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City of Banjul
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Is it time to reopen schools?

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Early this year, school gates around the world slammed shut. By early April, an astonishing 1.5 billion young people were staying home as part of broader shutdowns to protect people from the novel coronavirus. The drastic measures worked in many places, dramatically slowing the spread of COVID-19.

However, as weeks turned into months, educators have now begun to voice concern that school closures are doing more harm than good. More kids get abused at home. And many others loiter when they are supposed to stay at home.

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There has been no academic education for almost eight months in The Gambia. Even though due to circumstances, the grades 9 and 12 candidates were allowed to briefly resume ahead of their respective exams. First of all, it is important to remind ourselves that schools were closed in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus and to protect students and their families. And since schools were closed in March and a host of other restrictions subsequently put in place, the number of Covid-19 cases had gone down noticeably before it went up drastically. This had resulted in the imposition of a night curfew which, to a commendable extent, was visibly successful, at least in its implementation. Since March, no school for children; meaning there has been no academic education for kids in nearly three-quarter of the year. That is quite frightening, considering we have a huge task in redesigning our education system. Places of worship have reopened. Markets operate in normal hours. The only thing that reminds us of Covid-19 right now is wearing of masks which is even reducing. So we need to think about schools as well!

The government has done well to keep children occupied at home with virtual classes across the grades. But, if one thing we all learned through that process, is that virtual education is often a pale shadow of the real thing.

There are many ways to ensure their safety if we are ready to reopen. We can impose strict limits on contact between children; require masks, close temporarily if just one student was diagnosed with COVID-19 or stay open even when multiple children or staff were affected and send only ill people and direct contacts into quarantine. The education ministries might have a better idea and better measures but there are signs that it is time to bring children

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