Malawi today officially rolls out an abridged 2021 academic year amid a surge in Covid-19 cases since schools finished the revised 2019/20 school year in mid December.
In a statement dated January 2 2021, Ministry of Education Principal Secretary Chikondano Mussa said the 2021 academic year is expected to end on October 8 this year.
She said all learners, teachers, parents and guardians will be required to strictly follow all the laid-down Covid-19 precautionary measures set in collaboration with Ministry of Health. The measures include wearing of masks in public places, physical distancing and washing hands with soap frequently.
Reads the statement in part: “As you are aware, the Ministry of Education re-opened schools on 7th September, 2020 with all the Covid-19 measures in place and all schools were successfully closed on the 18th December, 2020 with no registered case of Covid-19.
“The Ministry of Education, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, shall closely monitor all education institutions and advise of any changes and directions according to the situation on the ground.”
The schools are reopening at a time data from the Public Health Institute of Malawi (Phim) indicates that since December 18 2020 when schools officially closed, the number of active coronavirus cases have jumped from 116 to 626 by January 2 2021.
On the next course of action should the country continue registering a rise in coronavirus cases, Ministry of Education spokesperson Chikondi Chimala said the ministry will hold a press briefing in Lilongwe today where such questions will be tackled.
In the statement, the ministry also noted that the 2021 academic calendar is shorter than normal; hence, reminded all school managers and educators to implement the curriculum and all guidelines put in place to ensure maximum coverage of the curriculum.
In a separate interview, Teachers Union of Malawi general secretary Charles Kumchenga said teachers are ready to open schools for the 2021 academic year, but asked government to consider the welfare of teachers by providing them with personal protective equipment (PPE).
He said: “Reports indicate that coronavirus cases are rising alarmingly and this poses a threat to our lives than before. Time has come for government to look into the welfare of teachers.”
Reacting to the opening of schools for the new academic year, Civil Society Education Coalition executive director Benedicto Kondowe said government did not anticipate that the country would face the rise in coronavirus cases at the time the date was set.
He asked authorities to ensure all Covid-19 guidelines and protocols are fully complied with and that PPE such as face masks and water and soap are available in schools to mitigate against the further spread of the virus..
Kondowe said: “Government should put in place a monitoring team to make sure that there are regular visits to the schools so that they are able to detect cases before the situation worsens.
“Proper monitoring structures are important at school level, as well as at national level so that prompt decisions are made as soon as the cases continue.”
He said it would be premature to expect the Ministry of Education to postpone the opening of school on the basis of the current surge, considering where the country is coming from.
“Our education system has already been affected and what would be important is to take full guard of the numbers as they are emerging, but emphasising on the preventive measures, until such a time when the numbers are alarmingly very high such decision [closing of school] could be made,” said Kondowe.
When government fully reopened schools on October 12 2020 after a six-month break induced by the coronavirus, the country had 985 active cases, 5 824 total confirmed cases and 180 deaths. By January 2 2021, there were 626 active cases, 6 712 total confirmed cases and 192 deaths.
Former president Peter Mutharika ordered the closure of schools in March 2020 as a precautionary measure to halt the further spread of Covid-19. However, the schools partially reopened in September and fully opened in October amid stability in the number of cases.