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Education Ministry spends a billion Birr on face masks
Getahun Mekuria (PhD), Minister of Education

Education Ministry spends a billion Birr on face masks

The Ministry of Education spent one billion Birr for the purchase of face masks to be distributed to schools that are opening up amidst the Coronavirus pandemic across the nation, The Reporter learned.

According to Getahun Mekuria (PhD), Minister of Education, who exclusively spoke to The Reporter, the investment is huge and his Ministry is availing masks to each student across the nation.

“Following the decision to reopen schools amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, it is the responsibility of the federal government to avail masks to all schools. Sanitizers, soaps and water supply are the responsibilities of the regional governments. Hence, we are availing masks, while regional and woreda administrations are collecting their shares from the national pool,” he said.

According to Getahun, schools will be opening until November 9, 2020 and they will collect their masks until then. Grades eight and 12 started opening on Monday October 26, 2020 across the nation, except for the flood ravaged Afar region and Benshangul Gumuz’s Metekel Zone, where the security situation is fragile. Students in these grades are given one mask each and they will be given one more when the producers avail them.

“The decision to reopen schools is decentralized and it is the parents’ committees, teachers and the community that took the decision to reopen schools in their vicinities,” Getahun said.

Although he did not specify the number of students and schools that were given masks, he said that there is a task force established at federal to woreda levels of administration in order to monitor the availability of face masks. The highest-level authorities are entrusted with decision making at every level.

“The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health used to meet with all administrative bodies, up to the zonal and woreda administrations twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. Since the opening of schools started, we meet every Monday to evaluate the progress of reopening,” he said.

He said that they believe the implementation on the ground is going according to plan and each administration at a woreda level has the right to decide on the opening of, on average, 45 schools in their jurisdiction.

Getahun, however, said that the masks allocated for Tigray region have not been distributed because of the decision taken by the House of Federation (HoF) to sever ties with the Tigray regional government following a regional election conducted in defiance of the federal government’s decision to postpone it due to COVID-19.

“We have the masks for Tigray region in stock and we have notified the zonal and woreda administrations to collect their masks from us. But they said the masks should be delivered to them through the regional government, which we could not do because of the decision by the federal government not to have any ties with the regional government in Tigray,” Getahun explained.

The message to the zonal and woreda education bodies was delivered through phone calls but other regional states received letters requesting them to collect their masks either from Adama, Addis Ababa or Hawassa, where they were stored.

Nevertheless, he said that the federal government is navigating ways to deliver the face masks to zonal and woreda administrations despite these setbacks.

In addition, areas that are either affected by natural disasters like flooding or that have a deteriorating security situation will be considered separately. Hence, flooding in the Afar region and Metekel zone’s recent attacks will be considered while planning to reopen schools.

“We will make a schedule that fits their situation,” he added.

“In Afar, in Zone three, 81 schools have been totally destroyed by floods and 61 were partially damaged with the majority being primary schools. Hence, these will not be opened on schedule,” Getahun said.

In order to teach 20 to 25 students in one classroom, the Ministry has called on former teachers, who either have retired or have changed careers, to volunteer in teaching. The volunteers should go to their nearby schools to register and discuss schedules and subjects they can teach. Getahun said that they did not make documents mandatory for volunteers to bring, in order to register, because the Ministry has preferred to trust them. However, it could make the request in due course.