Although they believe the XGEST platform distance learning initiative launched by the Ministry of Education is worth trying out during the COVID-19 initiative, teachers, through their representative organisation, the Syndicat de l'Éducation Nationale say that they have strong reservations as to whether all students can access it. They therefore insist on a reorganisation of the school year when the situation returns to normal.
Distance courses began on Tuesday, 14 April following the suspension of in-school lessons by the public authorities throughout the country to keep pupils and teachers safe from the spread of COVID-19 in schools. The decision was made after meetings between the ministers responsible for education and their social partners – the teachers’ unions to provide information and explanations. The federations of parents’ associations were also involved. The aim is to keep the students working and maintain the link with their families. This pilot study will initially involve students in exam classes – the 5th year of primary school (CM2) and students in the 3rd and final years of secondary school.
The Syndicat de l'Éducation Nationale (SENA) gave its approval, in principle, despite the insufficiencies and limits.
“Because it’s a matter of keeping children usefully occupied during the lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, we don’t see any problem with trying out this way of working, although we are aware it will not reach the whole target audience,” said Fridolin Mve Messa, the General Secretary of SENA.
He insisted that although the ministry’s home-schooling experiment is worth trying, it must not be used as a way of completing the school year, but only in order to achieve its aim of keeping students learning. For Mve Messa, “students who cannot benefit from this education must not be penalized when courses start again in education facilities”.
SENA has also expressed its reservations because not all homes have radio or television, not all pupils have IT equipment, and not all towns are connected to the internet.
The communication channels and support for distance learning are listed, in a letter to teachers and SENA members dated 16 April. Mve Messa mentions: radio and television;
the internet, with the National Ministry of Education platform (XGEST);
mobile phones for setting up WhatsApp groups for each establishment and each class;
traditional mail for printed materials; and
people (teachers or students’ parents) travelling.
He also recalls that the ministry’s approach is in line with the main guidelines established by Education International on the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly principles 4, 5 and 6.
Mve Messa adds that SENA “believes the reorganisation of the school calendar is the only possible alternative following this health crisis, asks the minister to begin to consider the issue with the different parties involved, and also asks him to take into account their remarks and observations about distance learning”.
For greater safety and caution, when it comes to restarting courses after COVID-19, SENA also urges the government to take all necessary preventive measures to protect students and teachers by installing water points and making alcohol hydrogel available. Finally, the union asks its members to observe the lockdown and to use barrier measures.
Video of Mve Messa speaking to Radio Gabon (at 20 minutes) (in French):