My name is Gerard Bahizi, the Principal for Teacher Training College (TTC) GACUBA II, a government aided boarding school located in Rubavu district, Western Province. After closing all schools in March due to COVID-19 the government announced that they would open in September this year, but no one is sure yet whether schools will reopen or not. The Prime Minister of Rwanda Dr Edouard Ngirente said while updating the Parliament on COVID-19 fight last month, that Rwanda will be cautious ahead of reopening schools in September. As we wait for the exact date as well as instructions and guidelines for reopening to be communicated, we are doing our best as a school to prepare for school reopening in the future.
Addressing key issues
Our school management committee is working on a school improvement plan (SIP). Some of the key issues so far discussed include health and safety of students and teachers, emotional and psychological support of teachers and students, and budgeting for major activities to reopen our school. For instance, we talked about a number of students we should not exceed in a classroom to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On average we had 32 students in a classroom. Two students would sit at one desk but we shall reduce to only one per desk, which implies the need for more classrooms, desks and teachers. The Ministry of Education promised to build six additional classrooms and complete them as soon as possible. If schools open before these classrooms are finished, we may consider other options such as using a refectory as a classroom.
Regarding hygiene and sanitation to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Rwanda Education Board (REB) recommends at least one hand washing sink per two classes. Ideally, we would need at least five hand washing sinks with four to five taps each but we will manage to install only one at the entrance, and use locally made portable tip taps for hand washing in other locations at the school.
We also thought about testing all students for COVID-19 when schools reopen. We believe the Ministry of Health will guide us on these issues.
Affording school fees
Another challenge we expect to face is about school fees. Some parents already lost their jobs due to COVID-19. So we doubt that all parents will be able to afford to send their children back when schools open, and this is beyond our control.
Ensuring emotional well-being
We hope that REB in collaboration with relevant health institutions will train our three existing counsellors on how to deal with emotional well-being related issues as far as COVID-19 is concerned. In addition, one of our staff members who is also a counsellor is currently working with one of the COVID-19 isolation sites as a volunteer. We will ask him to advise other staff members on COVID-19 prevention and control tips.
Communicating with teachers and parents
To ensure constant and consistent dialogue and communication with teachers and parents, we plan to use a school management software. We’ve already identified one called Urubuto and have foreseen a budget to subscribe to it. This application will allow us to communicate with teachers and parents instantly, to manage students and staff permissions and monitor students’ discipline and attendance, among others.
Advising other school leaders
People think that the pandemic will end soon. I think no one knows when this pandemic will end. It may be soon but it may also take longer than expected, who knows! We need to think about measures and strategies for safety of students and teachers when schools reopen. At the same time, we also need to prepare alternative solutions if schools remain closed. Training teachers on using ICT to continue teaching and learning can help. As school leaders we need to keep in touch with school staff and parents/students through different online channels. ICT remains a reliable alterative not only for learning/teaching but for other sectors especially during a health crisis like the one we are facing today.