Following the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease in the country, the Federal Government ordered the closure of all schools and pupils and students have been at home since late March this year. The development has.led to calls by various interest groups in the education sector for government to quickly address the issue. In this interview, the National President of the National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, Haruna Danjuma, speaks on the position of the association on the development. Excerpts.
By Adesina Wahab
SCHOOLS at all levels in the country have been closed for some months now, how do you feel as a parent?
I feel bad as an individual and as a parent. However, we all know it is not a man made problem and that it is a worldwide issue. We must, however, find a solution that is relevant to our situation in the country. The situation in the country deserves solutions that are peculiar to our problems. I just hope that we would get a solution to the problem as soon as possible. We are worried that precious time is being wasted and our children are stuck due to no fault of theirs.
Some people are expressing the fear that the long closure of schools can lead to the waning of the interest of students in education and increase the number of out-of-school children, what is your take?
It is a pity, as the current situation may eventually lead to an increase in the number of out-of-school children in most parts of the country. Pupils and students sent back home are already mixing with some people who have not been to school. Some of those they are mixing with are drug addicts and when they mix with such people they can influence the students negatively. This is a great concern to us. We are worried. While government is trying to reduce the number of out-of-school children, others are probably going to join them. Let the government come up with a timeline of how to open the schools and as an association, we are assuring the government that we will abide with whatever terms and conditions the government put forward. We want our children to go back to school.
How do you want the government to handle the current situation?
Government should as a matter of seriousness think about the way forward and find a way that this problem can be solved. We cannot continue to stand on the same spot forever. NAPTAN is ready at all times to do our best and our own part to get the sector going forward.
Recently, the Federal Ministry of Education sent a document to the National Assembly listing the conditions to be met before schools are reopened, how do you see those requirements?
The condition listed are stringent and really, it is the responsibility of the government to provide those facilities in public schools. As parents, we are ready to follow laid down rules and help in providing some of those things. Such is not strange to us. During the outbreak of Ebola, NAPTAN was not left out in the efforts to make our schools safe for all. In this case, we are ready to help in the provision of sanitizers, nose masks, Infrared thermometers among others. Concerning the provision of isolation centres and clinics, some public boarding schools can meet that.
Concerning over-crowding in schools, government can introduce the shift system. A set of students and pupils can go to school from 8am to 11am, another set from 11am to 2pm and another from 2pm to 5pm. Most problems are solved by proffering short, medium and long term solutions. If we say we have to wait until government provides enough classrooms through the Universal Basic Education Commission and State Universal Basic Education Boards, that would take a long time. It is easy and we should not confuse ourselves. Let the government give the timeline that schools will reopen.
Ghana recently announced that secondary school students waiting to write their final examinations would soon resume, are you going to suggest that to the Nigerian government?
Various stakeholders in the sector have made various suggestions to the government and we were not left out. We have suggested before now that students in terminal classes should be allowed to resume classes. They will have enough space to use since others may not resume with them and they would be prepared for WAEC NECO and NABTEB examinations. If this is not done many of them will lose out in the admission process to tertiary institutions that will start soon. It is not all of them that have already made their O Level results.
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board came out few days ago with its benchmark for admission to tertiary institutions, with 160 marks out of 400 being benchmark for university, some.have described it as an indication that the standard of education is falling, is that so?
From.my understanding of the policy, the benchmark is just to guide the institutions. It is not that the candidates are not expected to score higher marks to secure admission. There will definitely be competition among the admission seekers. A candidate with 180 marks will be considered above the one that scored 160 marks.