The joy of going back to school in the time of Covid-19
After several months of closure due to the Covid restrictions, schools in Mali have reopened their doors, to the great relief of students like Aïchata.
Mopti - Aïchata has a smile on her lips as she testifies in this classroom of the Boucary Ouologuem III school in Sévaré. "It's a real joy to be back at school," she says happily.
As in many countries around the world, schools in Mali have had to close because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Schools remained closed from March to September 2020, but between September to December, children were able to return to school to take their end-of-year exams in conditions that respect the preventive measures.
On the 25th of January 2021, the 2020-2021 school year began and almost 6 million children returned to school in a safe learning environment. "Each pupil has his or her mask, is seated on a single table-bench; we also have hand-washing devices at the entrance of the classrooms," explains Andiourou Ongoiba, the headmaster of the Boucary Ouloguem III school.
With the support of UNICEF and its partners, the Danish government and the German Cooperation in particular, the Ministry of Education has provided the hygiene facilities necessary for the exams: 481 hand washing devices, 21,354 masks, 272 bottles of sanitizing gel and 4205 bottles of liquid soap for the Mopti Teaching Academy.
“The washing of hands, the mask, the respect of preventive protocols, all that reassures me.” - Aïchata
There are still many unmet needs for school materials such as table-benches. More of these are required so that each pupil can sit by herself or himself to respect the recommended social distancing.
"While school was closed, I followed the lessons on television, I studied and did exercises but it was difficult," says Aïchata. "I couldn't ask questions when I didn't understand something but above all I missed the school and my classmates."
“The washing of hands, the mask, the respect of preventive protocols, all that reassures me.”
Bassirou Togo, Aïchata's father, confirms: "My five daughters stayed at home and, even though they helped their mother and took part in household chores, it wasn't an easy situation. I would have preferred for them to be in school: It is my wish is that my daughters do better than me, that they continue their studies.”
"The results of the Diplôme d'Etudes Fondamentales (DEF) came out and I was admitted the 15 years old girl" proudly announces, fulfilling the hopes of her father, a tailor. "Before the classes were suspended she came first in her class, today she is 3rd or 4th" he explains before continuing: "in general, there was a drop in the level of the pupils performance between the closing and the reopening because it is difficult to learn alone at home."
To help students with distance learning, UNICEF and its partners distributed 2,000 solar radios with USB drives containing educational programmes to vulnerable households. Listening groups were organised through community relays and enable many children to benefit from these distance learning courses.
“In spite of these alternatives, nothing beats going back to our classrooms,” recalls Andiourou Ongoiba, the headmaster, who is particularly encouraged by the massive return to school. "The pupils are back, I haven't noticed any cases of drop outs from school. The children were eager to leave home," says Andiourou Ongoiba. This situation does not necessarily illustrate the reality of the whole country. Before the emergence of the virus, UNICEF estimated that more than two million children aged between 5 and 17 were already outside the school system.
"Some NGOs came to speak to the teachers about the protective measures to take against the covid; and then the teachers explained it to the pupils”, recalls the headmaster, pointing to a hand-washing device. Giving credence to this, Aïchata lists the preventive measures against the disease without hesitation: "we must not shake hands, we must keep our distance, sneeze into our elbow, wear a mask and wash our hands regularly".
Thanks to the support of German Cooperation (BMZ) and other partners, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Government of Mali, is implementing new and adapted approaches to ensure continuity of learning and enable children in all communities, especially the most vulnerable, to enjoy their right to education despite the prevailing pandemic.
"I am afraid of the disease but I am confident for the future," says Aïchata, looking at her studious fellow students studiously seated. "I have peace of mind thanks to all the measures taken at school. The washing of hands, the mask, the respect for preventive protocols, all that reassures me. "This experience has had such a strong impact on her that she is now considering a career as a doctor "to care for the sick people, raise awareness in the community and prevent diseases".