Speech by the Honorable Minister of Basic and secondary Education
Safe re-opening of schools
Dear Parents, Teachers, and Students
You will agree with me that throughout history, there has never been a time as critical and as challenging as the one we are in, which is confronting the education system in The Gambia and the world in general, but more specifically parents, teachers, learners, and all stakeholders in the education sector. You will recallthat, on March 17 this year, around which time the first case of COVID-19 was recorded, all educational facilities were ordered to close as a measure towardscontrolling the transmission of the virus, and keepingthe population safe.
I can assure you my dear Parents, Teachers and Students that this was not an easy decision as the prolonged closure of schools, which we are all awareof, has severely affected all students in all educational settings, with the unintended effect of great learning loss and psycho-social consequences revolving around learners being at home for such long periods. My Ministry is aware that this situation has seriously deepened inequalities in learning and access to basic health and nutrition services, and negatively affected the most vulnerable segments of the population – such as the poor, the girl child, rural population, and those with special educational needs.
Being aware of the potential effects of learning and other related losses, my Ministry in collaboration with partners had put in place measures to ensure continuity of learning through the Radio and TV programmes. At this point, I would want to commend Parents and caregivers for the role they have played over the last six months safeguarding both the wellbeing of theirchildren and ensuring their participation in the media-based learning initiatives.
Similarly, I would like to appreciate the responsibleand positive behavior the teachers and students have displayed during these difficult period as it gave us the courage to explore learning modes via the TV, radiosand other social media platforms as alternatives to the conventional practices. It was based on that, that we had the confidence to partially resume schools for the Grade 9 and 12 students to complete their syllabuses and also sit to their terminal examinations this year. You will be pleased to know that about twenty-fourthousand, three hundred and forty-eight (24,348)students successfully sat to the GABECE. This reflects an increase of 3.44% from the previous year. Also,fourteen thousand, three hundred and twenty-three(14,323) students sat to the WASSCE, representing an increase of 3.10%. Undoubtedly, this confirms the willingness of students and teachers to resume schooling, and parents’ total commitment to support the process, and for this I want to convey my sincere gratitude to all who were involved.
My dear parents, teachers, students and all other stakeholders, I must say that we are very much aware of your concern for the Ministry to reopen schools after many months of closure. I want to assure that we all share the concern including the Government’s top leadership. Please note that the delay was due touncertainties around the nature and evolution of the CONVID 19 pandemic. There was need to carefully evaluate the risks that will be involved in reopening schools, without been guided by an unusual and unprecedented trade–off between ensuring the continuity of learning, and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of students, teachers and educationpersonnel.
Dear parents, teachers, students and all other stakeholders, now that we are beginning to understand the virus, and seeing positive signs in our countries’efforts to contain the pandemic, as well as having learnt and gained some lessons and experiences from the partial school re–opening, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education is determined to reopen schools under strict conditions based on the advice of the Ministry of Health and WHO agreed international standards. To complement this, my Ministry in collaboration with all the stakeholders will endeavor to ensure that the safety of all schools, students and teachers are safeguarded from hazards related to the COVID-19 pandemic by putting in place measures thatwill support this process.
However, being cognizant of the multiple benefits of face-to-face learning against the risks posed by the spread of COVID-19, the Ministry intends to complement the reopening of schools with a recovery strategy, by promoting reduced class sizes, distance learning initiatives, extended school days, double shifting and catch-up plans to recover learning losses accrued during the school closure. This will also be supported by monitoring the education responses to the pandemic nationally, as the data collected on both students and teachers’ wellbeing are analyzed toinform the course of action.
My Ministry is committed to ensure that schools in The Gambia continue to provide and operate in a safe and secured environment, free of abuse and exploitation of children and also to facilitate children’s access to valuable school-based services such as health, school feeding, mental health and psychosocial support, water, sanitation, protection and above all, rewarding learning opportunities. With these and the collaboration of all stakeholders, more especially students and parents, we are optimistic of a safe school reopening for all.
In that regard, I would like to make a humble and gentle appeal to parents, that while sewing their children’s uniforms they could do a mask or two using the same material for uniformity, bearing in mind that wearing of masks is compulsory for everybody.
In light of the above, I am pleased to inform all Students, Teachers, Parents and Stakeholders, that Schools will reopen for grades 7 to 12 on October 14th, 2020 and for ECD to grade 6 on October 28th, 2020.
It is my hope that maximum attention will be paid to the necessary health regulations that will ensure safe school environments for the good of all students, teachers and ancillary staff within the school settings.
I thank you all! Stay safe! God bless us all! and God bless The Gambia.