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    African nations in fix over school reopening

    By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-09-10 09:33

    A worker walks past safely spaced desks following safe distancing measures amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Seshegong secondary school in Olivenhoutbosch, South Africa, in this May 28, 2020 file photo. [Photo/Agencies]

    With the ongoing push to reopen schools after closing for almost six months now, many African countries are in a dilemma about when to reopen as most of the countries are yet to flatten the coronavirus infection curve.

    Experts and government leaders are divided over how the schools should reopen due to fear of the virus spreading in the educational institutions.

    South Africa, which started gradual reopening of schools on June 8, was compelled to close them again in July following a spike in infections.

    The schools were closed from July 27 to Aug 24.

    George Magoha, the Kenyan cabinet secretary for education, said the ministry will not bow to pressure to reopen schools until the country flattens its infection curve.

    The higher learning institutions have been offering online learning services, exams and graduation while no learning has been taking place for public primary and secondary schools.

    Magoha who visited the Meru National Polytechnic on Friday to assess the preparedness of the institution for reopening, said phased school reopening could kick off in November if educational institutions fully comply with the coronavirus preventive measures.

    The measures include setting up of sanitizer booths, adequate water points for hand-washing, observing social distance in classes and dining halls, wearing face masks as well as having thermometers and first-aid kits.

    Magoha said he was pleased with many institutions across the country for their efforts in preparing for reopening.

    Initially, the cabinet secretary for education had announced that "normal learning" in the country would resume in January, but the decision might be revised due to the reduced new coronavirus infections.

    Heightened measures

    On Sunday, Kenya reported a record low of 83 new coronavirus infections as it heightened measures to flatten the infection curve and fully reopen the economy.

    Zimbabwe, on the other hand, has announced plans to reopen primary and secondary schools on Monday for students sitting for Cambridge International Examinations, which are part of the United Kingdom-based University of Cambridge, and on Sept 28 for those sitting for local exams.

    The government assured the public it's working closely with other stakeholders to guarantee the safety of staff and students during the examination period.

    On Sept 1, the government released the mandatory standard operating procedures to prevent the spread of coronavirus according to the World Health Organization guidelines and the country's ministry of health.

    The measures include wearing of masks, observing social distance, sanitizing, temperature checks, allowing not more than 35 students per classroom, no sharing of desks, no visitors in schools apart from essential service providers, temporary isolation rooms and banning of sports, among others.

    The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education successfully conducted the June national examinations for fourth graders and sixth graders from June 30 to July 23.

    In Nigeria, the government is set to reopen colleges on Monday, and primary and secondary schools on Sept 21 in the commercial hub of Lagos, despite the city being the epicenter of coronavirus.

    The announcement follows a steady decline in the number of new infections in the country.

    As of Wednesday, Nigeria, which is among the five most affected countries, had recorded 55,160 coronavirus cases and 1,061 deaths, according to the WHO.

    Staff members worried

    The Academic Staff Union of Universities, the Nigerian union of university academic staff, is however concerned that the government is reopening schools when proper coronavirus precautionary guidelines are not in place.

    In a statement on Sunday, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, University of Ibadan Chapter, said the tertiary institutions are overcrowded and hence not social distance compliant.

    With several sub-Saharan Africa countries set to resume classroom this month, which is the start of the academic year in some countries, the WHO, the UNICEF and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have issued guidelines on coronavirus prevention and control in schools.

    The guidelines include recommendations for physical distancing measures such as staggering the beginning and end of the school day, canceling school events, spacing desks when possible, providing hand-washing facilities, wearing masks, discouraging unnecessary touching and ensuring that sick students and teachers stay at home.

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