By Levinus Nwabughiogu – Abuja
House of Representatives has cautioned the federal government against reopening schools amid the increasing number of deaths attributed to coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The House through its Committee on Basic Education and Services in a statement signed by its Chairman, Professor Julius Ihonvbere, said the earlier decision to reopen academic institutions was ill-timed.
It will be recalled that the Ministry of Education had announced that there was no going back on the Monday, January 18, 2020 resumption date.
The Committee observed that many states and individuals have abandoned adherence to the safety measures prescribed by the authorities to guard against the spread of the deadly virus.
The lawmakers, however, gave a number of safety measures to pursue by the federal Ministry of Education if the schools must be reopened for academic activities, seeking 3 months postponement to enable the state and local governments to put all the necessary facilities in place before the resumption.
The statement read in full: “The Committee on Basic Education and Services, House of Representatives has received with some concern the decision of the Federal Government to reopen schools on January 18, 2021.
“We are particularly concerned that when the infection rates hovered around 500 and under, schools were closed but now that it hovers well above 1000 infections daily, schools are being reopened. Why are we rushing to reopen schools without adequate verifiable and sustainable arrangements to protect and secure our children?
“The Committee fully appreciates the implications of continued school closure on the education sector and the larger economy and society. We also acknowledge that the pandemic would remain with us for a while and we must design ways to live with it.
“Similarly, we acknowledge the argument that most young persons have not been as affected by Covid-19 and many are asymptomatic.
“Yet, it does not mean they have full immunity against the virus. We also know that they would be working and interacting with adult teachers, administrative workers and other persons that do not live within the institutions.
“Aside from Lagos and a couple of other states, governments are unable to enforce Covid-19 protocols.
“People no longer wear facemasks or use sanitisers. Public enlightenment campaigns have more or less stopped. Merely saying they would adhere to the protocols is no guarantee. In rural areas, the situation is worse.
“Our position is that in spite of the very comprehensive protocols established by the Federal Ministry of Education, not up to 10 per cent of our educational institutions have implemented five per cent of the protocols. In most of our primary and secondary schools nationwide, adequate furniture, water and other sanitation and hygiene facilities do not exist.
“Many poor parents would require support with facemasks and sanitisers for their children. We have not heard of how this would be addressed.
“We doubt that teachers, instructors and school managers have been adequately trained and prepared to handle Covid-19
“We also know that adequate funds have not been provided to schools to cope with demands that accompany the new normal.
“We would like to challenge the Federal Ministry of Education to first, independently monitor the extent of basic compliance with established protocols in all our schools and not just take words of state and local authorities as given.
“The lives of our children are worth much more than the interests and comfort of any politician or bureaucrat. It is only after a minimum of 75% nationwide compliance that we can seriously talk about reopening schools.
“Given that in primary and secondary schools, in particular, there are no facilities for effective social distancing in the classrooms, part of the compliance requirements must be the introduction of morning and afternoon batches into the
schools when they reopen to reduce overcrowding.
“Special cleaning crews with sufficient sanitisers must be deployed to the classrooms before and after each stream. Hand washing before entering the classroom and use of sanitiser once seated must be made mandatory
“The school feeding programme should be suspended and converted to sealable snacks to be distributed once classes are over.
“As a government that has committed to protecting the interests of the Nigerian people, it would be wrong to allow
unprepared state governments, of which many did not take the pandemic too seriously anyway, to hoodwink or pressure it into this reopening game.
“The Committee believes that if these and other critical steps are not taken, there should be a postponement by three months to enable the local and state governments put things in place adequately. A word, they say, is enough for the wise”.