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Incentives for teachers, need for community service for mask offenders

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari
The GES and other bodies must reward teachers for their commitment
The GES and other bodies must reward teachers for their commitment

How on earth does one get small children, in kindergarten – (aged four years) – and even Class one pupils, to understand and obey the coronavirus protocols?

School authorities and teachers, particularly preschool teachers, I salute you!

I’m suggesting that the next awards for best teachers should give special recognition to those who go the extra mile to get the children to wear their masks and keep to social distancing instructions.

And I hope that the Ministry of Education, the Ghana Education Service and the National Teaching Council will find merit in my proposal to create a special category for such dedicated professionals as part of the next ‘Ghana Teacher Prize’.

When the reopening of schools was announced by President Nana Akufo-Addo on January 3, I wondered what kind of strategies schools could use to ensure the compliance of the protocols, notably with kindergarten children.

Every parent knows what an impossible task it is to get those categories of offspring to do anything without the proverbial patience of Job, and even more!

The influence teachers have over their wards cannot be under-estimated, so they have a role in this matter.

Hand washing might not present a problem, as presumably the schools already teach that.

But what about mask-wearing and the rest, which even some parents and other adults clearly find difficult to comply with?

This is why I think there should be a motivation for such exceptional pre-school teachers by way of a unique prize.

President Nana Akufo-Addo stated in his Coronavirus Update 22, on January 17:

“We have seen an upsurge in the number of active cases, from a little over 900 to 1,924 …

“Therefore,” he warned, “I have instructed the Inspector General of Police to direct officers, men and women of the Police Service to ensure the rigorous enforcement of the law on mask wearing at all public places and in public transport.”

Not surprisingly, it was reported that the police arrested 97 people, in Accra for not wearing masks.

If they are being processed for court, the mask-wearing compliance law (EI 164) states “it is now a criminal offence not to wear a mask in public. Persons who are found guilty … will be fined a minimum of GH¢1, 200 or a maximum of GH¢6, 000 or will be sentenced to between four and 10 years in prison” (Daily Graphic, July 2, 2020).”

However, in my column of July 11, 2020, I suggested that the punishment should be made less stringent.

I still believe that the law should be reviewed to include some kind of community service, at least for first offenders, and the stiffer penalty be reserved for the recalcitrant ones.

From accounts, Ghana’s prisons are already too full to have mask-offenders, too, added to the ‘sardine-packed’ cells.

By community service, I have in mind tasks such as cleaning of gutters, sweeping of transport terminals and weeding of overgrown public spaces.

On Wednesday this week, a ride through some of the principal streets of Accra confirmed that more people are wearing masks, yet there were still too many without, walking about with careless abandon! And even then many of them had converted theirs into ‘chin masks’.

What is the use of wearing a mask if it doesn’t cover the mouth and nose?

Unbelievably, according to media reports, not all the pupils and students of public schools turned up in school wearing masks.

Some parents gave the excuse that they had been told that the pupils would get free masks, so they had not bought any for their children!

Even if the Government had made that promise, why would a responsible parent not make sure their child has at least one mask before the free masks are distributed?

Equally worrying still, not all the schools had their full complement of the protective items, like Veronica buckets filled with water; soap; tissues; and hand sanitisers.

There was even a report about a Veronica bucket without water!

But why would district education and local authorities not see it as their duty to ensure that the schools under their supervision were adequately prepared for the resumption of classes?

Of course, once in school the headache of making the children keep to the protocols falls on the shoulders of their teachers.

And if even adults, presumably in their right senses, refuse to wear a mask then, in my view, any teachers who can make children, pre-schoolers, wear their mask and practice the other protocols, deserve a special thank you from the state.

Incidentally, because many of us have been following avidly the political drama in America, significantly, the first Executive Order that President Joe Biden signed after his swearing into office on January 20, was reportedly a directive requiring the wearing of masks and social distancing on federal property.

The importance of mask-wearing has been underscored in all the COVID-19 education.

There is urgent need to ensure that pupils observe the protocols. And, who knows, in turn the children may even be able to educate their defiant parents!

But what is needed, first, is commitment by their teachers to the demanding task, hence my proposal for the creation of a special category in the next awards of the Ghana Teacher Prize.

Possibly, it could be named ‘Recognition for Excellence in COVID-19 protocols compliance in preschools’.

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