Amid an increase in cases of COVID-19 in Liberia, the Coalition for Transparency and Accountability in Education (COTAE) says it is deeply concerned over discrepancies in compliance with guidelines to re-open schools.
Addressing journalists at a news conference held in Monrovia, COTAE Lead Coordinator Gerald D. Yeakula said the guidelines are over hand washing, water, sanitation and hygiene, general health, cleaning, eating and drinking practices.
According to him, while COTAE applauds the government for its continued effort in the fight against COVID-19, COTAE seizes the opportunity to re-emphasize the importance of having schools as safe places during this pandemic.
He disclosed that between July 1-3, 2020, COTAE embarked on monitoring of schools within Montserrado, to gauge compliance with guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education (MoE).
“Our team of data collectors visited thirty-nine (39) schools in Gardnersville, Du-port Road, Old Road, Brewerville, Sinkor and Duala, using a checklist approved by the Ministry of Education for data collection,” Yeakula said.
According to him, data gathered by the organization has revealed that while substantial efforts are being applied by both schools’ administrators and students to adhere to the guidelines, there are still gaps that need to be addressed. He acknowledged that all schools visited have hand washing stations installed at their entrances. But discrepancies exist regarding classroom spacing, masks wearing, hand washing in bathrooms, and referral systems.
“Seventy-two percent of schools surveyed were compliant with wearing of nose masks,” he reported, “while 28% were not. 33.3% of schools did not observe one-meter spacing in classrooms, while 64% of schools had at least two thermo-flashes. Also, only 54% of schools surveyed had a functional hand washing station at their bathrooms. As for the referral system, only 46% of schools surveyed had agreed to a system of referral with the County Health Team for likely cases of COVID-19.
“From the above excerpt of data collected, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure compliance with safety guidelines. COTAE, therefore, calls on government, through the MoE, to ensure that all health protocols are fully adhered to by all schools through a rigorous supervision process.
“The roles of schools administrations, Parent-Teachers Associations, and civil society organizations (CSOs) are also significant in this regard and we call on these stakeholders to join efforts to keep learning spaces safe. This will ensure that a concerted effort is being made to protect students and school administrators in their return to the classroom. Given the spike in confirmed cases, to nine hundred and Twenty-Six (926) and a death toll of forty-one (41), the importance of instituting and supervising safety measures for students and administrators against this deadly disease cannot be overly emphasized.
“We are also encouraging heads of academic institutions to ensure they put into place monitoring mechanisms on students, aimed at ensuring they conform to the prescribed health protocols. Students also have a role to play in ensuring that they keep safe and are compliant with the guidelines. We remain optimistic that this call will be heeded by all concerned as we fight COVID-19 in Liberia.”
It can be recalled that the MoE, on June 19, released “Guidelines for Safe School Environments in the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Liberia,” to guide the re-opening of schools in Liberia and to be observed by school administrators, teachers, students, staff, etc.
According to the ministry, the guidelines are intended to ensure safe school environments in the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Liberia as it defines the minimum requirements that must be in place in every school (Public and Private) to ensure that, from a health, water, sanitation and hygiene point of view, a school is a safe place for all students and school personnel.