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UNICEF commits strong support to The Gambia’s safe return to school efforts

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Press Release 

Banjul, 12 October 2020 – UNICEF has assured the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education of its continued support as the ministry moves ahead with plans to safely reopen schools after more than six months of physical closure for most classes.  This commitment was made during a meeting between Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF Representative in The Gambia, and the Honourable Claudiana Cole, Minister of Basic and Secondary Education, on Wednesday, 07 October, a day after the Minister announced plans to begin safe schools reopening.

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“Rest assured that as The Gambia prepares to safely reopen schools, UNICEF and the rest of the United Nations system in the country, will provide strong support to ensure that students and staff are safe in school,” said Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative. “We have already redirected important resources to support The Gambia’s COVID-19 response and this includes the safe reopening of schools.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in The Gambia, UNICEF has reprogrammed more than US$4 million of the agency’s regular and emergency budgets to support the country’s response to the pandemic and ensure continuity of services across a range of sectors, including keeping children learning through distance learning programmes and provision of hand washing stations.  Furthermore, as recent as September, UNICEF made an additional commitment of more than US$1 million to consolidate the agency’s COVID-19 support.  Of the total reprogrammed amount, approximately US$850,000 have been destined to the education sector.

In her televised statement last week, Minister Cole announced that grades 7 to 12 will return to school on 14 October 2020, whilst ECD classes and primary schools are slated to return two weeks later.  The minister also outlined plans to keep students and staff safe while in school, including the promotion of hand hygiene, social distancing and wearing of face masks.

“UNICEF has always been a close partner of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education,” Minister Cole said. “We are happy and encouraged by this support and looking forward to stronger collaboration with UNICEF.”

The Wednesday meeting came as a courtesy call on Minister Cole, the first face to face interaction between the two officials since Mr Lewis joined the UNICEF office in The Gambia as Country Representative in late August. Mr Lewis used the occasion to underscore the importance of education to UNICEF’s mandate for children and to commend the ministry for the gains registered in promoting access to quality learning and education in the country.

“The Gambia has made important gains in ensuring access to education, but now the focus must be on learning outcomes, which is a huge challenge in the national efforts to ensure quality education for all Gambian children,” the UNICEF Representative underscored. “We must make sure that when students are in school, they are learning.”

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