Beyond face masks: Are schools ready to re-open?

As schools wait to reopen in September, the Covid-19 pandemic shows no signs of being globally contained. That means schools must be well equipped to avoid further spread of the virus, and plan for more than an emergency response to the pandemic.

A recent health-related guide by the World Health Organization for schools on how to reopen without spreading Covid-19, gives insight to how schools can prevent a massive learning loss and educational inequity during the next year.


The WHO guidance calls for schools to prioritise “frequent, meaningful engagement between teachers and students as well as students with other students”


Maurice Twahirwa, the head teacher at APADET, says schools should prioritise their most vulnerable students when making decisions about spending resources, including admitting them to their institutions once schools reopen.


Additionally, Twahirwa points out that there is need to consider special needs students, and other students who are likely to have experienced learning losses since schools closed.

However, according to Cherish Nkurunziza, an academician, there is also an emergency supplemental funding from various stake holders.

This, she says, will among others, avert school budget cuts and pay for the new health, safety, and instructional support needed. 

On the other hand, Olivier Minani, an IT expert, observes that reopening of schools will require internet and computer access to facilitate students who can’t attend in person.

Sources from the Ministry of Education say that all schools have been given a letter showing containment measures to follow before they can reopen.

Some of the guidelines accessed by this paper suggest a combination of keeping student groups’ small, wearing masks and observing social distancing, to keep schools and communities safe.

Are schools prepared?

Samuel Nkurunziza, the head teacher of Kagarama Secondary School in Kicukiro District, says despite the confusion about the reopening date, schools should start preparing so that they are ready to accommodate students as soon as they resume.

For instance, he cites that there is an ongoing general cleanliness in his institution.

“After more than four months without working, we have started with cleaning the whole campus. In the dorms, dining halls, classes, among other large gathering facilities.”

Additionally, Nkurunziza points out that in line with the Covid-19 response, they have also established a number of containment measures. “We have established hand washing facilities in a number of places both in the buildings and even on campus.”

Besides, under the school construction programme, he says that the school is expecting a facility that will accommodate over 369 students.

“This will help curb overcrowding and boost spacing as more classes are being constructed.”

Nkurunziza is of the view that upon continuation of schools, day-students (students who study while they return home) will pose a risk to the boarding students.

“The challenge is the students who study and go home. We don’t know who they meet, where they pass etc.,” and this, he says, “puts our boarding students at an even a bigger risk.”

Martin Masabo, the head teacher of Lycée de Kigali, echoes the same sentiments, saying that it is easier to have all students study boarding or all of them returning home.

“In my school particularly I think we will impose the idea of all students studying in boarding because it is hard to deal with both boarding and day students,” Masabo says.

However, he says that the Heads of Schools Association is currently working on a survey which will assess the preparedness of schools before they can be given light to resume.

“The Heads of Schools Association (which I am also part of) is currently working on a survey. And it will be presented to the education ministry soon. We are confident that if schools adhere to the measures put by regulators, it will be easy to reopen,” Masabo says.

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