In its comprehensiveness, a beautifully-crafted but ultimately poorly implemented education plan developed by the European Union for public schools perceptibly anticipated a situation when schools would have to deal with public health emergencies.Those who developed the Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP), which was to be implemented between 2015 and 2020, worked closely with the Ministry of Health and Wellness. In sum, the Plan seeks to “provide an overall policy and strategic sector framework for the education sector that will play a pivotal role in the development of a modern, sustainable, knowledge-based economy that supports inclusiveness and diversity.” It notes that “occupational health and safety programmes are not visible nor is there evidence that any form of audit or safety exercises take place in the central Ministry, regional offices or in most schools.”
To close that gap, the Plan recommends institutionalising structures for promoting good health and safety practices. In terms of one of the Plan’s strategic priorities, health and safety standards for all education institutions are to be implemented. The outcomes listed are as follows: health and safety strategy developed; percentage of education institutions successfully implementing the defined health and safety standards; and percentage of education institutions with implementation plans for all health and safety standards.
Some of its milestones include a health and safety policy; mainstreaming child-friendly school practices into the routines of the school – in relation to health, security, hygiene, safety, protection and others; comprehensive occupational health and safety practices in place in Technical and Vocational Education and Training institutions; as well as developing and implementing comprehensive occupational health and safety procedures for operating workshops and laboratories. One of the outcomes under the Plan’s occupational health and safety policy framework is managing health safety risks. Noting the narrow focus of the Botswana National AIDS Partnership, the Plan stresses that there is need to “institutionalize a more holistic strategy for health awareness at institutional level with partnership with the district health management teams, the community health support group, as well as HRDC HIV/AIDS programmes for tertiary institutions.”Having long been spared the scourge of the coronavirus pandemic, Southern Africa reported its first confirmed case last Thursday. A South African man who had travelled to Italy with his wife and passed through Dubai has been infected with the disease.
That could mean that it is just a matter of time before the disease reaches Botswana – and its schools. The health and safety policy that the ETSSP recommended would have resulted in the mainstreaming of child-friendly school practices like good hygiene practices into the routines of the school. That has not happened because in keeping with a long-standing tradition in the Government Enclave, the ETSSP was never successfully implemented but merely used as hollow praise poetry. Officially, it has entered its final year of implementation.In some parts of the world – like Italy and Japan, schools have been closed to help contain the spread of the airborne disease. It is unclear how Botswana schools will respond to the coronavirus situation but the ETSSP-recommended health and safety policy would certainly have provided adequate guidance.