As the world leaders grapple with effects of Covid-19, 2020 will be remembered as the year when the country made a bold move to tackle the major problems that risked reversing gains made by the education sector.
The government embarked on the massive classroom expansion, and as we speak, a joint project with the World Bank could be inching closer to delivering a big section of the targeted 22,505 new classrooms for primary, secondary and nursery levels countrywide.
This has been hailed as a major milestone for a government that had been adding only 2,000 classrooms a year for the past nine years despite grappling with one of the highest pupil-to-classroom ratios averaged at 82, and 100 in extreme cases.
So far it’s been a reprieve for educationists in several locations where a section of these facilities were completed, equipped and now in use. But let that make us shift attention towards addressing lingering issues over slow progress or lack of it in several other areas.
Already affected schools have started crying months into grappling with overcrowding pending completion of additional facilities that have either stalled or abandoned by contractors in some instances.
This is the case for several schools across the districts, and based on information we gather from the ground, logistical challenges around supply and high cost of construction materials currently supplied from the central level and largely imported is to blame.
Basically, what started as building at a slow pace towards the end of last year has resulted in stalling of activities over the past weeks, leaving schools in a dilemma when it comes to accommodating everyone with pre covid-19 facilities, and complying with the new normal requiring social distancing.
Local government ministry recently classified school construction projects among activities that should not be hampered by the lockdown and pandemic restrictions in place, but how many are actually ongoing? Are those attending to the problem doing it at the pace needed given the proportion of the burden on schools? Are there arrangements in place to help schools cope with overcrowding in the meantime?
The tone of officials appears to be non-committal on how fast it could take to expedite construction works given the back and forth budgetary requests and approvals that tend to take long months into the new fiscal year.
The sad reality though is that in light of the current social distancing rules, tutors in several affected schools have found themselves having to split by three or more the number of learners in class, and learning can only happen in multiple shifts.
In the worst case, it has proven impossible unless learners alternate days they attend school, and this is hard to manage and could hamper learning as it makes even the implementation of the school feeding program impossible.