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More Africans go back to school

By OTIATO OPALI in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-14 08:01

Students joke around and play at the Olympic Primary School in Kibera, one of the poorest areas in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, on Monday. BRIAN INGANGA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A number of African countries have begun reopening schools after their gates were shut more than seven months ago by the coronavirus pandemic. They join a growing list of nations on the continent that have already done so, amid concerns for the effects of school closures on children.

In Kenya, the Ministry of Education partially opened schools for pupils from grades 4 to 8, and for those in the last year of secondary school, on Monday.

The authorities' decision follows an appeal in September by the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, for schools in Africa to reopen under safe conditions.

George Magoha, Kenya's Cabinet secretary for education, asked parents with children in other classes to start preparing for them to go back within two weeks.

"The ministry will observe the situation in one or two weeks, then we shall recall the other children," Magoha said. "It is important to note that procurement processes are not complete for masks. As we prepare to open more schools, we are going to need more masks."

In West Africa, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, or NCDC, had urged Nigerian states to conduct risk assessments aimed at making schools safer for children when they were reopened on Monday. The center also advised that such assessments should be conducted weekly by schools, monthly by local government areas and quarterly by states.

Chike Ihekweazu, director general of the NCDC, said schools should ensure that a clear point is marked at entrances for temperature checks to be done. People should wear masks and wash their hands, the official said.

"Schools should provide learners with a medical status form to be completed by all parents and kept in confidence by the school head," Ihekweazu said.

Following guidelines

"We are working closely with the federal ministry of education and state authorities to make sure that the guidelines issued on school reopenings are being followed."

In Rwanda, the reopening of tertiary institutions on Monday followed an assessment done in September by the education ministry, which inspected 29 universities and other higher education institutions to ascertain their readiness. According to the education ministry, secondary and primary schools are expected to reopen in November.

The African countries that have just reopened their schools join a list of countries that have already allowed students back, including South Africa, Cameroon, Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In September, the UNICEF issued a warning that the continued closure of schools across Africa aimed at keeping students safe from COVID-19 was harming them in other ways.

"The impact of extended education disruption is significant. It includes among others things poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood pregnancies, and overall challenges in mental development of children due to reduced interaction related to school closures," the agency said.

It said that in East Africa, Ethiopia and Uganda have not yet reopened schools but plan to do so in November. All schools in southern Africa have partially or fully reopened and in Central and West Africa, only a third of countries have sent children back to classrooms.

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