Guinea-Bissau: A safe return to school for more than 250,000 children

Read how the government of Guinea-Bissau, with the support of its partners, has been working to ensure a safe return to school of all personnel and learners.

November 03, 2021 by GPE Secretariat, and UNICEF Guinea-Bissau
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4 minutes read
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Students wearing masks in Guinea-Bissau. Credit: UNICEF Guinea-Bissau
Students wearing masks in Guinea-Bissau.
Credit: UNICEF Guinea-Bissau

“I want to be a nurse, because I feel it inside me, and I want to help children, sick people and adults.”

Taissa Sarr, 11 years old. She attends the elementary school 1st of May in Guinea-Bissau

Taissa and children like her in Guinea-Bissau still have many dreams, but these had to be put on hold while schools around the country were closed on several occasions to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

On March 3, 2021, all schools in Guinea-Bissau finally reopened their doors after a total of 23 weeks of closure since the start of the pandemic.

The government of Guinea-Bissau, with the support of its partners, has taken several steps for a safe return to school of all personnel and learners. GPE has been supporting these efforts since July 2020 with a $3.5 million emergency grant, overseen by UNICEF.

Aside from continuing to distribute basic hygiene and preventative supplies (bleach, soap, masks) and adding handwashing stations in schools throughout the country, the government developed a COVID protocol to guide schools on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and respond in case of infections, particularly in the areas most affected by school closures: the capital Bissau and the region of Biombo.

Posters were displayed in schools to raise the awareness of communities to stay safe against the virus.

This was accompanied by training for staff in public and community schools and civil society actors in the implementation of contingency plans.

A back-to-school campaign was launched in February to reassure populations that schools were ready and safe, and that teachers and students could resume face-to-face lessons.

Addressing the needs of at-risk children through TV and radio lessons

Sadly, the pandemic has exacerbated the dire situation of some children, especially girls, leading in some cases to increased violence.

In response, the government developed a training program on preventing gender-based violence in schools, and so far has trained 266 school officials (directors, teachers, inspectors, school management committees) on this program. It has also promoted this campaign through leaflets and posters in schools and in communities.

During school closures, the ministry of Education produced lessons broadcast on television through the project “ABC Projeto Educativo Audio Visual” to keep children engaged in learning. The lessons helped disseminate key messages on hygiene and health habits, as well as basic education essentials on literacy and numeracy.

To reduce the production costs, the ministry recently signed an agreement with the national television.

The content developed for both radio and television broadcasting was relevant to the children’s context, age appropriate and with child-friendly audio-visuals for preschoolers and children in early grades.

The lessons were broadcast every day for 30 minutes.

Radio lessons are also being used as an alternative education platform to target out-of-school children affected by crises. The lessons provide children with a learning routine during difficult times, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first series of radio lessons targeted 10 to 17-year-olds who had four to seven years of schooling, and the second series targeted out-of-school children aged 6 to 10 with no schooling.

The Series 2 content focused on pre-literacy, pre-numeracy, and socio-emotional skills. Parents and caregivers were also included through Parent Education Programs giving them key information about early childhood development and suggestions for learning activities they can do at home.

A total of 216 radio lessons from the Children Radio Foundation have been adapted to the country context and will start to be broadcast this quarter.

Both TV and radio lessons will continue to be used to complement in-school instruction and reach students not in school.

Support to families most in need

The ministry is also running a cash transfer program to support vulnerable families. It collaborates with the mobile phone carrier MTN for the transfers, which are taking place monthly over a 6-month period.

The 1,400 families targeted by these transfers—including a minimum of 800 headed by women—live in three regions with low education indicators: Oio, Gabu and Bafata. They are also the furthest from schools and their resources are very low.

So far, the families have received two transfers, each equivalent to $70 (CFA40,000 – 2/3 of the national minimum wage) to help them cope with the economic impact of the pandemic and ensure they would send their children back to school once school doors reopened.

Strengthening the education system

The pandemic has left education systems around the world reeling, having to adjust their model of instruction delivery drastically in a very short time.

In Guinea-Bissau, the ministry of Education was tested like in other countries, but the pandemic has pushed the fast development of new approaches, new programs and new skills, which will serve the country in making its education system more resilient to future crises.

Ministry officials have already coped with the worst of the pandemic-induced problems and can now react faster to put in place mitigation measures when similar issues arise.

To date, the GPE program funded by the $3.5 million grant has helped reach more than 250,000 girls and boys between 3 and 14 years old with distance learning and monitoring programs.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: Guinea-Bissau

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