Covid-19 has affected major social and economic activities. The pandemic has not only become a medical health crisis, but a social health issue as well. As part of the large family of learning institutions, TVET centers were all closed since March 2020 when the President declared a State of Public Emergency in The Gambia.
The closure of schools has affected TVET centers where learning has been put on halt, disrupting both theoretical and practical training sessions. To contain the spreading of Covid-19, the EU-funded Tekki Fii Project managed by GIZ has adopted a two-pronged approach: on the one hand, sensitizing the TVET community on the safety guidelines and standards to contain the virus; on the other, advising and assisting TVET Centers to put in place alternative training methodologies based on distance learning.
Victoria Goddard Tamba from Vicky’s Skills Training Center offers Certificate and Diploma level in Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy for EU-sponsored students: “This outbreak has affected their classes which will have an impact on the duration of their course. Despite the lockdown, the Center has been having classes online using WhatsApp, Skype, ZOOM, and Google Classroom with them on selected modules,” she explains. Kebba Sillah, the CEO of Sterling Consortium also explains that they use online methods to compensate for the contact hours: “This is a challenging time for everyone and it is time to re-organize, plan and connect with other trainers and read more materials ahead of the reopening,” he posed.
Online classes have become the most effective way of making up for workshops and classroom training with students during this uncertain period. However, it does not work effectively in some TVET centers like GTMI. The Director of the school, Malick Bah, laments his frustration of students not going to school, which he says, will protract their graduation period as most of their courses cannot be carried out online: “The general staff body has been affected as their learning has been disrupted. For the EU-GIZ Project, one of their classes was about to end in April but due to this lockdown, the class can’t graduate still because their final project and final assessments couldn’t hold,” Mr. Bah explains. GTMI offers EU-sponsored students with Satellite Installation and Solar Installation courses. Both courses require that students be present physically for hands-on training.
There is no doubt that physical distancing is one way to prevent spreading the virus, something that might be impossible in a classroom setting. Therefore, the closure of schools is one of the strategies adopted to combat the spread of Covid-19, but students are also in a dilemma. “This lockdown has affected my training because I’m not going on with my attachment at the moment since clients are observing the precautionary measures for Covid-19 which includes social distancing,” laments Joseph Jane an EU-sponsored student in Satellite Installation at Chamen Technical Skills Centre. Joseph is no longer getting side gigs as usual, and so he uses his time effectively by sensitizing his community about the precautionary measures which include washing hands, using face masks, and observing physical distancing.
Sulayman Bah, one of the beneficiaries in construction is having a hard time developing his new investment. He is on the verge of establishing a civil engineering and designing firm, but everything is on hold due to the lockdown; “Oh! I’m very affected likewise my family and community just like everyone else in the whole world. We can only hope that this dies out soon so that I can finish what I started and secure more contracts,” Sulayman states. What hurts him, even more, is that he needs to endure a situation he believes does not at all exist.
On the contrary, sensitization is still very key in getting part of the society to believe in current realities. Fatoumatta Trawally is using her time to adhere to the WHO preventive measures and urges young people to observe social distancing. She is one of the students in Solar and Electrical Installation at GTMI who was supposed to complete her course in month April, but that seems to be impossible at this moment: “My training is very much affected because we were at the end of the training and almost preparing for exams so that we can finish and go on an internship, but due to the lockdown our school has been closed,” she explains.
The lockdown comes at a crucial period when some of the EU-funded Tekki Fi students are wrapping up with their Enter Labour Market trainings, NAQAA assessments, and Industrial Attachments. Against this backdrop, GIZ together with its 10 Implementing Partners from the TVET sector, are working on a proposal to reopen practical workshops in the training facilities to allow a limited and controlled number of trainees to come for production or practical exercises. This would enable them to hence apply their newly learned skills under supervision and in full compliance of the safety norms and regulations.
A consensus has been already found with the Regional Authorities in GIZ’s intervention areas; now, the challenge remains to find consensus amongst the Stakeholders at national level. The Project and its TVET partners argue that enabling young people to engage in meaningful activities and use this time of crisis to improve their technical skills, whilst respecting physical distancing and all other necessary health precautions represents the best possible transitional strategy as the pandemic starts to fade. This strategy would allow them to gradually find their way back to their training courses, with greater wisdom and a new motivation to shape their future and contribute to the development of their society.