By Adesina Wahab & Peter Duru
Coronavirus did not spread to Nigeria until February this year and, when the rate of infection started mounting on a daily basis, the Federal Government, on March 19, 2020, in a circular from the Federal Ministry of Education, granted approval for the closure of all schools for a period of one month commencing from Monday, March 23, 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Each state in Nigeria has, however, contextualised this circular.
The closure, that was thought would last for a month, is now in its fourth month. Stakeholders in the sector have varied opinions on whether schools should reopen now or not, as the number of COVID-19 cases has not gone down. Recently, in his address during the policy meeting of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, on this year’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations, UTME, the Minister of State for Education, Mr Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, listed some of the conditions that must be met before schools are reopened.
The conditions were, “All Institutions must have (1) Hand-washing facilities, (2) Body temperature checks (3) Body disinfectants at all entering points to their major facilities including the gates, hostels, classes, offices, etc. (4) The whole premises of each institution must be decontaminated and (5) All efforts must be geared toward maintenance of the highest level of hygiene (6) Ensure Social and Physical Distancing in class sizes and meeting spaces.”
However, in a document titled ‘Guidelines for schools and learning facilities reopening after COVID-19 pandemic closure,’ sent to the National Assembly, the FG added some conditions to the aforementioned ones. The new additions were that each school should have temporary isolation space and fully-equipped clinic before reopening, referral system including protocols to take if anybody becomes unwell in school, construction of additional structures and employment of more teachers to be able to space out students 2 metres apart and so on.
While announcing the easing the national lockdown brought by COVID-19 by another four weeks last Monday, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on the pandemic, Mr Boss Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, said the four weeks, starting from June 28, 2020, could witness the reopening of schools among other things. Though he did not specify any date, some states have announced plans to reopen schools.
Oyo State had even before Mustapha’s pronouncement set July 6 date for the reopening of schools. Ekiti State also came out to fix July 20, 2020 for the same thing. However, one thing central to their actions is that only pupils in Primary 6 and students in JSS 3 and SSS 3 are to come on board for now. The idea is to prepare them for their terminal examinations.
Meanwhile, the West African Examinations Council, WAEC, the National Examinations Council, NECO, and the National Board for Technical and Business Examinations, NABTEB, are yet to say when they will conduct final exams for senior secondary school students.
Faulting the decision of government to reopen schools now, even though only for a segment of pupils and students, the National President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Prof Innocent Ujah, described the step as too risky.
“With the low level of compliance by Nigerians with COVID-19 safety measures, it is risky to reopen schools”, Ujah said.
“And we all know that these children are coming from different homes to the school. Also, it will be difficult for teachers to teach with nose marks and for the students to also wear nose mask all day long. It will affect breathing”.
“Teachers don’t want to die and I don’t think anybody wants his child to be used as a guinea pig. The teachers they are calling out to come and teach have no Personal Protective Equipment, PPE”.
The National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, in his view, said the nation is reaping the result of poor funding of education.
However, the National President of the National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, Haruna Danjuma, noted that gradual reopening of the school system is in the right direction.
“At least, this will allow final year students to prepare and sit for their final examinations”, Danjuma said.
“Recall that it was just few weeks to the start of the examinations that schools were shut down.
“Students must be psyched up again before writing their papers. This will also allow them to be part of the admission to tertiary institutions that will start soon.
“I think a religious following of all safety protocols and the teachers having to now concentrate on final year students will achieve results.
“As an association, we are always ready to support the government. We did that during the outbreak of the Ebola disease and we overcame in the end”.
Lagos State President of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, NAPPS, Chief Olawale Amusa, said coping with the reopening of schools would not be difficult for his members.
“I can say it that government recognised private schools have all it takes to meet the conditions listed by the government for the reopening of schools”, Amusa said.
“We have clinics, though we may call them sick bays which are manned by competent hands. Sanitation and personal hygiene of our students and teachers are taking in high regard. “We also have classrooms that are not congested. Whatever the government decides is okay by us and we can adequately cope”.
The latest opposition to reopening of schools, in the meantime, came, yesterday, from the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS) which expressed the fear that schools could become incubation centre for coronavirus if students were allowed to resume.
ASUSS National President, Comrade Samuel Omaji, insisted that the union would not support the move to reopen schools to allow Primary Six, JSS3 and SS3 students write their final exams if government failed to put precautionary measures in place.
Omaji, who spoke in Makurdi, cautioned that the decision to reopen schools could expose teachers and students to the virus.