A statement by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore has implored schools to consider closure as a last resort. Yet Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) together with Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) have called for an urgent closure of all educational institutions in the country.
In the statement dated 12th of January, Fore said: “As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as cases continue to soar around the world, no effort should be spared to keep schools open or prioritize them in reopening plans.” BTU and BOSETU’s joint statement released on February 8th held that amid surging cases in Botswana’s schools, the two unions call for an urgent closure of all educational institutions for at least 14 days pending the monitoring of the current surge. In her statement, Fore said: “Despite overwhelming evidence of the impact of school closures on children, and despite increasing evidence that schools are not drivers of the pandemic, too many countries have opted to keep schools closed, some for nearly a year.” “The cost of closing schools – which at the peak of pandemic lockdowns affected 90 per cent of students worldwide and left more than a third of schoolchildren with no access to remote education – has been devastating,” she added. Fore cautioned that without school meals, children are left hungry and their nutrition is worsening.
“Without daily interactions with their peers and a reduction in mobility, they are losing physical fitness and showing signs of mental distress. Without the safety net that school often provides, they are more vulnerable to abuse, child marriage and child labour,” she concerningly said. “That’s why closing schools must be a measure of last resort after all other options have been considered.” Despite Fore’s justifications on why schools should remain operational during the pandemic, BTU and BOSETU nudged that the prevalence of Covid-19 positive cases in schools has risen dramatically. “The past three weeks have seen in some schools more than half the population testing positive or becoming close contacts, hence being in isolation or quarantines,” the statement read. This predicament, which has left the school communities inclusive of the general membership of the two unions exposed has been worsened by lapses in the Department of Public Health (DPH).
“The situation has been worsened by the fact that the DPH has continued to drop the guard and compromise the standards that they have set for themselves to control the spread of COVID-19 in institutions,” wrote the two unions.Citing negligence of duty, the further statement stated that there have been instances where teachers and students considered close contacts and have undergone testing, and are awaiting the results, have been ordered by the school managers supported by the District Health Management Teams (DHMT) to report for work while the normal standard is that they should go on quarantines. “There have also been instances when positive cases would be found in a school environment and the institution would continue to operate without any fumigation being done,” BTU and BOSETU said in the statement.
Fore also mentioned, “Nationwide school closures must be avoided whenever possible. Where there are high levels of community transmission, where health systems are under extreme pressure and where closing schools is deemed inevitable, safeguarding measures must be put in place. ”The skimpy safeguarding measures in Botswana’s schools, which BTU and BOSETU believe amounts to negligence of the highest order by education ministers, DPH and the COVID-19 Task Team have dismally exposed their members and students to the respiratory virus. While the two unions await the reconvening of a postponed meeting with the minister of Basic Education, the National COVID-19 Task Team which was supposed to be on the 8th of February, BTU and BOSETU have called upon their general members to strictly adhere to the COVID-19 preventative protocols.