The two private school associations in the country have expressed their disappointment at the decision of the government to reopen schools for junior high school (JHS) Two students.
The associations — the Ghana National Council of Private Schools (GNACOPS) and the Ghana National Association of Private Schools (GNAPS) — said they were disappointed by the decision when a 10-member committee set up by the Minister of Education had not completed its work to consider the suggestions of the various stakeholders.
They said they were going to propose a number of suggestions, including the redesigning of a new academic calendar that would have catered for the time lost in the old (2019-2020 academic year) calendar, instead of continuing with it.
But, in a quick reaction, the Ghana Education Service (GES) has explained that the President’s decision placed an emphasis more on protecting lives than livelihoods.
“The President, after considering all the options available to him for concluding the current academic year, decided that kindergarten (KG), primary, JHS One and senior high school (SHS) One students will not return,” the GES said.
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The Executive Secretary of GNACOPS, Mr Enoch Kwesi Gyetuah, and the National Organiser of GNAPS, Mr Ezra Datnanyi, gave their reactions in separate interviews with the Daily Graphic yesterday after President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo had announced last Sunday that JHS Two and SHS Two students would go to school in October.
However, some members of three teacher unions – the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) and the Coalition of Concerned Teachers (CCT) – said they were ready to teach, provided all the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety protocols were in place.
In his 16th address to the nation last Sunday, the President said the decision had been taken by the GES, after consultations with the relevant stakeholders, for SHS and JHS Two students to return to school from October 4 to December 14, 2020, to complete the academic year.
He said, among other things, that with JHSs operating with class sizes of 30 and SHSs with class sizes of 25, SHS Two and JHS Two students would be in school for 10 weeks to study and write their end-of-term examinations.
He said the GES, after further consultations, had decided to postpone the remainder of the academic year for all nursery, kindergarten, primary, JHS One and SHS One students, adding that the next academic year would resume in January 2021, with appropriate adjustments made to the curriculum to ensure that nothing was lost from the previous year.
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Already, final-year JHS and SHS students are in school. While SHS students are writing the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), their counterparts in JHS are preparing for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE).
All schools in the country were closed on March 15 as part of the government’s intervention to stop the further spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic after the first case was recorded.
Mr Gyetuah said it was necessary that the academic calendar be redesigned, in consultation with the relevant stakeholders and not by the GES alone.
“It should not be the GES alone taking the decision because it contributes 59 per cent of the educational needs, with the private schools contributing 49 per cent at the pre-tertiary level. The GES should not be the only body that should come out and tell us everything; there should be some consultations,” he said, asking: “We are unhappy because if they are going to school to write examination, what are they (JHS 2 students) going to write the examination for?”
He said with the proposal for the redesigning of the academic year, what had been lost in the old academic year would be fused into the activities of the new one, so that students could have a longer period in school.
“For instance, in the first term if we are supposed to spend 15 weeks, we can spend about 19 weeks, and then in the second term add a week or two to the stipulated period. With this, the whole academic calendar would be packed in such a way that students can study and then recover whatever has been lost,” he said.
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Mr Gyetuah questioned the rationale for going to school to write an examination which was an internal one.
In addition to starting a new academic calendar with the promotion of students and the extension of the academic term to cover lost periods, he proposed another scenario that could have been considered — using September to December for piloting to work on the psychological demands of the children.
In that instance, he explained, JHS students would be allowed to go to school in September and then be joined by Upper Primary pupils in October and then Lower Primary pupils in November, and so on.
“With that, we will see how things will be and put in place the necessary measures to deal with whatever issues that may come out of this.
“When this happens, you ease the burden on parents, school authorities and teachers. All of these will be done with all the COVID-19 safety protocols in place,” he indicated.
Mr Datnanyi, for his part, said private schools had hoped that the President would allow schools to reopen in September to help alleviate the financial stress they had gone through since March.
“Private schools are the worst hit in the COVID-19 period because they have not been able to pay their teachers, unlike public school teachers who are still being paid by the government, although they are not working.
“Our hope was that the President would exempt nursery and kindergarten pupils and ask all others, from Class One to JHS Two, to go back to school in September or October so that we can get some money to run our schools and pay teachers,” he said.
Moreover, he said, private schools were yet to receive part of the stimulus package announced by the government.
“So on Sunday, August 30, we the private schools were disappointed by the announcement that only JHS Two students would be returning to school on October 5,” he indicated.
However, the Deputy Director-General of the GES in charge of Quality and Access, Dr Kwabena Bempah Tandoh, explained that the decision of the President was based on protecting lives first, then livelihoods.
“The President, after considering all the options available to him for concluding the current academic year, decided that KG/Primary/JHS One and SHS One students will not return.
“We need to consider the fact that the President has thought through the fact that asking little children in KG and Primary to social distance and wear masks will be difficult. Putting the reopening of the new academic year in January allows for proper planning and multiple scenario considerations. The President has made a decision based on the safety of children,” he said.
He said some private schools conducted online classes to complete the third term and that was laudable, adding that “they can continue with online classes during this period until January 2021 when the new academic year will begin”.
“We know that private schools have livelihoods to protect, but at the same time we have a responsibility to protect lives, and they should understand that the President’s decisions are based on the safety of the children first,” Dr Tandoh further explained.
“The President has taken a decision not to endanger children,” he said, insisting that the representative of private schools was aware of the conversation around the reopening of schools in January.
“Regarding the planning of the new academic year, we will continue to engage all stakeholders, including teacher unions, parents, private schools and on-state actors in the educational sector,” he added.
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