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Senegal: COVID-19 crisis will have a terrible impact on the country’s education system

Members of Senegal’s teaching unions fear the rapid aggravation of the coronavirus crisis in their country and are taking action to ensure teacher and pupil safety, as well as educational continuity.

“As is the case in so many other countries, the situation created by COVID-19 in Senegal is becoming more and more concerning. The number of those infected is on the rise while so-called community cases – of unknown contamination origin and which constitute a danger - are developing every day. Marième Sakho Dansokho, General Secretary of the Syndicat des Professeurs du Sénégal (SYPROS) and member of Education International’s Executive Board emphasizes that “while their means might be limited, the professionalism and dedication of medical staff is to be commended”.

School closures made without consulting the unions

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Senegal on 2 March, the public authorities have taken a number of measures, with education the first sector to be affected, she continues: schools, universities and research institutions were ordered to close from 16 March until 6 April, to begin with, but must now stay shut until 4 May. The resumption of classes will obviously depend on how the pandemic develops in the country, says Sakho Dansokho.

“Teachers were on strike when the closures were decided, with those concerned not being consulted, perhaps because COVID-19 was so unexpected and because of the fear that it would spread, but the unions are applying pressure and trying to ensure that classes do not resume, if the year is not written off completely, without there first being a discussion with those concerned and in particular the unions. The latter must absolutely be included in discussions to ensure that classes resume under the best possible conditions in the interests of quality education”, she adds.

The union’s role to monitor and provide alerts

With a view to monitoring and providing alerts about the situation, the union is in contact with its local and regional managers, online and through social networks, mainly via a WhatsApp group created for rapid information sharing and communication.

It is also asking its members to:

  • help raise awareness to stop the spread of the virus in order to protect themselves, their contacts (teachers and pupils) and the population more generally.
  • maintain online contact with their pupils wherever possible so that they don’t lose the progress they’ve made in terms of learning.

The SYPROS is more committed than ever to maintaining its computer acquisition programme for the benefit of its members, their professional development, the exchange of information and to help reduce the digital divide. Sakho Dansokho explains that “these tools can be used for online classes, in any event, to stay in contact with the union, colleagues and potentially with pupils”.

The union’s post-pandemic strategy

She also emphasises that the union has already started consulting its members on potential strategies and the potential conditions under which classes might resume.

SYPROS has initiated an important discussion on this subject and has identified numerous issues:

  1. All of the strategies put in place by the education authorities (online classes, distance learning) have significant limitations and cannot replace classes. There are problems with regard to accessibility for most pupils, interactivity and content.
  2. Even if the school year is supposed to resume on 4 May, what do we do about unsuited infrastructure (temporary shelters) and the thousands of children who are helping their parents in the fields?
  3. How do we make up for time lost due to the teachers’ strike before the COVID-19 outbreak and due to the pandemic itself? Should all union demands be suspended?
  4. What do we do about teachers/pupils who have been able to recover from COVID-19, but who may end up being stigmatised?
  5. What strategies/educational provisions do we adopt to ensure that nobody gets left behind during disasters?
  6. Whatever the circumstances, social dialogue is essential. This a matter of respect for those working in the education sector and, over and above this, of engaging them and empowering them.
  7. If distance learning could be fair in that it could be made accessible to everyone, even in the villages, should it replace physical classes? And if it did, what would the consequences be for those working in the education sector?

Sakho Dansokho concludes that “Now, just as we were before the pandemic, we are making every effort to ensure that education remains a priority and receives adequate funding, and to ensure fair access to education for all”.