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Schools Struggle to Reopen in Africa Because of Coronavirus

    2020-11-26

    Many poor parents in African countries say their children will have to miss the beginning of school this year. Classes are returning after months of delay because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

    Mike Ssekaggo is headmaster of Wampeewo Ntakke Secondary School near Uganda’s capital, Kampala. He has answered concerns from parents struggling to have their children in schools for the first time since March.

    Many are worried over financial struggles caused by the coronavirus health crisis. They also are concerned about how to protect students in often crowded classrooms.

    Schoolchildren have their temperature taken as they arrive at the Olympic Primary School in Kibera, one of the capital Nairobi's poorest areas in Kenya, Oct. 12, 2020.
    Schoolchildren have their temperature taken as they arrive at the Olympic Primary School in Kibera, one of the capital Nairobi's poorest areas in Kenya, Oct. 12, 2020.

    Ssekaggo told the Associated Press that only half of his 430 students had reported to class the day after he began admitting students for the new school term.

    School officials worry some children might not return because their parents have not been working, he said.

    In Uganda, officials have set requirements that schools must meet before they can admit students. Most of them could remain at home until as late as next year. Schools must have enough hand-washing areas and enough space in classrooms and living areas for social distancing.

    While the health crisis has affected education around the world, the crisis is more severe in Africa. Up to 80 percent of students do not have access to the internet and distance learning is out of reach for many.

    Too many children already out of school

    Countries south of the Sahara Desert already have the highest rates of children out of school anywhere in the world. Nearly 20 percent of children between ages six and 11 and more than 30 percent between ages 12 and 14 are not in school. That information comes from the United Nations culture and education agency.

    The decision to reopen schools remains a problem, especially as the level of testing remains low.

    Dr. Rashid Aman is Kenya’s chief administrative secretary of health. He said, “One of the things that we have been discussing is how do we monitor the situation in schools where we have large numbers of students.”

    He added, “I think definitely we will require to be doing some level of testing in those populations to see whether there is transmission of asymptomatic cases.”

    As in Uganda, Kenya is implementing a phased reopening of schools. Students taking tests to move to upper grade school, high school and college reported in October. The rest will return in January, but there is widespread concern that schools were reopened too early as some have reported outbreaks.

    Similar problems are reported in Zimbabwe. More than 100,000 public school teachers have been on strike since schools reopened. The teachers are demanding better pay. They also want protective equipment.

    Raymond Majongwe is secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe. He warned parents against sending their children to school while teachers are on strike. He said, “Results of the disaster happening with unmonitored school children will be with us for a long time.”

    Officials in Uganda and Kenya are not testing students for the virus before they come to school. John Nkengasong is head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He told reporters that while his group is not monitoring schools, “we naturally expect there will be infections.”

    I’m Jonathan Evans.

    Rodney Muhumuza and Tom Odula reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    access –n. a way of being able to get or use something

    monitor –v. to watch or observe over a period of time in an effort to find something out

    transmission –n. the process of something passing from person to person such as an infectious disease

    asymptomatic –adj. having or showing no signs of disease while being infected

    outbreak –n. the fast appearance and spread of a disease or of conflict