Let's talk about reopening properly

Primary School Pupils1 Schools are to reopen on 15th January, according to government

Fri, 15 Jan 2021 Source: Philip Paa Kwesi Arko

Nowadays, if you drive up and down any of the city of Accra roads for long enough, you would spot minors trudging along pavements, carrying and weighed down by articles of commerce on their heads. When a vehicle lurks past, they tear off for the passengers looking through the windows, hoping they would make some fortune.

It is said that the devil finds a job for the idle man. Ghanaian children like their counterparts everywhere have been in the house for about forty weeks and the devil of poverty has succeeded to find jobs for many of these children. To beguile the monotony of endless vacation, many have resorted to countless tasks- virtue or vice.

One source put it that, teenage pregnancy has actually been on the rise. A lot more sister vices can be blamed as notable by-products of the Covid pandemic. That is why some believe we have to talk about reopening properly and address reopening now before it becomes life-altering, life-impacting issues that negatively and devastatingly affect our younger human resources.

Now we have the green light to go back to school. But we are still in the midst of the huge crisis where coronavirus still has teeth.

Before the year 2020, education, like religion, was sacred and nobody dared touch it. Not until the novel Covid raised its ugly head. Schools were shut down in March of last year as a necessary price to pay in a nationwide effort to protect lives as well as to limit and contain the spread of the virus. From March, the restriction has ballooned into a ten-month vacation.

It has also taught us how to sneeze, yawn, and cough.

One more impact of closing our schools is abundantly clear on the people and sectors for whom the academic calendar is central to their lives.

Across the length and breadth of Ghana, there are an unmentionable number of caterers reliant on our schools to survive. The publishing industry needs orders for textbooks and notebooks to stay in business, the tailors and dressmakers are busy mostly because they make uniforms for schoolchildren. The sweet and candy industries and vendors are earning because school going children like to eat sweets when they go to school. This is why the shutdown meant financial pain for all those in the pupils' economy.

So it is good we are finally going back, after ten months. But the terrain we are returning to is expected to change because the education system has ushered in a new curriculum.

The education system cookers have shaken up the curriculum and infused new blood into the basic and second cycle schools, saying, Kindergarten to SHS makes the basic school. A new examination called National Standard Assessment Test shall be conducted at Primary 2, 4, 6, and JHS 2, and BECE shall be replaced by placement exams at JHS 3 to enroll students into SHS1. At the end of SHS1, pupils shall write Common Core Exams into SHS 2. And then at SHS 2, students will select either vocational and technical programmes or high school Diploma programmes such as science, business, arts. Wassce has been replaced by university entrance exams at SHS3. Therefore, students after successful completion of SHS 3 will be rewarded a Diploma Certificate instead of a WASSCE certificate.

While we may seem to be in exciting new terrain here, aesthetically, not much, I fear, would change in the education system as we return. My common-sense view is that the so-called old curriculum would suffer only a metaphorical death, shedding its skin and returning in a different guise as the new curriculum. Pessimism works in the opposite way that optimism works I believe the congestion in our public schools remains the same.

Scarcity of Teaching/Learning Resources would persist alongside the usual resource traffic in the system. I cannot be sure there are no schools under trees anymore. The about forty weeks of absenteeism has dug such a big hole in our teaching and learning society and truant teachers and learners would still play cat and mouse game. I could go on and on and on, but I expect you get the deplorable point.

After ten months of empty classrooms, the reason why I am filled with joy is that most teachers are willing to take a huge risk to return to the teaching kingdom to plant the seeds of talents into books and give them nutrients and water for their growth.

In July when I wrote that "I am no longer at ease", we had been in the prison of the pandemic for four months with no end in sight. Thankfully, today, Ghanaians can boast again about elaborate funerals and wedding ceremonies. That is the reason why I think it's time to make our schools sprout back to life while everyone continues to enjoy the strictest observance and adherence to safety protocols.

But one thing I do know for sure and I have known for a long time is that teachers would have a lot to do as their pupils have unlearned almost everything they knew before schools shut down. And interestingly, that would set in motion a series of fascinating events.

That is why GES is looking into appropriate adjustments to the curriculum to ensure that nothing is lost from the previous year.

One day, Joseph Kennedy said, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

In such harsh conditions, amid fears and uncertainties and the nostalgia, the tough would get going.

Philip Paa Kwesi Arko Cee Ewusi is a columnist and a teacher at 5 Garrison, Accra, and the recipient of the 2017 Ghana Writers Award.

Columnist: Philip Paa Kwesi Arko
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