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Cost of re-opening schools in the pandemic II

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By Asawo Ibifuro

In the first part of this series, Cost of Re-opening Schools in the Pandemic, I tried to make Nigerians understand the true cost of re-opening our schools in the face of the pandemic. It will not be out of place if we try to put some figures in Naira and Kobo to emphasise the cost implication for the government, schools and parents. This is to give our government and her citizens an idea of where they are likely to spend their resources, should the government go ahead to re-open schools in the course of the pandemic.

In order to give the required estimates for the cost of re-opening schools in the pandemic in Nigeria, I will have to lay some basic foundations and assumptions based on our population, demographics and the number of school-aged children in Nigeria.
Facts and assumptions:
a) Nigeria has about 200 million people (according to Wikipedia, Nigeria as at 2018).
b) Out of this 200 million people:
– 20 million are between ages 5 and 9 years
– 16 million are between ages 10 and 14 years
– 14 million are between 15 and 19 years
c) The above-listed age ranges are between 5 and 19 years; they give us a total of about 50 million school-aged children.
d) This age range of 5 and 19 years shall be used for the cost analysis made in this article.
e) Out of this age range of 5 and 19 years chosen for this cost analysis, we have identified that there are over 13 million out-of-school children as reported by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
f) Again, given that from the age range of 15 and 19 years, some children may have actually completed their secondary education and are awaiting admission into the universities, while some may be currently in the universities, we have further considered the following:
– 1.9 million students have admissions in the various universities across the country as reported by National Universities Commission (NUC).
– We assume that another 3 million students are in other tertiary institutions.
– Owing to the limited number of spaces in our tertiary institutions and the financial status of majority of families, it is possible that another 5 to 7 million students who have completed their secondary education are awaiting admission into tertiary institutions.
g) On the grounds of the above listed points (e) and (f), it can be easily deduced that out of the 50 million school-aged children, about 25 million children are not necessarily part of the back-to-school consideration being made in this article; hence, leaving us with about 25 million school-aged children to consider.

In making my estimates, I would rather want to err on the side of caution; hence, rather than use 25 million as an estimate for computation, I will use a conservative value of 20 million school-aged children so as to give any reader the comfort of conservation in the analysis.
h) It is further assumed that over 70% of school-aged children are in public schools, this means that about 14 million of these children are in public schools. We can, therefore, infer that 6 million children are in private schools.

These background numbers are very important for the calculation of our cost of re-opening in Naira and Kobo.
Before you ‘ingest’ all these figures, it will be worth your while to review them again to see if they are realistic or not. If they are not realistic, you can set out your own figures to enable you calculate your estimated cost of re-opening.

Cost factor

Below are some factors that will directly affect the re-opening of our schools and their cost implications:

TRANSPORTATION AND PHYSICAL DISTANCING
As a result of the physical distancing protocol in Nigeria and the rest of the world, transporters are made to carry fewer passengers. This change has naturally resulted in an increase in the fare. On this note, we have assumed the following:
– An average marginal increase of N100.00 per student
– 50% of children use public transportation to school
– 20% walk to school
– 30% are driven to school by parents/guardians or use school buses
This means that out of 20 million students, 10 million (i.e. 50%) will be affected by this fare increase; this cost, their parents will have to bear.

Cost of re-opening schools in the pandemic II

For an additional N100.00 paid daily to supplement the carriage of fewer passengers by public transportation service providers, the parents and guardians of these 10 million students across the country will collectively be paying N1,000,000,000.00, daily. That is, 10,000,000 × N100.00 = N1, 000,000,000.00.(See table above.)

This gives an indication of the role the transport sector plays in the entire education value chain to Nigerians with or without COVID-19. If a marginal increment of N100.00 will turn over N1,000,000,000.00 daily from only 10 million commuters (the students), you can imagine what it turns out on the larger scale of things across the country.
This presents an opportunity for states and local government councils to provide school buses at a subsidised but sustainable rate for their students.

WATER AND SOAP
The second factor that will directly affect cost if schools were to re-open is water and soap. Ideally, once the children arrive the premises, they are to wash their hands with water and soap. Provision of water and soap also comes at a cost. We will be making the following assumptions:
– The cost of 20L of water is about N 50.00
– The cost of 500ml of liquid soap is about N 300.00
– The 20L of water and 500ml of liquid soap is to serve 100 students daily; thus, each student will use 0.2L (20CL) of water and 5ml of soap daily to wash their hands while in school.
– There are 20 million pupils/students in our assumption.

Cost of re-opening schools in the pandemic II

From these assumptions, 20 million students will use 4,000,000L of water that will cost N10,000,000.00 and 100,000L liquid soap that will cost N60,000,000.00. Hence, the total amount to be spent on soap and water per day will be N70,000,000.00. That is, 200,000 × N50.00 = N10,000,000.00 for water; 200,000 × N300.00 = N60,000,000.00 for soap. This gives a total of N70,000,000.00(See table above); this cost will be borne by the government for the public schools and the proprietors of private schools.

The assumption here is very modest and conservative.

SANITISERS / DISINFECTANTS
The third factor we will be considering is sanitising agents (sanitisers and disinfectants). While sanitisers will complement the washing of hands with soap and water, the disinfectants will be used to disinfect surfaces, school shoes and bags, doorknobs and the surroundings generally. In this regard, we will also be making some assumptions:
– 1L of sanitising agent is to serve 100 students daily (i.e. each student will require 10ml of disinfectant daily)
– There are 20 million pupils/students in our assumptions

The above figure shows that N1,000,000,000.00 will be spent on providing sanitising agents and disinfectants alone for the students daily. That is, 200,000 × N 5,000.00 = N 1,000,000,000.00(See table above).

FACE MASKS
Face masks will be provided by parents/guardians at home. A minimum of two masks may be required by each student for the entire term of three months. We will be making the following assumptions:
– Each student will require a minimum of 2 face masks for the period
– Face masks can be washed and re-used
– Each mask costs N 100.00

The sum of N4,000,000,000.00 will be spent by families across the country to provide at least two (2) face masks for each child within the period of three months.That is, 40,000,000 × N 100.00 =N 4,000,000,000.00.

ALSO READ: How Lagos employed 3,000 teachers within one year — Adefisayo

NON-CONTACT INFRARED THERMOMETRES
Non-contact infrared thermometers will be necessary to check the temperature of students and staff of the school before they gain access into the school premises. This equipment does not come at a very cheap price. Each school may need more than one (1) depending on the number of persons to be attended to. We are assuming that:

– One (1) Infrared thermometer will serve for250 students in a school
– It means at least 80,000 infrared thermometers will be required to serve 20m students across the country
– The cost of an Infra-red thermometer is about N20,000.00 per unit.

A total of N1,600,000,000.00 is to be spent on acquiring thermometers only.That is, 80,000 × N20,000.00 =N1,600,000,000.00

COST SUMMARY FOR DAILY EXPENSES

The table above shows that the sum of N2,070,000,000.00 will be spent daily for transportation increment due to physical distancing, purchasing sanitisers/disinfectants and the provision of water and soap for 20 million students.

This table shows that an estimate of N5,600,000,000.00 will be spent for termly expenses by schools and parents.

Food for thought

Seeing that we all want our economy to re-open and return to normalcy, we should also consider all factors involved in making this achievable, especially in the education sector.

Some of these factors have been made explicit in this article. We should, however, note that in this costing, COVID-19 safety measures for parents, teachers, care givers and all other staff of the school have not been duly considered. This means that the above costing is child’s play compared to reality.

Looking at the figures estimated above, and the total cost required to re-open and run our schools in a conducive and safe environment for our children during this pandemic, let us consider the following questions:
– Will schools be willing to carry the financial burden this decision will bring at no extra cost to the parents?
– Can all schools afford the cost of re-opening at this time?
– Are parents prepared to bear the additional cost of re-opening schools?
– Are parents willing to risk the lives of their children/wards should any compromising situation occur down the chain of the safety protocol?
– Is the government willing to support with the provision of the basic materials and subsidisation of transportation fares for students or even the insurance of its teachers?

In another twist, the upside for re-opening could be that local vendors will be contracted to produce and provide the necessary supplies (such as face masks, hand sanitisers/disinfectants, soap etc.) needed; thereby, bringing in more revenue and growing our economy. If this can be achieved without compromising the health and lives of children and teachers, it could be given some thoughts, since the economy must open someday.

The way forward

I have been asked this question several times in the last two weeks since I began this conversation. A number of us have opined that the leveraging of technology is the way forward; that is, the introduction of virtual learning (online platforms and offline software/platforms) with a stint of television, radios, DVDs and satellite broadcasting blend. This use of technology can help us reach out to over 70% of the student population we have as a country.

As we are aware, the use of technology in this period is practically the only option that will not breach the COVID-19 protocol as a nation. Nonetheless, leveraging on technology comes with its own challenges and costs; howbeit, we cannot fold our hands and shy away from the obvious reality that this should become an intrinsic part of our New-Normal and should stay with us forever (at least in our generation).

For those of us that see it as expensive or difficult to use, it is a necessary expense we cannot escape. Just as the advent of the GSM shaped our communication and lifestyle, that is how virtual learning, if properly harnessed, will change the education sector in the best interest of the students, teachers, parents and all stakeholders. If you recall, GSM did not come cheap to us in 1999. We were billed per minute, network coverage was only in few state capitals and regions of the country, the cost of GSM phones were off-the-roof and the phones were ‘dumb’ and not ‘smart’.

We, however, received this technology with open arms and that gave us (all stakeholders) the opportunity to improve on it. 20 years down the line we are better off as a country because we embraced the change and weathered the challenges.
We can repeat history in the education sector and other sectors — not allowing ourselves be limited by the challenges and hiccups that may arise as we leverage technology to fight against the limitation COVID-19 is causing the various sectors of the economy, especially the educational sector.

In conclusion, COVID-19 has only presented to us the obvious omission of technology in our education system; it is our responsibility to address it here and now even as we develop lasting frameworks and policies that will enable us achieve more technology-driven educational feats post-COVID-19.

I urge the government, parents, teachers, students and all stakeholders to brace up and face the new reality of embracing technology in the way we live, work and learn. There will be some challenges at the onset, but as we concert effort towards improving the quality and access to education, we may have no other option as a nation, but to leverage technology in other to achieve these goals.

In the 3rd and final article on this series of the cost of re-opening our schools during the pandemic, we will be discussing about the basic ways to start virtual learning, the cost and possible challenges and ways to overcome them. Until then, stay safe and aid our children to continue learning.

Asawo Ibifuro wrote in from Port Harcourt.

Vanguard

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