· Challenges in a changed and changing world
On May 26, 2020, Multimedia’s Joy TV initiated a dialogue – hosted by Daniel Dadzie – on the Prime Morning Virtual Policy Forum with the topic: “Creating a safe environment for education in the midst of a pandemic.” Just a week earlier, I was involved with Tema International School’s (TIS) virtual on-line graduation ceremony, so it was clear how things have changed and continue to change uncertainly.
In the backstory, the Forum noted that “the COVID 19 pandemic took the world by a storm, and like many other nations across the world, Ghana had no choice but to buckle under the weight of its pressure. Given the now popularized mode of transmission, it became necessary for public places to be closed down [particularly] schools.”
It’s been about two months since the lockdown in many places, and it’s certain that the world cannot afford to stand still for long. Life must go on, but in what ways must life go on? Definitely not in the same way, nor in an unplanned manner. It was a pleasure, then, to have been asked to discuss the way forward, joining a panel that included three of my favourite educators: Prof Jane Naana Opoku-Agyeman, a former minister of education; Prof Stephen Adei, former rector of GIMPA; and the iconic Patrick Awuah of Ashesi University. It was a pleasure also to meet – via Zoom – Dr Amanda Odoi, research fellow of CEGRAD; and Nana Kofi Quakyi of New York University’s School of Global Public Health.
The key questions
In preparing the panel for the event, the Forum forwarded questions to ponder:
- What should government and management of schools be looking out for in planning for the reopening of schools?
- What measures should government and management of schools implement before the reopening of schools?
- Should parents/ guardians, students/ pupils be worried?
- What should parents/ guardians consider before sending their children back to school?
- Have teachers/ carers been adequately trained and resourced to identify, handle and manage COVID-19 related issues?
- Are our boarding facilities well equipped to house students’ post-pandemic?
- How will school children commuting to and from impact public health?
Since those were universal questions affecting childcare centers, basic schools, colleges and universities worldwide, UNICEF and WHO offered their recommendations, “Key Messages and Actions for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools” in March 2020.
- Promote and demonstrate regular hand washing and positive hygiene behaviors and monitor their uptake. Ensure adequate, clean and separate toilets for girls and boys
- Ensure soap and safe water is available at age-appropriate hand washing stations
- Encourage frequent and thorough washing (at least 20 seconds)
- Place hand sanitizers in toilets, classrooms, halls, and near exits where possible
- Ensure adequate, clean and separate toilets or latrines for girls and boys
- Clean and disinfect school buildings, classrooms and especially water and sanitation facilities at least once a day, particularly surfaces that are touched by many people (railings, lunch tables, sports equipment, door and window handles, toys, teaching and learning aids etc.)
- Increase air flow and proper ventilation.
- Post signs encouraging good hand and respiratory hygiene practices
- Ensure trash is removed daily and disposed safely.
The standards for modeling good hygiene practices was for the consideration and practice of everyone including school administrators, teachers, support staff, parents, caregivers, etc.
The charge to TIS graduands
Graduations are near-sacred ceremonies and one can understand the disappointments of graduands across the education spectrum deprived of walking confidently across the stage to be pampered with the honours and feel-good talk. My task as the chairman of the board of governors at TIS was to deliver the charge just as I had done from the previous years on a live stage in the company of all the adoring graduands – and parents – keen on hearing words of encouragement as they evolved into adulthood.
But, this time the ceremony would be different; it’d be virtual and streamed on-line. So my charge proceeded cautiously as follows:
“Graduation is a huge achievement, and I personally wanted so much to celebrate with you on stage as we’ve done traditionally. But these are not normal times, so we are celebrating virtually. So please bear with us. When I left secondary school over half a century ago in 1966, there were no graduation ceremonies. We just vacated and went home to await the results of the last examination. So were the days of Kofi Annan, Kwame Nkrumah, and I’m sure the likes of Nelson Mandela too.
“But let’s not forget what these great men accomplished in their lifetime. Kofi Annan became the topmost civil servant of the world through the United Nations. Kwame Nkrumah led the struggles to liberate all black Africans from European colonial rule. Nelson Mandela was unrelenting – despite being imprisoned politically for 27 good years – in devoting his life to abolish the gruesome apartheid system in South Africa.
“Today, I urge all graduating classes to stand tall on the shoulders of these great giants. You, the class of 2020, are sufficiently prepared with the aid of technology to make your mark nationally, continentally, or globally. As they say, Tough times don’t last; but tough people do. The world needs you now more than ever in this brave new world of uncertainties.”