- The best these unions could do was to write a letter to the GES to reject government’s intention to reopen the schools. This response, in my opinion, was an impulsive action that was not well thought out.
What is generally known about covid-19 is that it kills by attacking our respiratory system and other organs of the body. But what has escaped us is that it can also kill through starvation or the thought of its effects on our businesses.
We all know that a lot of people or businesses depend on schools for their survival. These are the thousands of food vendors who sell hot meals at the various schools, thousands of the youth who teach at the private schools, thousands of farmers who supply maize and other foodstuffs to the schools; hundreds of poultry farmers who supply chicken and eggs to the schools, owners of printing enterprises who supply exercise books and other stationeries, seamstresses and tailors who supply uniforms, cold store operators who supply frozen chicken, drivers who drive the buses of these schools, labourers, security men and accountants or cashiers who work in these schools just to mention a few.
This means that the survival of these business owners and thousands of their dependents (including women and children) depend on the school system in Ghana. That is, when the basic schools, senior high schools and the tertiary institutions are opened it puts food on the tables of these thousands of Ghanaians.
This means that if these schools and institutions are closed, stress and starvation will stare in the faces of these innocent Ghanaians. It will interest readers to note that this is exactly what these Ghanaians are currently going through silently in their homes because of the closure of schools.
The government of Ghana ordered the closure of schools, including universities, with effect from the 16th of March, 2020 to help contain the covid-19 pandemic. This, in my view, was in the right direction at that time because it was necessary to improve the effort of the government to effectively manage the pandemic by way of contact tracing etc.
The Ghana Education Service, in May 2020 officially reached out to the four teacher and worker unions (GNAT, NAGRAT, CCT and TEWU) of the pre-tertiary institutions to volunteer their suggestions to the GES on how to effectively manage students and other issues in the schools when the schools reopen in order to ensure the safety of teachers, students and other workers.
The best these unions could do was to write a letter to the GES to reject government’s intention to reopen the schools. This response, in my opinion, was an impulsive action that was not well thought out.
The leaders of these unions took that decision based on their narrow assumption that covid-19 can only kill people or children only by attacking their respiratory systems and other organs of their bodies. They did not base their action on a more comprehensive indicators of the survival of Ghanaians as a whole.
What they should know is that there are other thousands of Ghanaians whose livelihoods and survival depend on whether we reopen the schools or not. It easy to understand their position because they are very comfortable knowing that the government has and will continue to pay their salaries every month.
As other innocent Ghanaians are currently thinking about what they will eat tomorrow, the thought of it is secondary to these government workers because they are sure money will hit their account every month, whether schools reopens or not.
However, one important fact that has escaped these government workers is that their salaries can only be paid if the government has money to do so. The second point is that workers in the private sector such as teachers in private schools and local businesses such as banks, transport owners, printing enterprises, private schools etc.
contribute significantly into government coffers by way of taxes. So it is logical for one to conclude that if workers or businesses in the private sector are not able to work or operate for a longer period, it will significantly reduce government’s revenue and its ability to pay salaries as it happened in 1981 when the country experienced a drastic reduction of minimum wages from an index of 75 to 15.4. This is likely to repeat itself if we don’t support the government to bring back businesses, schools and for that matter the economy back to its feet.
In my opinion, I think the teacher unions could have made their suggestions to the GES to ensure the safety of our children instead of rubbishing GES’s attempt to reopen the schools. In South Africa, for instance, the country has recorded a higher number of covid-19 patients (about 17,200 confirmed cases) but are set to reopen schools in the 1st of June, 2020.
So the issue is not only about the rate of infection, but the effectiveness with which the covid-19 safety protocols are implemented in the schools for students, teachers and other workers in the schools. In my opinion, the students can come to school in batches, starting from the final year students of both the Junior and Senior High Schools.
Students’ response to the safety protocols will be assessed and based on that assessment, the second-year students may be asked to join them in that order. Let us not forget that there are thousands of school children who loiter in our communities because their parents do leave them behind for work. Who takes care of these children when their parents are not at home? Are they also not exposed to the threat of covid-19 as they play around in the communities?
My point is that let us, including all the teacher unions, sincerely make good suggestions to the GES and the government to that the schools can reopen as soon as possible to prevent a total disruption of the academic calendar. This will also make it possible for students to pursue their academic aspirations and to put food on the table of thousands of Ghanaians who are currently suffering (starving) because of the closure of the schools. Thank you.
Samuel Kobina Otu
(A student of curriculum)