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Rwanda’s Phased School Reopening Plans Are Underway

The Republic of Rwanda is set to use the next few months as ample time to plan a gradual nationwide reopening of schools, while it subdues the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.

The Cabinet has approved the reopening that will deal with higher institutions first, and others will get a pass on other chosen dates, depending on the success of the efforts to tame the spread of the virus.

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The National University of Rwanda will embark on academic activities in mid-October, according to Minister of Education, Dr. Valentine Uwamariya.

Many other universities including The University of Global Health Equity, African Leadership University, AIMS, Carnegie Melon University, and Oklahoma Christian University have been permitted to resume activity immediately.

“Plans to reopen schools have been ongoing. They include building more classrooms to enable social distancing and improving hygiene,” Dr. Uwamariya said at a press conference on Friday.

The Ministry of Education also announced that universities and tertiary institutions that are cleared for reopening will do so mid-October, with students in their final academic year.

Secondary Schools Reopening

Secondary schools that are subject to the national program will resume physical classes in November while those that are under international programs will do so in October.

“All learning institutions are required to have two isolation rooms where students and staff suspected of having Covid-19 can be isolated in order to curb the spread of the virus,” Dr. Uwamariya said.

Meanwhile, academies are to be counted out of the phased opening until their levels of preparedness satisfy the authorities about the safety of the children.

This relies on a set of safety protocols including social distancing, adequate sanitation facilities, and temperature screening, that are assessed jointly by health and education ministry teams.

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The school calendar is expected, anytime with adjustments to reflect the new normal

“We are embarking on learning under unusual circumstances as it will be in shifts to ensure social distancing. We are working on the calendar which shall be different based on levels of study and courses,” Minister Valentine Uwamariya said.

Huge Cost Burden to Schools

Adherence to social distancing and other COVID-19 safety protocols has brought a huge cost burden upon schools, as the majority need to expand or put up new infrastructure facilities to comply with directives around spacing and regular hand-washing.

Enabling regular temperature checks and disinfection of buildings, as well as bringing on board trained staff to enforce safety rules all require resources from schools.

While the resumption of activity in schools without ready budgets hangs in suspense, public and government-aided schools are counting on the huge classroom expansion project by the World Bank.

It is expected to deliver a total of 22,505 new classrooms for primary, secondary, and nursery levels.

According to the Education Ministry, the new facilities could be a solution to the spacing issue in addition to handling the expected spike in enrollment rates as the prolonged closure of learning institutions hampered class progression to create room in elementary levels nationwide.

The government also plans to allocate $9.7 million for select activities in line with the sector’s Covid-19 response plan.

These include learning continuity, tracking student progress, and ensuring the health and safety of students and teachers on return to schools.

A fraction of the funds will also serve to protect vulnerable groups of students like girls, children with disabilities, and those from low-income households from compounded negative impacts of the pandemic.

Private schools Haven’t Healed Yet from the Covid-19 Pandemic

Private academies, unlike public learning institutions that expect State funding, haven’t even healed yet from the effects of the pandemic-induced closure, as most had tuition fees as their main source of funding.

Still, some face a risk of remaining shut in case they fail to comply with the safety protocols.

“We have no option. We must comply if we have to remain in business. I don’t know about others but we did the best we could,” said Dr Fabien Hagenimana, Vice-Chancellor of INES-Ruhengeri, a private higher learning institution based in Musanze town.

“A team from the ministries of education and health has been visiting institutions and producing reports which were sent back with areas it felt needed improvement, but it did not indicate whether or not we qualify to reopen.  For now, we can’t tell if there is going to be prior clearance when the reopening date is announced,” he said.

According to Pie Sebakiga, who heads a Kigali-based private TVET college, the effects of the prolonged school closure shall surely affect operations for a long time especially in instances where owners are not ready to inject more investments.

The closure saw many suspend staff contracts, slash salaries, or effect layoffs.

Some institutions failed to take their operations online following the discovery by the education regulator that the process was hindered by a lack of ICT tools and internet connectivity for the majority of students and some staff.

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The Education ministry has since ruled out online teaching as an alternative for learning institutions to charge students, while it has been offering free learning opportunities for students at home through the national television and radio channels as well as online platforms.

According to Educationists, remedial classes would help learners from vulnerable families to catch up with the others and that in some instances, institutions will have to entirely repeat all courses taught online during the Covid-19 lockdown.

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