BLOG:"AT LEAST STUDENTS CAN NOW FEEL SAFE IN SCHOOLS, BUT MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE,"
By: Mohamed Abdulkadir Said, Save the Children Area Representative, Puntland, Somalia
In the aftermath of Coronavirus lockdowns in Somalia, I visited one of the schools supported by the Save the Children programme in Puntland. Classes were empty, as students and teachers were kept away from their schools by the coronavirus pandemic. But that day, school children in Puntland joined the approximately 1.1[i] billion children around the world who were staying in their homes. At that time, no nobody knew how and when learning would resume.
For Somalia, the situation was even more concerning because an estimated 3 million children were already out of school before the pandemic. The pandemic reduced chances of children never returning to learning. One of those children who would faced the prospect of not returning to school was Hawo*, 13 years old girl in a village near Garowe, the administrative capital of Puntland state, in northeastern Somalia.
Hawo’s story was one of the first of many stories that helped us understand the extent to which school closure affected many children’s learning. Hawo* was so sad that she missed school. She said, ‘‘I don't know when we will continue our education and meet my friends. This worries me”[ii].
Since nothing could be done at the time to combat the virus, efforts were directed at measures to keep children safe whilst adopting innovative methods of teaching and learning. I recall that together with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and our partners on the ground, Save the Children supported to record lessons for grades Eight and 12 and grades seven, six and five. The lessons aired through the local radios and televisions. We have also procured solar radios so children in remote villages and those in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps can access and play pre-recorded lessons.
As part of schools reopening strategy, the government put in place measures to ensure that schools are safe for children to learn. However, according to surveys conducted by Save the Children, many children have yet to return to school following the disruption of learning due to coronavirus-related lockdowns. In some schools supported by our programmes, about 50%[iii] of children did not return to school. This prompted Save the Children and other stakeholders to mobilise public to send children back to school as well as launch vaccine campaign for teachers.
Mobilising the public to send children back to school
Under the Safe Back to School campaign, Save the Children carried out public mobilisation campaign to send more children to school. The campaign aimed to mobilise communities, government and civil society to send children back to learning following the disruption of learning by the coronavirus ahead of the new academic year, which started in Sept 2021. We believed we could send more children back to school with the support of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women Development and Family Affairs, communities and civil society. Together with them, we carried out media advocacy and door-to-door campaigns. We also been put in place preventive measures in schools, including providing face masks for teachers, Community Education Committees (CECs) and students, handwashing facilities, sensitizers, and raising awareness to teachers and students on how they can prevent themselves from covid-19.
Vaccines will make children safe at school.
In addition to the back to school campaign, we liaised with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Puntland to carry out a coronavirus vaccine campaign targeting 7,380 teachers and Community Education Committees in 369 schools in 18 districts. Schools targeted included IDPs, host communities, schools in remote/hard to reach areas. Over 31 health teams comprised of four nurses have travelled to help drive vaccines campaign in the targeted schools.
Developing vaccination for covid-19 was a significant milestone globally to combat this pandemic, but the biggest challenge now is ensuring that vaccines are equitable. For example, in Puntland, more than 500 schools did not benefit from our vaccine campaign— many parents and children might not feel safe going back to these schools due to fear they may catch the virus and spread it within their families. The government has shown its desire to reach more teachers through the Safe Back to School campaign, and we believe teachers in these schools should have access and that the government and donors invest more to ensure that schools are safe for children like Hawo* to return and fulfill their dream to be a teacher.