By Nyima Bah
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the educational system worldwide leading to the near closure of all schools including both English and Arabic schools.
Most governments around the world including the Gambia Government temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
These nationwide closures impacted hundreds of millions of students. Several other countries have implemented localized closures impacting millions of additional learners.
The impact of COVID-19 on education worldwide has been devastating. UNESCO has reported “that over 1.5 billion students had been affected due to school closures in 165 countries as of 26 March, which is more than 87 per cent of all registered students.”
Also, over 63 million teachers and large number of education support personnel have also been affected by the pandemic. Given these unprecedented developments, COVID-19 has caused an education crisis.
The length of school closures has caused major disruptions in the education of millions of students, Unesco said. Measures need to be put in place to minimize the impact of closures on the provision of education.
Visiting An Nour Comprehensive school, a voluntary aided academy by the Kuwait charitable organization called Direct Aid, with a population of over 1500 students ranging from nursery to secondary education.
The Anglo-Arabic learning centre has encountered major setbacks during Covid-19 period. The student population decreased from 1500 to 1000 students.
Since the announcement of lockdown by the Government of the Gambia which includes the closure of schools and other public places, An Nour like any other learning institute was not an exception.
The closure has affected the learning system of the school, causing significant dropout, who venture into businesses or other vocational skills.
Fama Ceesay, who is the acting principal of An Nour primary school, disclosed that the school has encountered decrease in the number of students in the 2020-2021 academic year enrolment.
“Some students never returned to school since after the lock down, others especially girls got engaged in selling fish at the Tanji fish market, while some boys too get into driving and tailoring. This is a huge loss to our school and it’s a bad impact on our future leaders because those students are supposed to get deserving knowledge from the school to be able to make imapcful meaning in our communities,” Ceesay said.
Alhassan M Colley, a teacher at An Nour said when the children resumed after a year of break, it was a little bit difficult to reengage them because they were used to a certain kind of activities outside the school.
“Also, when other schools were engaged in having two shifts to help the students to catch up on their wasted time, however it didn’t proceed because many teachers were not in for it.”
Abubacarr Bah, assistant centre manager of Ahmad Bun Hanbal orphanage centre, said during the Covid-19 period they observed all the necessary protocols recommended by WHO as well as reduced the number of students in each room.
“Before we had 16 children and later reduced it to 10 children to practice physical distance in order to curb the virus. When it comes to feeding too, we usually reduce the number of pupils in a bowl to 6 children. It was 10 before.”
Abdellatif Ourahou, Director of DirectAID Gambia, saud: “During the lockdown we were not able to facilitate virtual learning for students” and as result, they were all asked to go home including those in the orphanage.
“The students were deprived of attending classes for a year, and they were just living their normal lives and it was unfortunate that there was not much that we could do to help facilitate online classes.
It caused a major setback on students’ performance and slowed down their learning as you know in the Gambia, not many of us could afford virtual learning so it was so challenging. We had to ask all of the kids to go home until when the Covid-19 cases decreased and schools started operating again and we were not able to provide them virtual learning and that was so unfortunate. Our school didn’t have the opportunity to do the virtual learning practice that was also part of the things that slow now the learning system in our school,” he said.
Babucarr Bah, a parent, said: “When the children were asked to stay home, without going to school for nearly a year it was really frustrating and concerning for me as a parent. All Arabic learning centers were closed and as a parent, what I did is try to teach them at home Arabic teachings [Dara] which was not effective compared to the school learning but at that moment, it was the only option we had.”
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights JHR, through its mobilizing media fight against COVID-19 in partnership with mai-media and Standard Newspaper.