Sierra Leone opened schools for pupils in examination classes in primary, junior and senior secondary schools on July 1, 2020, after about three months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an announcement by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), the government promised to make available materials for the safety of the pupils and their teachers in schools.
On resuming, however, both the pupils and their teachers were disappointed that the government did not make good its promise.
According to the Communications Unit at the MBSSE in collaboration with the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) plans have been made to ensure the safety and security of pupils in school with regards to providing COVID-19 prevention materials.
Unfortunately for the children, returning to school was like a nightmare, said Adama Conteh, a pupil of one of Freetown’s junior secondary schools.
She told HumAngle that expectations were high, but “ the sight of classrooms and rest rooms was unbearable,.
“No running water to wash our hands or flush the toilets after use, and the MBSSE had promised that school children will be provided with masks which was absent making compliance of preventive protocols non-applicable among us.”
She also frowned at the non-sale of food in school environments, a notice that was placed and enforced by the government.
Adama said she woke up very early to get to school on time and her mum, a single parent, also left the house very early in order to catch public transport to be at her place of work on time, which made it difficult for her to take her lunch from home to school as prescribed by the government.
At a primary school in the eastern part of the city, a head teacher, Patricia Lungay, and some parents expressed concern and disappointment that the turnout in her school was laudable but the government failed to provide what it promised.
Lungaya said officials did not keep to the promise of making available the necessary hand washing stations with soap as well as sanitisers and fumigation materials to improve on hygiene of classrooms and the school environment.
She said that to observe social distancing in classrooms, government did not specify the number of pupils to be in classrooms, but for safety purpose, “Instead of the usual 40 pupils per class I placed 20 pupils in a classroom since the other classes are still at home.”
Also primary school pupils were told not to take their own lunch to school, as they will be provided with dry rations which parents will prepare for their daily lunch during school hours from 8:45am- 2:00pm.
The Public Relations Officer at TSC, Jamie Sankoh, told HumAngle that the commission was surprised over the many concerns from school authorities across Freetown.
However, she said all genuine concerns had been noted by TSC and in the coming week, officials of TSC across the country would embark on schools monitoring and supervision and report back to MBSSE for urgent action for safety in schools.
Ibrahim Sheriff, the Communications Specialist at MBSSE, apologised to school authorities and pupils for the late delivery of COVID-19 prevention materials to schools.
He said that proper planning for the distribution did not meet its deadline as a result some schools received on time and others were delayed, especially those in rural communities.
He gave assurance that everything was being done to ensure materials, including thermometers for temperature checks and health staff in case of an emergency.