COME Monday next week, the children in examination classes – grades seven, nine and 12 – are going back to school, albeit under the shadow of the global pandemic, COVID-19, and the new normal lifestyle.
The phased reopening of schools comes two-and-half months after schoolchildren were prematurely sent home when COVID-19 came knocking on Zambia’s doors.
Seeing the way the new coronavirus was taking a toll on public health and claiming thousands of lives across the world, all schools, colleges and universities were shut in a hurry in Zambia to protect the lives of our dear children.
I bet medical experts have done an analysis on the contagion nature of the disease in Zambia, including how it is spreading and being managed. Now they deem it fit for schools to reopen in a phased manner.
Well, I know for a fact that the idea of sending the children back to school was not initially well received by some parents who were apprehensive about the safety of young ones who have been locked up in their homes for nearly three months.
I was actually one of those parents that struggled to come to terms with the idea of letting our children go outdoors under the shadow of COVID-19. Many thoughts and questions started popping up in my mind and I did not know how I was going to let my daughter, who is in an examination class, return to school.
But I guess it is time for us parents to let the children go back to school and encourage them to go out there with a positive mind and not, for a second, entertain fear.
They need our support and assurance that they will be fine because schools have put in place measures to ensure that they stay safe while they learn and interact with fellow learners and teachers.
As guardians of our little ones, we need to orient them to the new normal lifestyle of masking their faces, maintaining social distance from other people, regular washing of hands with soap and sanitising with an alcohol-based hand rub when they are in no position to wash their hands.
I would like to believe that from the time President Edgar Lungu announced that schools would reopen on June 1, parents and guardians have done their part in sensitising children on how to behave in public places in this COVID-19 era.
The children also need to know such things as how they can contract COVID-19 or protect themselves from infection, and symptoms of the disease, just in case they happen to catch it.
Mind you, there are some children that are going to boarding schools who we ought to adequately sensitise on the nature of the disease, so that if need arises, they could alert their boarding masters without delay.
However, caution must be taken not to instill fear in the young ones as we sensitise and prepare them to go back to school.
Mind you, these kids have been watching news and seeing nerve-racking videos of COVID-19 victims on social media, so it is our responsibility to share positive stories amidst the pandemic.
For example, we can tell them about the high recovery rate of COVID-19, without neither underrating its serious threat on public health nor negating preventive measures. The World Health Organisation (WHO) actually says most people who get infected with COVID-19 experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.
In fact, it says about 80 percent of COVID-19 patients can recover from the disease without needing hospital treatment.
Another way of lifting up the children’s spirits and making them eager to return to school is by explaining to them about the safety measures that their respective schools have put in place in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in Zambia.
I would like to believe that by now, most parents have taken interest in checking how their children’s schools are preparing for the reopening and are aware of the safety measures that are in place.
A week after President Lungu announced the reopening of schools, I personally called my daughter’s school to make some suggestions to them, and in our conversation, one of the school managers shared with me how they were preparing for the reopening.
I had actually phoned to suggest that they should not allow the children to share bunk beds when schools reopen to ensure that they maintain a safe distance from each other in the hotels.
The school assured me not to worry because they too were cautious about COVID-19 since they were not immune from infection.
The school manager said: “We too are afraid because the children are coming from different homes; they could infect us. But don’t worry, we have already planned and taken care of that. For example, we are only going to have 15 to 20 children in each hotel.”
She said since the pupils in non-examination classes won’t be returning to school just yet, returning students will be spread out in all hostels. Each hostel – and their hostels are quite big – will not take more than 20 children.
The same criteria will apply in classrooms. Learners in each class will be divided in groups and be distributed across different classrooms. For example, one classroom may be divided into three groups and these will be allocated their own classroom spaces.
Apart from that, the children will not be allowed to swap desks, not even to touch a friend’s desk until they close school.
The school will stock up on hand soaps and sanitisers, although children whose parents could afford are being encouraged to carry their own sanitisers to supplement the school stock. Pupils will also be required to carry cloth masks bearing clear name tags.
And as the children arrive on Monday, a medical team will be on hand to screen them for COVID-19. Their body temperatures will be checked right at the gate, and only those with normal temperature will be allowed in school.
These are some of the safety measures my daughter’s boarding school has put in place.
The conversation with the school manager somehow lifted my spirit and I made a conscious decision not to let this issue stress me anymore. In any case, worrying cannot change the current situation, but rather following prescribed health guidelines could perhaps help us.
When I apprised my girl on what her school had told me, she seemed enthused about going back to school.
Now we are just making final preparations for her return after an unusually long holiday, praying and believing that everything will be fine.
This, I bet, should be the spirit of every other parent with a child in an examination class. Worrying and vocalising our fears in front of the children may just give them a fright and affect their performance in class.
The best we can do is to sensitise them about COVID-19; how it spreads, its symptoms and preventive measures. That is the only way we could go about our lives as scientists around the world conduct research for a coronavirus vaccine, a process we are told could take 18 months.