By Omar Bah
The coronavirus pandemic has seriously affected the President’s International Awards (PIA) 2020 academic year as most governments around the world including the Gambia temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19.
These nationwide closures impacted hundreds of millions of students. Several other countries have implemented localized closures impacting millions of additional learners.
The impact of Covid-19 on education worldwide has been devastating. UNESCO has reported “that over 1.5 billion students had been affected due to school closures in 165 countries as of 26 March, which is more than 87% of all registered students.”
Also, over 63 million teachers and large numbers of education support personnel have also been affected by the pandemic. Given these unprecedented developments, the pandemic has equally become an education crisis.
The PIA was established by an Act of parliament in 2015 mandated to deliver the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Program. It is a public institution providing life-skill training and counseling of young people in a positive way during their transition to adolescence.
Aminata Jammeh, a grade 12 graduate is doing tailoring and fashion design at the respected non-formal educational institute. She said the pandemic has shattered her dream of establishing a tailoring shop last year.
Jammeh and colleagues were supposed to graduate in September last year but Covid-19 disrupted that plan.
“The pandemic has disrupted my plans and career,” Jammeh said.
“When I finished my grade 12 two years ago, I said to myself I should venture into self-development to create my own thing. I packed my documents and came to the PIA because I don’t want to work for anybody,” she said.
Young Jammeh said she hopes the government will learn from the Covid-19 to better prepare for future pandemics.
“Finally, I urge all my fellow young girls sitting out there doing nothing to come here and acquire skills to develop themselves and build their own careers. We have seen during the pandemic it was those with skills who were the most affected because they were not sent home,” she said.
Ebrima Cham is also doing tailoring and fashion design. He said the pandemic has seriously affected him as “it delayed his graduation”.
“It derailed our careers and I think the school could have been more creative to allow us to continue our lessons,” he said.
Cham, a graduate of grade 12, said immediately he finished school he decided to venture into skills acquisition. He urged his fellow youth sitting in the ghettos to wake up from their slumber and acquire life-skills to avoid continued dependency.
“I pride myself today with multiple skills as channel technician and tailor. Young people should prioritize acquiring skills,” he said.
Another student doing tailoring and fashion designing who had the ambition of establishing her own tailoring workshop before Covid-19 struck, Amie Jallow said: “The pandemic has seriously affected me. Imagine the stress of wanting to do something and because of a certain virus you were robbed of that dream.”
The young Jallow who travels all the way from Brikama said though her dream was delayed she has not lost hope.
“I will keep pushing towards achieving my dream of employing myself and I urge all my fellow girls sitting at home doing nothing to venture into skills training to be self-employed,” she added.
The executive director of the PIA, Sainey Drammeh said: “When Covid-19 was initially announced so many of us were skeptical that it was just propaganda. We didn’t take it seriously. But as head of an institution dealing with over 400 young people I immediately put in mechanisms to protect my students and staff.”
He said the PIA was among the first institutions to put in place all the measures necessary to curb the virus.
“This is because we realise that we are working with other fragile segments of our society. So we set washing buckets all over even before the government comes with the restriction. We were far ahead of the regulations,” Drammeh added.
However, he said the scaling down of staff and the temporary closure of schools was devastating because “at the time a lot of the students were new with a lot of energy and high expectations”.
“It was really a challenge and a new experience for us but ultimately we accepted the challenge and thank God we didn’t have any case of Covid-19,” he noted.
Preferences for women
Drammeh added: “When it comes to the scaling down of staff, all the female staff were asked to stay home while the male staff were put in rosters to exchange shifts.”
He said because 85% of the PIA funding comes from government subvention the institute was “seriously impacted financially”.
“The other income generating centers such as the carpentry, welding and auto mechanic workshops, hostels and halls ceased operations and all members of staff stayed home. It was really a nightmare,” he lamented.
Drammeh stressed that “government who were supposed to bail us out could not because they were concentrating on the Ministry of Health”.
“The funds were not coming as they used to be. Basically, we were just paying salaries,” he said.
Drammeh said the institute has not done any assessment to ascertain the damage caused by the pandemic.
“But I can tell it has delayed a whole batch from graduating. We are now doing an intensive scheming to ensure that they graduate to give a chance to hundred others,” he noted. Drammeh said the majority of his students are school dropouts and a good number of these students struggle to pay their tuition fees.
The story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its mobilising media in the fight against Covid19 in partnership with Mai-Media.