Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Senegal: recovering education at all levels while saving lives

published 7 May 2020 updated 9 June 2021

Members of teacher unions in Senegal want to avoid the current school and university year being left “blank” because of the COVID-19 epidemic. While they acknowledge that distance learning is helping education to continue, they insist on an organised recovery of the academic year at educational facilities with proper safety measures for teachers and students. They have put forward proposals to achieve that goal.

In this context of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, with its disastrous health, economic and social consequences, many  appropriate health measures have been taken, including the closure of public and private education facilities since 16 March, according to Amadou Diaouné, secretary general of the Syndicat unitaire et démocratique des enseignants du Sénégal(United Democratic Teachers’ Union of Senegal – SUDES) and coordinator of the Union Syndicale pour une Éducation de Qualité(Trade Union for Quality Education – USEQ) an organisation bringing Senegalese Education International members.

Distance teaching and learning – a last resort

In the absence of reliable predictions of the duration of the different phases of the viral infection, and, above all, when it will end, many public and private initiatives have been undertaken to continue teaching in Senegal. All of them involve some form of distance education.

SUDES salutes and strongly supports these initiatives. It encourages all players to pursue these current experiments and improve them to allow as many learners as possible to access them.

However, members of the teaching union point out the many insufficiencies and limits of distance education, which, they say, cannot guarantee either a desirable quality of learning or the inclusion of all learners. They particularly highlight the low level or even absence of interactivity, which is at the heart of the pedagogical process.

“In fact, because of the lack of preparation and improvisation associated with the suddenness of the pandemic, these are last-resort solutions although, of course, they are of great interest in this context,” said Diaouné.

Safeguarding the 2019-2020 school and academic year

That is why, for SUDES, face-to-face lessons must be organized within a reasonable time to validate the academic year and school examinations. The problem is to determine the right time for reopening the education facilities.

The Senegalese teachers’ union believe any reopening date must first be approved by the National Committee for the Management of Epidemics (CNGE). No political decision to start lessons again will be acceptable without this scientific approval.

“Optimal conditions to guarantee the health of students, teachers and parents must be met. This is what makes the organization of the recovery of the school year a highly complex operation,” said Diaouné.

In any case, the reopening of schools and universities on 4 May appeared quite unlikely considering the growing pandemic in the country. For SUDES, it seems essential to postpone it to limit exponential propagation with the movement of millions of pupils and students every day. They represent potential vectors who would dangerously expose their parents and grandparents, including people at high risk.

Educators must, however, be ready to start teaching again at any time during the rest of the year to validate the 2019-2020 school and academic year, which must not be lost. The recovery of education requires a broad, honest dialogue to achieve a consensus and the conscious involvement of all players in the sector.

Trade union analysis and proposals

In its document Analysis and Proposals, dated 26 April(in French), the trade union highlights various hypotheses concerning the right time for the possible recovery of the academic year as well as some lessons to be learned from this “painful test” for the future of the education system. In particular, the union believes that, in order to deal with this emergency situation and save the school year, all players in the education system need to agree on certain key ideas:

  • The complete rejection of a blank or invalid year;
  • The reopening of education and training facilities requires a notable improvement in the health situation, confirmed by the CNGE;
  • The establishment of conditions and preventive measures essential for the health and safety of pupils, students and teachers (barrier measures, physical distancing);
  • Refusal to consider winter as a “dead period” for education;
  • The unequivocal commitment of all players to begin class work at any time during the final semester of this calendar year (June-December 2020); and
  • The suspension of any kind of strike until the situation returns to normal.

In the document, the trade union proposes four scenarios based on hypothetical restart dates for the year and time lost to be made up, while respecting the quality of teaching. It has now been passed on to the ministerial authorities.

Finally, Diaouné indicated that educators renew their “acknowledgement of care staff in hospitals and other treatment centers throughout the country, who are in the front line of the battle against corona virus” and saluted “the inestimable contribution of creative artists and media in raising people’s awareness, as well as the remarkable dedication of the defense and security forces in ensuring that the administrative measures are respected in the implacable fight against COVID-19”.