The Minority Caucus in Parliament has called on the government to prioritise the lives of all final year students currently in school.
The call by the Minority comes on the back of increased number of COVID-19 cases in the country as well as recorded cases of infections among students in some schools.
Parents with wards at the Accra Girls Senior High School on Monday trooped to the school premises to withdraw their children following a reported outbreak of COVID-19 in the school.
Six students, according to reports, are confirmed to have been infected with the virus.
According to members of the Minority, “sick or dead students cannot write exam.” They are, thus, demanding that the government re-examines its decision to reopen schools for final year students.
Read statement below:
MINORITY STATEMENT – PRIORITIZE THE LIVES OF OUR STUDENTS AS COVID 19 RISK INCREASES
The NDC Minority in Parliament hereby calls on President Akufo-Addo and his government to prioritize the lives of our students currently in school in light of the increased number of COVID-19 cases in our country as well as reported cases of infections recorded among students in some schools.
Our call as a responsible Minority, is based on the fast rising cases of COVID-19 in Ghana, which has crossed 20,000 cases so far. Indeed, various statements have been made by several individuals and institutions in our society over the motivation to continue to have Senior High schools and Junior High schools opened albeit final year students.
Government, through the President and other ministers, have made several statements that sought to assure the general public and to dampen their fears amid the deadly novel coronavirus. Many have feared, rightly so, that the safety measures that were to be instituted ahead of the reopening of these schools were inadequate.
Soon after, government made several promises of ensuring the provision of the needed infrastructure including; temperature guns, nose masks, hand washing buckets, sanitizers, among other things, while ensuring social distancing in these schools.
At the time President Akufo-Addo announced the easing of measures ahead of reopening these schools to allow the final year students take their exit exams, Ghana’s case count stood at 8,070. Since that announcement about a month ago, over 12,000 COVID-19 cases have been recorded, which gives a clear indication of the mass community spreading of the deadly virus.
The fears of Ghanaians and parents in particular have heightened after the Minister for Health, Hon. Kweku Agyemang Manu, the Minister for Education, Matthew Opoku Prempeh and Minister for Regional Reorganization, Hon. Dan Botwe tested positive for the virus, which led to the directives of the President, Akufo-Addo, suspending Cabinet meetings indefinitely, ostensibly to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Such is the deadly nature of the virus that from day one, we have been advised to observe some strict measures to be able to win the fight against the novel virus. As it stands, Ghana’s cases are on the rise, while efforts have been undertaken to engage in activities that will ruin all the safety measures we are advised to observe if the fight against this virus is to succeed.
Senior High schools opened just about two weeks ago. Ahead of the opening of schools, government announced commitments supposedly aimed at ensuring safety in these schools. Days and weeks after the schools were opened, several reports indicate that some schools still operate without those safety measures government announced.
Right before schools were reopened, an accomplished educationist, Mr. Kwame Alorvi, had cause to author an article which chronicled government’s announcements ahead of the reopening and government’s efforts so far at making do its pronouncements after the reopening. He cites for instance, that some schools including the Yilo Krobo SHS were not disinfected contrary to government’s promises to disinfect all schools before reopening. He also indicated that the Achimota School was being disinfected while students were reporting from the break.
Several other news portals reported disappointing states of some schools across the country ahead of the reopening. For instance, the Ghana News Agency (GNA) reported that many schools in the Northern parts of Ghana reopened without PPEs. Similar other reports also indicated some schools in the Western parts of Ghana reopened without these personal protective gears.
Only a few days ago, teacher unions such as NAGRAT, GNAT, CCT and TEWU, raised concerns over the Ghana Education Service (GES) reversal of a decision to allow only teachers who have lessons to report for duty. According to them, contrary to agreements ahead of reopening that only teachers who have lessons should report for duty, the GES now requires the presence of teachers on campuses whether or not, they have lessons. This adds up to the congestion, which the virus needs to thrive.
Reports emerging are that some students of the Accra Girls Senior High School, have contracted the virus and have been taken into isolation. What makes this situation even unfortunate is that parents of these children may not be aware of the conditions of their wards as schools have been warned to close their gates to visiting, as well as strictly adhere to directives of not calling parents except headmasters.
As of today, even the Ghana Medical Association continues to ask for PPEs to aid their work. We must not forget that these are the highest risk individuals along the chain. So far, some 150 medical doctors have been reported to have contracted the virus, with 5 confirmed dead.
These instances, and the rise in figures which confirms wide community spread, is raising concerns for calls on government to shut down schools. It begs the question on how government officials, with all the sophistication at their disposal, resources, etc, could be contracting the virus. How officials who are matured and could socially distance, are being infected by the virus, while schools children some as young as thirteen (13) could be kept in schools with hope that they would not contract the virus.
Some of these school children, report to school through the use of commercial vehicles, which increases their risk of infections. Some schools, including some in Ho, which have called for mass testing of their students before admitting them to mingle with others, were ignored without a second thought.
We are of the firmest conviction that as a nation we must not wait until it is too late to do anything. Our students need to be protected from the high risks of exposure. As can be seen, the Akufo-Addo government has failed to contain the virus.
The mere rush to isolate by President Akufo-Addo, after he suspected to have been exposed to a positive case, tells how he has failed to assure us of a win over the virus. Who knows how many have come in contact with infected persons who may not know their status if our president with all at his disposal, could be exposed to such a risk?
It is time government reconsiders keeping our schools opened while we enter our rooms everyday with prayer that no one gets infected. We also have a choice of reducing such high risk, by closing these schools for a much extended period until we are sure of having contained the virus which would reflect on our cases per day. In the last few days, Ghana recorded over 750 and over 690 cases per day. This does not provide any parent the comfort to assume the safety of their children.
The government, the Ministry of Education, the Teacher Unions and Civil Society Organizations, must get back to the table, and with the help of medical experts, re-examine the situation at hand, and make amends in the initial decisions that saw the reopening of schools. If the real motive to reopen schools is for final year students to prepare to write their final examinations, then a second look at this motive in the face of rising cases and reported cases in some schools is warranted.
We must prioritize the lives of the students, after all, how can sick or dead students write exams. The examinations can be postponed but the safely of our future leaders cannot be postponed.
Dr. Clement Apaak
M.P, Builsa South and Deputy Ranking Member on the Education Committee of Parliament
July 6, 2020