Education stakeholders have faulted President Lazarus Chakwera’s order to have schools closed for three weeks in the awake of escalating Covid-19 cases, saying the measure lacks clarity and has potential to create more problems.
Chakwera on Sunday night announced several measures to be enforced in the fight against Covid-19 among which was closure of schools for three weeks. He also directed that learners in boarding school should remain in schools to allow officials assess the severity of the Covid-19 in institutions before they can be released into communities.
However, the three weeks closure has not gone down well with Civic Society Education Coalition (Csec) and Independent Schools Association of Malawi (Isama) who have said that without proper interventions, sending learners home exposes them to more risks.
Isama president Joseph Patel feared that the learners have higher chances of being infected while at home than in school.
He said with the closure of schools, the learners will not be restricted on movements and will come in contact with various people who may transmit the disease to them.
“When they are in school, their movements are restricted and preventive measures are observed. The learners concentrate on school unlike when they are at home where they move about interacting with various people,” said Patel.
He added that the three weeks break was too much considering that learners are already coming from a five months break. He said such interruptions affect learners as they do not concentrate on education.
Patel said if the break is meant to disinfect schools, one week would have been enough.
The Isama president also alleged that Isama was not consulted when coming up with the measure to close schools. He said stakeholders need to make inputs in such situations.
Commenting on the issues, Csec executive director Benedicto Kondowe also feared that the learners might be exposed to other dangers apart from Covid-19.
He said the last time government closed schools, a number of girls fell pregnant and some got married. Other learners also engaged in various malpractices.
Kondowe wondered what measures have been put in placeto ensure that the learners are protected at home.
How the learners at boarding schools will get home was another cause for worry. Kondowe said most learners will have to use public transport and that puts them at risk.
“There was need for a clear action on how these learners will be managed, otherwise we will only create more problems,” said Kondowe.
Minister of Education Agnes NyaLonje clarified that the essence of the three weeks closure is to interrupt transmission of the disease.
She said the general view is that learners are safe being at home than in school.
Said the minister: “In the meantime, everyone should adhere to preventive measures, starting from the learners, parents, teachers and everyone out there.
“Nobody wants to see the schools become grounds for transmission. The three weeks will help us put in place measures that can help prevent the spread of the pandemic in schools.”
On the Form 4 students, she said they will continue with their examinations, saying the country cannot afford to interrupt the process.
On the failure to consult some stakeholders, NyaLonje said Ministry of Education Principal Secretary Chikondano Mussa was better-placed to comment on the matter as she was involved in such engagements.