Accredited Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) at a one-day “Strategic Stakeholders Consultative Meeting” with the Chairman of the Board of the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) and Minister of Education called on the government of Liberia to permit HEIs to reopen in the month of September 2020, in order for them to exercise proposed strategies prior to reopening.
The meeting, which brought together 82 stakeholders of HEIs schools across the country, was held in Montserrado County to allow representatives to give their views on the reopening of schools.
The purpose of the HEIs “Strategic Stakeholders Consultative Meeting” was to discuss issues of concern regarding COVID-19 that led to the closure of all schools and for the HEIs to design strategies by formulating plans that will lead to reopening schools in observance of ‘COVID-19 Health Protocols.’”
The meeting, which was chaired by Prof. D. Ansu Sonii, Sr., gave birth to an 18 count resolution to the government to enable schools to reopen and for students to follow all health protocols put put in place by the Ministry of Health (MoH).
The HEIs resolution included that prior to commencing classes, a joint team, which should comprise the NCHE, NPHIL (National Public Health Institute of Liberia), and MoH, conduct inspection of the HEIs facilities in order to determine their preparedness to operate in observance of COVID-19 Health Protocols; MoH should conduct refresher training for the HEIs Administrators; “Campus-Based COVID-19 Response” teams are constituted at all HEIs for students to carry out sensitization and awareness within their communities, and that of the schools in order to control the spread of the virus; the appropriate health protocols be observed on all campuses, including frequent hand washing, wearing of nose masks, and the observance of social distancing, among others; and a “Good Behavior Bond” (GBB) be signed by all students, committing themselves to wear face masks and other preventive measures.
It also called on HEIs to ensure that the learning environment is kept clean and waste products are properly managed in ways to prevent students from getting infected with the virus and other diseases; that hygiene protocols be observed on campuses at all times, and hand-washing stations be established at various locations to enable students to implement the preventive measures on COVID-19; registration of students in the HEIs be designed within the timeframe by colleges and departments to minimize the crowdedness of students on campuses; limited courses be offered as a means to reduce overcrowding of classes; class sizes should be drastically reduced to a level that can easily carry out effective social distancing; HEIs should ensure safe water is available always on their campuses and HEIs having the capacities should conduct blended learning.
Other measures include that all HEIs conduct general clean up exercises on their facilities before the resumption of classes; HEIs setup temporary isolation centers in their facilities to isolate anyone observed with signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and immediately contact the appropriate health authorities; all HEIs set up “Campus-Based Health Teams” to regularly monitor and enforce the adherence of health protocols at all times, Government of Liberia (GoL) provides financial support to enhance the reopening of HEIs, including all private and faith-based institutions of higher learning; and the GoL should intervene and engage the various GSM companies to reduce the cost of data in support of online programs offered by HEIs.
Dr. Francis Nah Kateh, Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer, who attended and participated as the Special Guest, presented on “Health Risk Mitigation” with a “Spotlight on COVID-19.”
His presentation provided realistic insight of COVID-19 globally, regionally, and locally.
Dr. Linda Birch, President of the Liberia Medical & Dental Council (LMDC), and a member of the NCHE Board of Commissioners, in a brief statement highlighted three measures for consideration to provide guidance to the HEIs forum.
Those measures highlighted by Dr. Birch included Public Health Measures, Environmental Measures, and Administrative Measures, all of which must be observed at all times.
Dr. Birch suggested that the HEIs and the NCHE Secretariat should collaborate with the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) for inspections of their various campuses before resuming regular academic sessions. She further emphasized the need for thermometers to be used at the entrances of all the HEIs for testing temperatures of students, staffs, and others regularly, adding that additionally, social distancing should be enforced, and sharing of devices with other objects handled must be observed by being constantly sanitized and decontaminated.