Ghana: Teacher unions demand complete school closure to ensure safety of all students

published 23 March 2020 updated 25 March 2020

Teachers and educators in Ghana are urging President Akufo-Addo to extend the four-week shutdown of basic and second-cycle schools to final-year students. This is intended to minimise the spread of COVID-19.

With seven declared cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19) in Ghana, the government declared, on 21 March, a ban on all public gatherings for the next four weeks. All universities, secondary and primary schools, both private and public, were closed until further notice.

However, final-year students of primary and upper secondary levels have been excluded from the ban and must attend school. They are to observe social distancing protocols as they prepare for their examinations, which begin in May and June 2020, respectively.

Exposed to unnecessary risk

There are currently 397,500 students in the last year of primary school due to undertake the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) in June 2020. An additional 490,882 students are set to complete the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).

Now, education unions in Ghana are calling for these two groups of final-year students to be included in the lockdown measures for schools. Otherwise, the students could be exposed to the unnecessary risk of contracting the COVID-19 disease, according to the unions.

The unions lobbying the Government include three affiliates of Education International (EI): the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), and the Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU). The Coalition of Concerned Teachers, Ghana (CCT-GH) is also amongst those warning of the danger that school attendance implies for the final-year students.

Risk to teachers and support staff

The risk of contagion is not limited to students. “Teachers and other supporting staff who are preparing pupils for the examinations” are also at risk, according to Thomas T. Musah, General Secretary of the GNAT. “Roughly, more than 1,000,000 students, teachers and non-teaching staff will be meeting on a daily basis during the examinations, and that is the basis for our suggestion to the President to consider including the candidates in the shutdown.”

Change exam timetables

Speaking on behalf of the four concerned unions, Musah said that schools should not be “turned into incubation centres for the COVID-19”. The unions have asked the government to suggest a possible change in the examinations timetable for the West African Education Council member states (Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Gambia).

Assignments to students

He said that teachers had made homework, exercises, textbooks, and project work available to students. In addition, some teachers had created platforms with parents to give assignments to students to prepare them adequately for the examinations.

Musah commended President Akufo-Addo for the measures taken so far to curb the spread of the virus in the country, citing the $100-million financial commitment by the government as a laudable initiative.