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School re-opening during COVID-19-the health, educational and logistical dilemma!

Government’s announcement that it intends to open schools on 2nd June and 16th June for completing classes and all other classes respectively, has caused a debate as to whether it is safe in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trade unions, especially Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union(BOSETU) and Botswana Teachers Union(BTU) argue that the shortage of classrooms, laboratories, toilets, washing basins, etc will make the observance of social distancing and hygiene impossible, risking an uncontrollable spread of COVID-19.

Government, on the other hand, argues that the aforesaid constraints notwithstanding, opening schools is important lest our children lag behind to an extent which will be difficult of remediation in future.

Additionally, government argues that schools have been assigned funds to address the infrastructural concerns raised by the trade unions. The latter argues that such is just not enough.

You would recall that trade unions have, for years now, been urging government to build more classrooms and laboratories, as well as employing more teachers to reduce the teacher-student ratio, which is remarkably high.

Trade unions have also, for years now, urged government to eradicate pit latrines in schools not only for hygiene purposes, but also to avoid students, especially at primary school level, falling into pit latrines.

There is, no doubt, a serious backlog which has accumulated over the years, and such backlog cannot have been addressed in the two months that schools were closed during the lockdown. In my view, the backlog will take at least twenty years to eradicate.

Be that as it may, schools must open at one point or another. The question is: when would it be appropriate for schools to re-open, and in what manner? It is this question that this article seeks to answer.

A survey of what other countries have done may be helpful. According to France24, France’s Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, reported that France has recorded 70 new cases of COVID-19 in schools that were allowed to reopen last week.

The classes had been capped at 10 students for preschools and 15 students for other age groups. Blanquer described the number as a very small proportion of the 1.4 million schoolchildren who had gone back.

In the United Kingdom, there are plans to re-open schools from 1st June though trade unions are opposed to the decision. Some local Councils have threatened to defy the national government and not re-open as planned, arguing that opening so early poses a risk of a second COVID-19 spike.

In South Africa, government also intends to re-open schools in June, but trade unions, especially the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), have threatened to advice teachers not to go back to work until it is safe to do so.

South Africa’s Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, has defended government’s decision to re-open, arguing that it would be unfair for those who do not want to re-open to disadvantage those who want to re-open.

She has advised parents who are not ready to have their children go back to school to make arrangements for home schooling and advise the schools accordingly.

From the above, it is clear that the trend is to have schools re-open in June. The Botswana government is, therefore, not alone in that regard. But this is not a case of the majority, is it? It is a question of life and death where rationale, not numbers, must prevail.

The question is: if we re-open in June, don’t we risk a second COVID-19 spike as it happened in France?

According to the guidelines given by the Ministry of Health & Wellness, all institutions, including schools, must practice social distancing, where people must be about two meters apart.

In my view, if we still have classes of more than forty students, some of whom share chairs, desks, textbooks and laboratory equipment, social distancing is not feasible in schools.

There is also the requirement for keeping registers, taking temperatures, and recording such. For urban schools, we start with combis in the morning, as early as 5:30 am, in the cold of winter. At that time, combis are in a rush and students struggle for combis with those going to work. Is it realistic that combi operators will keep registers; take temperatures and record such?

This routine must be done at schools, too. If you take a senior secondary school, for instance, with 2000 students, how is this possible if the school has only two thermometers, for instance? Even fifty thermometers will not be enough.

Even if the students arrive at school as early as 6:00 am, it is near impossible for them to complete all the said protocols in time to start their lessons at, say, 7:45 am?

Then there is the requirement to wash hands regularly. Will our schools have enough washing basins and soap or sanitizers for such? Even if we had enough, how many students will wash their hands, especially in the cold of winter?

Then there is the requirement to wear face masks. I suspect it will be difficult for students, especially at lower primary school to wear face masks at all, or to wear them properly.

Then there are boarding schools whose hostels are, as of necessity, congested, with bunker beds and shared showers. In some schools, about 98% of students are boarders. How is social distancing and hygiene ensured in such an environment?

Then there is mealtime where students queue for meals; seat in groups when they eat; and gather at the tap for washing their hands and utensils after meals.

Then there are primary school students, especially at lower levels, who, even if they may have been told that COVID-19 is a deadly virus, may not have the cognitive and affectionate ability to comply with the social distancing and hygiene protocols.

If strict regard is had to the aforegoing, schools would not re-open in June, even in January 2021. But that cannot be, for that will have devastating consequences in the long term. We must make do with what we have and re-open schools as soon as it is safe to do so for the sake of our children’s future.

When and how, then, should we re-open schools? I give three alternatives in order of priority. In my view, it would be safer if schools re-opened in July, not June. As you are aware, June is the coldest month of the year, during which many people contact the influenza virus and suffer bouts of flue.

If we open in June, we may face a double jeopardy of flue and COVID-19 in schools. It is common knowledge that when somebody has flue, they have a temperature rise, something which will pose a challenge considering the requirement to take temperatures for COVID-19.

As per the COVID-19 protocols, we may end up having to refer many students whose temperatures are more than 37.4 Degrees Celsius not because of COVID-19, but because of a common cold. This will, no doubt, overwhelm our system.

We also have students with such underlying illnesses as Asthma. Ordinarily, such conditions worsen in winter. Some may be triggered by allergies, and some students may be allergic to the sanitizers that will be used.

Alternatively, only completing classes (i.e. Standard 7, Form 3 and Form 5) could re-open in June, and the rest re-open in January 2021. This would free up classrooms; laboratories; hostels and dining halls, making compliance with the COVID-19 social distancing and hygiene protocols feasible.

Alternatively, only Form 5s could re-open in June and the rest, including Standard 7s and Form 3s, could re-open in January 2021. As you are aware, we have automatic progression from Standard 7 to Form 1. We also have near automatic progression from Form 3 to Form 4.

There would, therefore, be limited impact on Standard 7s and Form 3s since their examinations are, for all intents and purposes, more formative than summative.

To cater for the subject matter they would have lost, a bridging course and/or remedial lessons may be developed for January 2021. Also, the Form 1s and Form 4s could open early and have reduced school vacations to cover up for lost time.

In any event, students taking such practical subjects as Agriculture, Home Economics and Design & Technology have already lost a lot of time in preparing for their practical examinations.

You may be aware that government has hinted at the possibility of using the double shift system in terms of which a class would be split into two, with each sub-class coming to school at different times.

This system has been used before and it was stopped because of the numerous problems it presented. Besides overworking teachers, something which affected their delivery and led to poor results among students, some students were attacked and raped by criminals because they had to knock of late from school.

In the COVID-19 era, this would be problematic because students, especially in urban areas, would be put at the risk of boarding combis which have not been sanitized and without the requisite social distancing since such protocols are unlikely to be observed when it is dark, especially in winter.

So far, we have mainly talked about students. But there are also teachers and support staff who also have to social distance and comply with hygiene protocols. Not only that. These teachers and support staff, who are limited in number, must ensure that students comply with the protocols.

For instance, in the mornings, it is teachers or support staff who will have to ensure that students are registered; have their temperatures taken and recorded and wash their hands or sanitize. Do we have such capacity?

In conclusion, I wish to advise that the decision to re-open schools must be taken soberly. When teachers and trade unions suggest that the re-opening should be delayed, they should not be perceived as not wanting to go back to work.

Similarly, when government officials argue for re-opening of schools, they should not be regarded as careless, and wanting to put children’s lives at risk. Both the teachers and the government officials are parents and none of them wants to put the children’s lives in jeopardy.

The guiding principle for both should be to strike a balance between continuing the children’s education and avoiding a second COVID-19 spike, something which will result in closure of schools, again.

*Ndulamo Anthony Morima, LLM(NWU); LLB(UNISA); DSE(UB); CoP (BAC); CoP (IISA) is the proprietor of Morima Attorneys. He can be contacted at 71410352 or anmorima@gmail.com

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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