Accra, Aug. 30, GNA – It is the hope of parents and teachers that schools would soon reopen to bring life back to normal as government eases the restrictions on the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. However inadequate infrastructure is creating a dilemma for parents, teachers and school authorities in basic public schools in their bid to adjust to the new normal, especially those located in the rural areas.
For this reason, as the country prepares for the possible reopening of schools, following assurances by the Government that the country was gradually making progress with the COVID-19 fight, which indicate the return to normal life, stakeholders are worried about what to do if and when the green light is finally given.
On March 12, 2020, Ghana recorded its first two cases from Norway and Turkey. This was followed by the indefinite closure of both public and private schools, on March 16, 2020.
Currently Ghana has a cumulative case count of 44,205, recoveries of 42,777, 276 deaths and active case count of 1,152.
Fortunately, these restrictions are gradually being eased by the Government to usher the public into the ‘new normal’, which requires living with the virus by masking up, practicing hygiene etiquette, and ensuring social distancing. Some categories of students comprising final year university, senior high school, and basic schools have been allowed to return to school to complete their final examinations. The next inline will be the continuing students.
As parents await the total reopening of the schools, Madam She-Vera Anzagira, the Greater Accra and Volta Regional Programme Manager of Action Aid Ghana, has told the Ghana News Agency in an interview that successive governments considered education as important in national development and had the magic power to break the ring of poverty but have not done a good job in investing in infrastructure development in that sector.
The educational sector, she said has seen a number of transformations, since 1960, in curriculum upgrade and other indices, however, such changes did not reflect in infrastructure.
“The situation is dire in rural areas both far and near. It is not only happening in far places like Garu or Bawku in the Upper East Region, Nadowli, or Jirapa in the Upper West Region but there are cases as close as Amasaman in the Ga West and Ga East districts of the Greater Accra Region where infrastructure is a bid challenge,” Madam Anzagira said.
She was of the view that the issues of inadequate infrastructure, which results in congestion in the classroom aside its potential of increasing the rate of infections of COVID-19, violate the right of children to education.
She recalls that the country has passed local laws and signed up to international conventions including the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) Policy, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Mr John Narteh Ghartey, the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) Chair of Ga West Municipal, wonders how schools, including Mmaampehia M/A Basic School with a class capacity of between 60 to 80 pupils, will observe the one-meter physical distancing.
“It is a big problem for us now because many of the schools have large classes. Even if the final year students complete and we get an additional empty classroom it will not be adequate. COVID-19 has exposed this huge infrastructure deficit in our sector,” he said.
Painting a picture of a typical public basic school classroom, Mr Ghartey explains to the Ghana News Agency that aside the class congestion most of the schools do not have adequate desks and that compels pupils to sit on the floor to learn, while others share chairs and tables with their friends during contact hours.
He said one other avenue through which schools develop infrastructures was through the PTA levies but its potential of denying some children access to basic education has necessitated its ban by the Ghana Education Service.
“At one of the primary schools we started a classroom project, which has been roofed with proceeds from PTA levies but it is currently at a standstill because funds have stopped. The government has asked all heads to stop charging PTA fees,” he said.
Mr Ghartey says most of the schools do not have reliable running water that children will use to wash their hands as prescribed by the Ghana Health Service.
“Obviously situations like co-sharing and unreliable source of running water cannot be allowed in these schools if schools resume. Things must change before school reopens,” he said.
These frustrations expressed by Mr Ghartey and Madam Anzagira were captured by a recent study titled; “Financing Education in Ghana,” conducted by Action Aid Ghana.
The study revealed that although government’s budget towards the education sector is commendable, there was a huge funding gap in basic education, resulting in deplorable conditions in those schools.
The study recommends that if the Government curbs tax incentives and tax evasion, there will be enough funding to provide public education completely free and of good quality for all children in Ghana.
Professor Kwesi Yankah, the Minister of State In-Charge of Tertiary Education, has reiterated government’s commitment towards infrastructure development in the educational sector, this must reflect in the conditions under which basic schools in Ga West and South operate.
Although classrooms have been built, for instance in the Ga South, East and West, the number needed to address the urgent challenge is more.
Mr Ghartey suggests that government must assist, through the COVID-19 Fund, to complete stalled educational structures to create more space for the pupils.