By Ousainou J. Sawaneh
Coronavirus commonly known as Covid-19 isn’t just a public health story, it’s also an education story which impacted negatively on Islamic education in the Gambia and affected the education of many students.
The Gambia government’s measures to contain the spread of the pandemic includes, close of public and private schools, Madrassahs, Daras, Majalis, and banning of public gatherings.
The closure of schools in March, has approximately affected all students in all levels in the country and also affected the learning of some students and some were out of school, especially those Islamic education sector like (DARAs and Qur’an Memorization Center) who are very vulnerable in terms of support.
The Daily News Reporter has been working on a special news article on the impact of covid-19 on Islamic education sector focusing on DARAs and Qur’anic Memorization Center in the West Coast Region and Kanifing Municipal Council.
According to Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education in a news article published on the Daily News on 23rd March, 2020 revealed that 674, 300 children under the purview of MoBSE from ECD to Senior Secondary school are affected with closure of schools due to covid-19.
Yahya Muhammad Jallow, Head Teacher at the Ebrahima Sallah Qur’anic Memorization Center, Bwiam Said the impact of covid-19 has affected the institution like any other institution in the country.
He said the closure of schools for 7 to 8 months has break the change on the leaning of the students particularly the period they should stay at the center because 8 months has gone without doing anything.
‘‘It has make the work very difficult because when the schools reopened we started back to scratch particularly on the side of the young students’’ he said
Jallow stressed that high dropout rate of the students has also hit the center and the enrollment of the students in center has drops as a result of the pandemic
‘‘The worst part for us was that we lost close to 40 students. Some of them had to leave because they realize that they are not on the right track to continue, their moral, mindset has changed and their lifestyle has also proven that they cannot stay and they had to leave. Could you imagine a student who is memorizing the Qur’an puts styles on their head after 7 months, really this is another issue that impacted on our center due covid-19” he said
Jallow further said the leaning system has really changed and the system is really different from the schools adding ‘‘Some students have completely forgotten their books and they have never gone through it’’ he said
With the financial pressures of the pandemic, a large number of teachers and school staff, were all at risk. Teachers in Dara’s were negatively impacted, with most receiving little or no income and some have difficulties to pay their staff since Dara’s closed.
‘‘We have our staffs and we should pay them. I have been taking loan from my credit union more than ever to pay the staff during the closure of schools’’ Jallow said
Oustaz Jallow argue that the government have been paying teachers at the schools and leave the oustases to struggle and it is proper for the government to cater for everyone when the schools were closed’’.
He reiterated that, during the closure of schools only four out of more than 200 family have been paying for their children, ‘‘I have over 28 students who are not paying schools and I cannot send them home for not because all of them deserve education’’.
‘‘I received insult from some parents saying I want to cheat on them. How can they pay if their children were not going to school? Really it was not easy for me”.
Jallow said this time was very challenging for him as a family man and describing it as a frustrating moment “very difficult for me the first time in my life getting up in the morning and going nowhere doing nothing, that was a very frustrating moment, economically and financially it was very challenging” he said
He explained that the institution has not received any sanitary materials and face mask from the government or the ministry, adding that they provide it for ourselves. ‘‘If the government provide face mask and sanitary materials to the conventional schools then they should provide it for students at the Dara’s and Quranic Memorization Centers as well” he said
‘‘The government had not just sightline us but it is discrimination on our side because every child in the country deserves education, being in a Data or Quranic Memorization Centers most not disadvantage them’’.
Jallow argue that it is discrimination that the Gambia government sightlines the Islamic schools and focusing only on English schools during the peak of the pandemic and no one cares about Dara’s and Quranic Memorization Centers this is unacceptable.
Alhagie Trawally Head of Tramagan Islamic School at Bwiam in the Foni Kansala District has also stated that covid-19 shouldn’t be the reason for the school to be closed or stop learning and the closure of the schools and Madarasas, he said has not affected only the students but the Oustases themselves economically and financially.
‘‘If all our work and students education is interrupted by covid-19 without any solution to the problem then there is no need for us living in this world”.
Financially, Trawally said it has affected us and if the students are not going to Dara then it will be difficult for their parents to pay their Dara fees and that’s where the some oustazes get their earnings to feed their families “We cannot force the parents to pay their children Dara fees” he said
When asked whether his Institutions received support from the government in terms sanitary materials. He said they have not received any support from government since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
MoBSE design measures to mitigate the spread of the virus and keep students, teachers and parents safe and the alternative learning opportunities provided include: – The use of TV and radio as medium to dispense learning to help the students.
Trawally stressed that the government focus on the English schools because they feel those are more important than us, adding that the government neglected us and give support to only the Conventional schools. This is a total discrimination to us. Government provide online training for the conventional schools but never considered the Islamic Schools.
‘‘We have been forwarding complains to the government to help us as they are offering support to the conventional schools but they never come to our aid’’. He said
The negative impact of covid-19 has not just disrupt the education of the students but has also force some children to leave Dara’s and other learning institutions due to the payments of their fees and others. Some parents are burdened by costs associated with trying to continue educating their children during school closures. This is what some parent and students had to said
A mother of two students, said they have been badly hit by economic ramifications of Covid19 and are unable to afford school fee “It does not make me happy that my children are no longer going to school. Years don’t wait for them. They have already lost a lot due to finance and other support’’ she said
Fatou Njie a 16 years old student at the Tramagan Islamic School at Bwiam said that covid-19 has negatively impacted on their education. She said in June she had no education after Dara’s closed, and was concerned that this might affected her in the future.
She said after the school closed they were not benefitting from the online classes introduced by the ministry and ‘‘this is not fair on our side’’
Sira Jarju a 13-year-old girl from Abuko Dara, “I do not think I have the discipline to sit down and have no one teach me at home after the Daras were closed and this has affected me a lot and has forced me leave Dara’’ she said