In light of the gaps in the information provided by the authorities on the dangers of COVID-19, Gabon’s education union SENA has launched a nationwide campaign to inform education workers and encourage them to organise.
SENA initiatives in response to the crisis in the education sector
Gabon recorded its first case of coronavirus on 12 March 2020. On 14 March, the government announced the closure of all schools and universities. Students and teachers were placed on forced leave. Five months later, the government decided to reopen schools only for students in their final year of secondary school, who were allowed to take the baccalaureate exam. It is against this background that SENA decided to launch an awareness-raising campaign on COVID-19 in schools, under the heading “A simple gesture to save a life”.
A grassroots awareness raising and recruitment campaign
Between July and October 2020, SENA sent campaign teams from the national office to the nine provinces of Gabon.
The grassroots campaign aimed to:
- take action to stop the spread of COVID-19 by providing teachers and other staff with practical tools and information to help protect themselves and others
- take stock, on the ground, of the prevention and safety measures taken by the government in educational establishments, to give substance to its call for the government to provide better protection, to ensure a safe return to school
- assess engagement in social dialogue at local level
- build the organising, collective bargaining and social dialogue capacities of local trade union representatives
- use the tour of the regions to launch an organising campaign aimed at recruiting young teachers and engaging members.
SENA printed T-shirts for the campaign, as well as several hundred flyers and posters, with messages urging people to take the basic precautions required to protect themselves from the virus.
The union not only raised awareness among teachers and support staff in the schools visited but also among parents and students. The school visits were backed up by a communication plan to spread the message on radio, in newspapers, on television and social media. The visits also provided an opportunity for the education workers to voice their concerns, be it regarding trade union matters or career development.
Campaign organisers took advantage of their trip to the regions to meet with the local authorities and to convey the demands and concerns expressed at the grassroot level, particularly on issues related to the pandemic.
Groundwork laid for the future
During their school visits, SENA campaign organisers noted the satisfaction of the teachers, students and administrative officials. SENA has been the only union to provide training and awareness raising on the dangers of COVID-19 for schools and the precautions and protective measures to be observed. The campaign enabled SENA to establish contact with the grassroots, to respond directly to the concerns of education workers and to make its presence felt on the ground.
The participation of the union’s General Secretary at every stage of the tour made teachers feel valued. A number of specific issues were resolved during the visits, such as the intimidation of young teachers by their superiors. The tour contributed to the recruitment of several hundred new members, including many young teachers.