Alas! Schools have reopened, and the country’s educational system, which almost grinded to a halt due to the outbreak of the dreaded novel Coronavirus Pandemic, is back to life.
Ordinarily, this should have been good news for all, however, very characteristic of the Ghanaian Society, the decision once again has reignited another debate.
As usual, the debate is anchored on the propriety or otherwise of the decision by government to allow schools to reopen in the milieu of the global confusion over the effective means of bringing the pandemic under control.
The Fear Factor
For some, it is dangerous for government to have reopened schools at a time when the world is reporting of a new variant of the virus said to be more devastating compared to the earlier strain that led to the first wave of the pandemic.
Indeed, the new strain has been reported to be deadlier than the initial one, and there is enough evidence to suggest that, this new variant is causing more damage to humankind.
It is estimated that, more than two million people have so far been killed by the pandemic with over 93.3million people infected worldwide and with a ravaging speed, the numbers are expected to go beyond catastrophic proportions unless something dramatic occurs.
The uncertainty surrounding the newly discovered vaccine’s efficacy to deal with the pandemic conclusively has even heightened the fears of those who feel the decision to reopen schools is wrong.
In Ghana, it is estimated that between March 12, 2020 when the first two cases of the virus were reported and now, more than 57,714 cases with 352 fatalities have been recorded.
Currently, the country has about 1,924 active cases, and health experts have warned of a further deterioration of the situation if care is not taken.
A cursory look at these staggering statistics may justify the high level of pessimism against the decision to let our children back into the classroom.
However, despite the alarming statistics, there are many who also believe firmly that, the amount of disruption already caused by the pandemic to the lives of people is enough, and that people must be made to learn to live with the virus.
At the initial stages of the outbreak of the pandemic, there were many who were of the belief that, it will vanish within some few weeks as such supported all the necessary measures adopted by the governments as a means of securing their lives.
The measures which include partial lock-downs in some areas, closure of certain businesses and all areas of activities considered as ‘super spreaders’ received popular support among the vast majority of the populace.
However, the persistence of the pandemic across the world coupled with the indeterminate timelines for eradication of the virus among humans means learning to cope with its existence, and working to reduce its impact on the socio-economic activities of society must become the ‘new normal’.
People must learn to live with the virus by adopting a change in lifestyle and this will only mean adopting the stated and defined COVID-19 protocols by the World Health Organisation(WHO) as a means of adapting to the new normal. It is in line with this, that, others believe that the decision by the government to reopen schools is in the right direction.
Perhaps those who view the decision as most relieving are the teachers who for nearly a year have been denied the opportunity to put to good use their ‘first love’—that is their professional calling, and parents who feel the continuous stay at home by the children is gradually becoming a major disruption and a ‘domestic nuisance’.
As part of the reopening of schools, government has given assurance that all the necessary measures have been put in place to make the schools a safer place for the children.
Among the tall list of measures put in place, are the fumigation and disinfection of all schools in the country—both public and private, supply of PPE including appropriate nose masks, veronica buckets and liquid soaps for regular hand washing and hand sanitisers.
In addition to the supply of PPE to all the schools, the Ghana Education Service (GES) in collaboration with its working partners, including the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and the Ministry of Health have zoned and mapped schools to specific health facilities across all 270 Metropolitan, Municipal and Districts in the country.
The government is also not oblivious of the fact that, there is a high possibility of an outbreak of the virus in our schools and the mapping of the schools to specific health facilities in the districts, is, but a proactive measure and control mechanisms aimed at containing any spread and possible fatalities in the event that the virus is attracted into our schools.
This mechanism proved quiet effective during the limited reopening of schools which allowed final year students at both the Senior High School and Junior High School levels to write their final examinations before exiting to the next levels on the academic ladder.
As we move towards restarting academic work, in the midst of this pandemic, it will require the support and cooperation of all stakeholders including even those who have raised skepticism over the decision to reopen.
There is no gainsaying that, the media has and continues to play a critical role in our quest to defeat the virus and has demonstrated enough commitment towards this course, albeit, sometimes with much sleaze, sensationalism and cynicism.
The global outlook of the pandemic currently shows that, defeating the virus will require all hands-on deck and the media’s role will have to be devoid of partisanship, fear mongering, and becoming a conduit for alarmist within the public sphere to spread false information.
The media must churn out messages that give hope rather than creating fear and panic among the citizenry. It is important that the media does not assume the posture of ‘naysayers’ but rather one that inspire hope.
This is not to say, even where there are genuine concerns and issues bothering on the safety of our children in school, the media must not report on it, rather what is required at this period is lot of circumspection.
Graeme Garrard and James Bernard Murphy in their book ‘How to Think Politically’ state that “We assume that citizens should be informed. But they also need to be knowledgeable and even wise. Today we are inundated with information—but knowledge and wisdom remain as scarce as ever. Thanks to the miracle of digital technology, we are drowning in oceans of data, facts and opinions.”
They further assert that, “What we need now is not more information but more insight, not more data but more perspective, not more opinion but more wisdom. After all, much of what is called information is actually misinformed, and most opinions fall short of true knowledge, let alone wisdom.
Even a superficial glance at the state of contemporary politics will dispel any illusion that the explosion of information has led to wiser citizens or politicians or improved the quality of public debate. If anything, misinformation is winning out over knowledge.”
It is in the light of the forgoing that, the media must not take chances at all. The media risk compounding the conundrum in which we find ourselves if it simply assumes that its role is merely to provide information to the public as such without any sifting mechanism, throw whatever it chances upon at the public.
As a country we are currently caught between the “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” in terms of where we find ourselves within this global pandemic which is ravaging even the most powerful nations with ferocious force.
Every choice we make in dealing with the situation has consequences, and the education of our children is no exception.
If education indeed, is the bedrock of the future of our children, then obviously, this future can not be left to chance. Like most sectors of our socio-economic and sociocultural lives which have been opened up, we cannot continue to keep our classrooms under lock and key in perpetuitywhile we shirk our responsibilities in the name of playing it safe.
Our children deserve to be in school, however, what is required of all citizens is a call to action, where everyone plays his or her role in ensuring the safety of the children.
Parents, teachers, the government, school managers, Civil Society Organisations and the media must play their role with cautious optimism to ensure we succeed.
In this pandemic, there are no losers and winners; we must either succeed or perish together. In the true spirit of the Ghanaian Tenacity, “We must Succeed together!”
By Cliff Ekuful