should be between the stakeholders, especially the teachers and headteachers and the educational authorities so that the correct solution is found that would be suitable for every child in this country, not just the children in Accra or the children of the elite because, usually, what I’ve found in this country is that, usually, when we go in for policies, we seem to do things as if Accra is Ghana and we forget that this country is very diverse, and more often than not it is the majority of children who suffer”.

“So, we shouldn’t be in any rush – that’s my opinion – we shouldn’t be in any rush, especially when the teachers are advising and the parents themselves are anxious. We shouldn’t be in any rush to send the children to school, especially when we don’t even know the situation in the rural areas”.

The Ghana Education Service (GES) recently came under criticism from some teacher unions over a letter it sent requesting proposals for reopening of schools in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Four teacher Unions – GNAT, NAGRAT, TEWU and CCT – said at a joint press conference that the GES letter, which suggests that the body has launched a stakeholder consultation to provide President Akufo-Addo with measures to be taken ahead of a possible reopening of all basic and senior high schools, is uncalled for.

Schools have been on break since March this year after the President’s first address to the nation on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The President, in his recent address, extended the ban on all public gatherings which include school activities, to the end of May, indicating that there will be a review.

In view of this, the GES, in a letter dated 13 May 2020, signed by Director-General, Kwasi Opoku-Amankwa, urged all stakeholders, including the leadership of the teacher bodies, to contribute their ideas on how the schools can ensure safety and maximum security if pupils are allowed to resume lessons.

But the teacher unions think this is misplaced.

Speaking at a press conference in Accra, Mr Thomas Musah, the General Secretary of GNAT, said: "This particular letter, which has come out, is creating fear and panic among the rank and file of our members. Currently, the [COVID-19] figures we have is 5,735 with 29 deaths and when people are looking at these particular figures, certainly, it will create fear and panic among them.

"We're talking about a situation where when a teacher is going to school, the teacher will board trotro and you have certain children in a particular class coming from all walks of life. The question is, do we know the status of all the teachers who will be going to the schools? Have they been tested? The children, have they been tested? These are fundamental issues we should all establish. If we don't do that and we start talking of reopening at this particular moment, the question is why won't we wait for the President to come and speak and we take it up from there. Schools or educational facilities are not the only places closed down..."

Also, the Council for the National Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (NCPTAs) has indicated that it will be “premature to reopen schools”.

However, some private schools think schools can reopen mid-June under strict observance of safety protocols.

In a proposal to the Ghana Education Service, the Ghana National Association of Private Schools (GNAPS) and the Conference of Heads of Private Secondary Schools (CHOPSS) are jointly of the view that safety mechanisms ought to be rolled out rapidly to pave the way for, at least, final-year students in all senior high schools to resume school.

In an interview with Class 91.3FM’s Blessed Sogah, the public relations officer of (CHOPSS), Naphtali Kyei-Baffour, mused: “Why not we start for the final year students?”, explaining: “What we mean simply is that, at least, it’s a defined number, they are not many. … So, we can control, we can simply manage the situation”.

He that: “If possible, even before the reopening … let us test all these final-year students including teachers”.

CHOPSS further explained that it gave a timeline of mid-June to the government to consider.  

In addition, the General Secretary of the Ghana National Association of Private Schools (GNAPS), Justice King Essiel, said: “If there is something we must do, let us do it right now. …So, let us take steps and begin to see how we can begin to allow schools to resume and let’s give priority to our education”.

In Prof Addae Mensah’s view, however, “The private schools, you know they are looking at this purely from their own employment point of view”, observing: “A lot of them, the teachers are complaining that because the schools are not opening, the parents are not paying fees and, therefore, the teachers are not being paid, etc., it’s purely from an economic point of view but have they looked at it from the point of view of the children who are targets of whatever action they take? That’s why I think that the discussion should be universal, it should be as comprehensive as possible with all the possible implications clearly laid out before we take any decision”.

He, however, warned: “It shouldn’t be rushed”, noting: “We shouldn’t go tomorrow or next week and say: ‘Oh, schools, go and make your own arrangements of social-distancing and all that’. It will be just chaos”.

“So, they should listen to the teachers, they should listen to the headteachers. I know there are some private schools in less endowed areas but most of the private schools are quite well-endowed, of course, if they don’t pay fees, they can’t function. I know some private schools where arrangements have been made for the children to receive even one-on-one teaching; you can look at that, provided the person’s parents are prepared to pay”, Prof Addae Mensah said.

Ghana’s COVID-19 caseload keeps rising

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases in Ghana has risen to 7,616, according to the latest figures from the Ghana Health Service.

The number of recoveries has also risen to 2,421.

The death toll remains 34.

Regional breakdown

Greater Accra Region - 5,331

Ashanti Region - 1,160

Western Region - 395

Central Region - 376

Eastern Region - 117

Western North Region - 63

Volta Region - 59

Northern Region - 36

Oti Region - 26

Upper East Region - 26

Upper West Region - 22

North East Region - 2

Savannah Region - 1

Bono Region - 1

Bono East Region - 1

Ahafo Region - 0