SOME of the critical sectors of our economy and society have been unfairly impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, not just in Nigeria but all over the world. These are aviation and other aspects of commercial transportation, leisure (especially hotels), schools, religious activities and sports.
These are sectors that involve a lot of movement and mass gatherings of people. Since the response to the pandemic requires social distancing and isolation of individuals, these activities have remained subdued. They are likely to be the last to fully reopen. We do not know when a vaccine or comprehensive cure could become available and affordable, so the fates of the people hang in the balance.
The private school educators face the greatest dilemma in this pandemic in Nigeria. It is assumed that public sector teachers will get their normal salaries no matter how long it takes before schools are reopened. It is also expected that worship centre workers will be remembered and catered for by their religious faithful.
But who will come to the rescue of owners and teachers of private schools? These citizens depend on the fees paid by their students. They have already borne the burden of revenue shortfalls due to over three months of lockdown and lack of income. How much longer can they go without help?
This issue has generally been swept under the carpet by government in its COVID-19 response activities. That is not right. The private schools now play very central roles in our education system. They range from kindergarten, primary, secondary, tertiary and special academies (as in sports).
Following the neglect and virtual collapse of the public school system these institutions sprang up to fill the needs of society. They have become dominant in our educational system. In Lagos alone, 6,083 schools were on the government’s register in 2016.
Private schools make up over 65 per cent of schools in Lagos State. We are talking about a massive number of our citizens caught in this trap.
It does not matter that some of them were accused of being extortionate. It is a problem that government should solve. Right now, the folks who make their living in this sector are living in destitution. We can no longer pretend and look away from them.
We recognise the imperative of keeping schools shut because unguarded reopening will lead to an explosion. Children could go to school and come home with the virus, in which case, parents and guardians of boarding students would live in endless anxiety as schools hardly have sick bays.
We call on the Federal, State and Local Governments to combine efforts and offer a rescue package for our private sector educators as compensation for the continued closure of schools. It is unjust to restrict and abandon them.