A lot is at stake as primary and secondary schools across the country reopen today in the wake of the coronavirus. Are the safety measures put in place enough to safeguard students’ health?
After months of staying indoors, today all primary and secondary schools in Tanzania resume academic sessions following the government’s directive issued by the president John Magufuli a fortnight ago.
The decision to reopen all schools has made Tanzania the first country in East Africa to allow the resumption of all academic activities and social gatherings following a brief break due to the coronavirus virus scare. But with the novel virus still in our midst, it is vital that all health safety precautions as issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the ministry of health be adhered to.
When higher education institutions reopened at the beginning of June, changes had been put in place on campus environs as steps towards minimizing the risk of contracting Covid-19. These were commendable steps which will go a long way in curbing the spread of the virus among students.
At the University of Dar es Salaam School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) water tanks were installed on various places on the campus compound, starting from the main entrance. The water tanks had liquid soap to the side and everyone who entered the campus was instructed by the security guards to first and foremost wear a face mask before being granted entry, then proceed to wash their hands with liquid soap.
A quick glance around the expansive SJMC environs showed just how serious the institution is taking the coronavirus pandemic, hence devoted strategies to keep students and staff members safe are palpable.
Now, when it comes to primary and secondary schools, the stake is much higher since we are [mostly] dealing with minors who require constant monitoring to ensure proper conduct.
The Tanzanian government hasn’t overlooked this fact, under its ministry of education working hand in hand with the ministry of health, strategies for combating the virus have been top of the agenda.
Such safety measures issued by the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children include instructing academic institutions that were used as health facilities for Covid-19 patients to decontaminate the structures at least 72 hours before reopening.
Advising schools management to conduct Covid-19 awareness session on opening day which will be used to impart important safety measures to students and staff.
Install handwashing facilities such as water tanks and liquid soap at every classroom, library, dormitory, dining hall, toilets, office area and any place used as an entry point. Students have also been encouraged to frequently wash their hands – both boarding and day scholars, to avoid unnecessary assemblies and seeking medical attention once symptoms of Covid-19 are detected.
Also, the ministry instructed that all hand sanitizers used must be of required standard; made of at least 70 per cent ethanol.
The ministry further advised against the use of spirit (methanol) as a hand sanitizer and issued a stern warning against academic institutions asking students to report to school with spirit as Covid-19 protective essential.
Furthermore, collaboration and assistance from diplomatic missions and other private sectors have helped to nourish the efforts by the government aimed at mitigating the spread of the virus in schools.
For example, on June 25, the Chinese embassy to Tanzania, upon lauding the government for crafting a unique approach to dealing with the pandemic – one which it says has worked for Tanzania, proceeded to hand over 100 sets of hand washing facilities and 550 litres of liquid hand washing soap to be distributed in primary and secondary schools in Dar es Salaam – the country’s worst-hit city by the coronavirus.
The psychological effects of Covid-19 as just as severe as the virus itself for they hold far-lasting implications to one’s health. This is evidenced by one Jestina Mori, a Form Three student studying in Dar es Salaam, who fears for the worst as she’s about to resume studies.
“I was at home all the time, but I can’t tell if other students also maintained social distancing. We had popular public holidays in the three months of school closure and I saw on television how some of these popular beaches were filled with people,” she raises her concern.
And it is such concern that is echoed by parents as well, most of whom are uncertain whether their children will be safe once they resume with school. “I am worried for my child’s safety,” says a parent of two boys who are both going to boarding school.
The father of the boys says he is shifting his children to boarding school for fear of the risks out in the open during commute hours as day scholars. “My children use public transportation to and from school, with the presence of coronavirus I fear that the safety of their health will be compromised,” he says.