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Teachers’ Risk of Exposure to Covid-19 amidst Reopening of Schools

The president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, last week, announced the reopening of schools after nine long months’ closure due to the Covid-19 outbreak early last year. By this, schools are to reopen on 15th and 18th of January 2021 for Junior High and Senior High schools respectively. Already, disinfection of schools—both private and public—is underway in preparation towards the announced reopening. The Ghana Education Service has indicated that all necessary safety protocols will be put in place to ensure that students and teachers are not unnecessarily exposed to the risk of contracting the disease. That is fair and quite commendable. Unfortunately however, it appears though that the real extent of the risk teachers stand exposed to the disease is lost on the government, the Ghana Education Service and sadly relevant teacher associations. Little wonder then that all the major teacher unions—GNAT, NAGRAT and the others—seem silent on the obvious dangers the teacher faces in all of this. Concerns that have been heard raised by these bodies have been in respect of only the students.

When the pandemic broke out last year, the president, appreciating the precarious role of frontline health workers in the perilous combat of the deadly Coronavirus, outlined a number of juicy packages as incentives for encouragement and motivation for this category of health workers. Among these packages included tax holidays, GHS150 daily allowance for contact tracers and an insurance package with an assured value of GHS350,000. Additionally, each frontline worker was to enjoy an allowance worth 50% of their basic monthly salaries. Mouthwatering! Isn’t it? Nonetheless, few, if any, would question this move by the president, given the obvious dangers posed by a virus under whose scourge the whole world was reeling. Hence, frontline health workers were absolutely deserving of such incentives.

The truth of the matter however is that, the teacher, given the very nature of his duties requiring him to deal  and interact with numerous students, marking their exercise books and exam scripts and generally taking care of them, is especially  literally sacrificing his life at the altar of Covid-19. He may not necessarily be at the same level of risk as a frontline health worker though, yet the teacher’s situation deserves much more than a mere passing glance or a perfunctory polished lip service. The saddest aspect is the fact that nobody seems to realize and appreciate this situation teachers find themselves in.

Last year, when the president, after the initial lockdown, announced the reopening of school for Form 3 JHS students and Form 2 SHS students, various stakeholders such as parents, civil society organizations and teacher unions raised alarming concerns. Regrettably, all the hue and cry were mainly motivated by fears for only the students whose lives they believed were being put at risk. Everybody, as always, forgot or cared less about the teacher’s situation in all of this. It is almost as if the teacher does not really matter. After the teachers risked their lives to see off the JHS3 students to write their BECE and the SHS2 Green and Gold tracks to complete their  last semester,  Teachers are yet to hear of anything even as modest  as a token appreciation or incentive for their sacrifices. This is because people do not really appreciate the teacher in the first place.

Again the understanding of the public regarding the risks and dangers Covid-19 poses to the teacher is minimal or non-existent at the very least. Moreover, the mother associations like GNAT and NAGRAT appear indifferent to the plight of teachers whose cause they are supposed to champion.

Global news reports show an alarming statistics of Covid-19 related deaths involving teachers or educational workers. According to an 18th December, 2020 report by Xinhua, Mrs Angie Motshega, South Africa’s Minister of Basic Education said nearly 1,500 teachers died of Covid-19 last year. Similarly, a release by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) of the United Kingdom showed that 65 teachers died of Covid-19 across England and Wales alone. Several such reports from all parts of the world can be cited to lend credence to the fact that teachers are extremely susceptible to the dangers of contracting the disease and possibly suffering the ultimate consequence.

The teacher’s welfare and wellbeing should be of ultimate concern to the key stakeholders in education such as the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service. The president may also want to give a little bit more attention to the teacher in the light of the foregoing sentiments raised in this write up. Indeed, if any premium is to be placed on the universally acknowledged fact that the most important link in the whole educational endeavor is the teacher, then some useful time and energy will be required of the powers that be to take a second look at how the teacher is treated generally.


Source: Frederick Afful Badu

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