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Back to school: Teachers, learners prefer face shields to masks

A learner putting on a face shield.

Kampala, Uganda |  THE INDEPENDENT |   As schools reopened after a seven month’s break due to COVID-19, teachers and  students have said they prefer using the face shields than the masks.

On the first two days of school under the new normal, Simon Baker Ayella, a teacher at St. Martins Primary School Mulago, struggled to communicate to learners and many kept on asking “I beg your pardon sir.” Ayella ended shouting to ensure that he must be heard.

With six streams to teach, it was a very bad experience. As one of the ways of getting a solution, the school has provided face shields to all teachers. 

“Am comfortable now,” Ayella said with a smile on his face. He shares that while in class he puts on a face shield and lowers his mask. He however adds that while coming closer to learners or after the lesson, they keep both of them on. 

Denis Mbabazi, teacher at Nakasero Primary School, also shares that at times a mask is uncomfortable and interrupts with verbal communication. He says that while teaching there is a need for learners to see the facial expression of the teacher which is very difficult to achieve while with a mask. 

Edward Kanoonya, the headteacher of Kololo Secondary School, says although they prefer face shields, they are uncertain about the protection they are offering. He says he personally prefers the face shield because it allows free flow of air and also protects the eyes. “But I cannot advise my students and teachers to use them because the government, scientists and other experts have not pronounced themselves on whether they are safe for the teaching-learning process,” adds Kanoonya. 

Teachers in schools with learners with audio impairment also note that a face shield would be better for both teachers and the learners. Stella Nantongo, a teacher at Wakiso Secondary School for the deaf, stresses that some learners do lip reading or give some expressions using the face and the mouth. 

“With the masks on, there is a likelihood of miscommunication which will affect the teaching-learning process.” says Nantongo.

Meanwhile, even most learners have said they prefer face shields. 

Angella Bbazira, a pupil at Nakasero primary school, says she finds it easy to participate in class when wearing a face shield compared to the government recommended facial masks. She says, her teachers too are more audible when they teach wearing a shield compared to a mask. 

Rogers Nambuli, the head teacher of Nakaseero says the school decided to use shields because they are popular among members of staff. He however points out that they are expensive compared to masks. Nambuli says each shield is procured at shillings 9,000.    

The use of face shields has become popular among school administrators. Some schools have made them a requirement for finalists returning to school. However, the government has insisted on supplying over 2.4 million masks to all finalists instead of shields with are believed to have a longer life span. 

There is debate in many countries about the use of masks versus shields. In the United Kingdom, teachers are encouraged to use face shields, while in other Asian and South Pacific countries, teachers and learners use both masks and shields. 

In some schools desks have been modified to include a plastic shield that make a booth around the learners. Available information from several medical experts indicate that face shields offer more protection when used with a mask than when used alone. They argue that while face shields act as a barrier to droplets, it is believed some droplets in the environment can be inhaled through the open areas around the plastic visor. 

Dr. Charles Olaro, the director of clinical services at the ministry of health admonishes teachers for wearing shields, saying the shields should not be used alone under any circumstances. He says, people wearing shields need to have masks.   

A study published in physics of fluids, found that shields block initial forward motion of droplets rates from a sneeze or cough. However, expelled droplets are able to move around the shield and spread out. Other studies carried out in Switzerland indicate that people who had the double protection test positive yet those with only a shield.




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