The government through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) has formed a task force to oversee the issue of re-opening schools.
The membership is drawn from the academia, civil society, development partners and school associations to map the way forward on whether to re-open schools soon which were closed on March 23, 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The task force was formed on Wednesday at Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre during the National Stakeholders Planning Meeting on possibilities of reopening schools in the wake of Covid-19.
Members of the task force include Prof. Lewis Dzimbiri, who is the Chairperson from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Justin Saidi, who is Secretary for Education, Science and Technology, Benedicto Kondowe from Civil Society Education Coalition, Rev. Fr. George Buleya from Association of Private Universities in Malawi, Charles Kamanga from Teachers Union of Malawi, Joseph Patel from Independent Schools Association of Malawi, Dr Limbani Nsapato from Edukans, Br. Pascal Mtwana from Association of Christian Education in Malawi.
Other members are George Chiunda, Ruth Samati Kambali, Symon Maunde, Dr Dan Namarika, Kimanzi Muthengi, Sabina Morley and Christine Veverka.
Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Dr William Susuwele said the government has been receiving proposals to reconsider reopening the schools because students have been idle.
“We thought it was proper for us to consult the stakeholders and this meeting we have people from universities, private schools and civil societies to look at whether to re-open the schools as soon as possible. After the discussions, we have formed a committee that will look at the situation on the ground and as a government, we will from them come up with a final decision,” he said.
Country Director of Edukans, Dr Limbani Nsapato said forming a taskforce was a positive development because the issues that are discussed would be critical.
He said the education sector was dealing with more than 8 million children in the country which is half of the country’s population.
“There is pressure outside to re-open the schools, but we have to think of the risks that we are getting into because we are taking half of the country’s population at risk and this is something that we have to think. This committee will give an opportunity to weigh on both sides to say what are the advantages and disadvantages of re-opening schools right now,” Nsapato pointed out.
On his part, he was of the views that schools should not be re-opened soon given the fact that the nation will be putting many children and teachers at risk of contracting the Coronavirus.
“We need to take advise from health professionals and let the committee review the situation. I know that the private sector, parents and students may want us to re-open schools soon but l think for now it is important that this committee develop a framework for re-opening schools which looks at the key indicators supported by the health personals,” he said.
Civil Society Education Coalition, Executive Director Benedicto Kondowe, said if health assessment provides an indication that the country could still re-open schools perhaps it could restrict it as a starting point to standard eight, form four, IGSCE and fourth-year students in universities and colleges.
“If we can start gradually it will provide us an opportunity to learn from the measures on how effective they are and how best we can improve so that when the government is to order the full opening of the schools we will have documented best practices from this small group that we would want to start with,” he said.
Kondowe said in an emergency you cannot wait until it comes to an end.
“What if that emergency takes 12 months or two years? We need to plan around the intervention emergency and beyond,” he said.
Dr John Phuka from the College of Medicine, who is a member in the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19, warns that rushing re-opening schools at this time could be risky to the children and teachers.
“It is risky to re-open schools because we are in the very early phase of the epidemic. At this point it is also difficult to relax because the epidemic is still on the rise,” he warned.