After much hues and cries, the Federal Government finally bowed to pressure to reopen schools for students in exit classes to write their examinations, thereby ending stakeholders’ anxiety
WASSCE starts August 17
ERC: NUT should set up special COVID-19 task force for schools
Ogun: Students to pay N25,000 for testing
After several months of lull and failed attempts at reopening schools, respite has finally come the way of school owners, parents and students, following last week’s directive by the Federal Government that schools across the federation should resume on August 4, specifically for students in exit classes to write their final examinations.
The announcement has partially ended the anxiety and apprehension of parents and some key stakeholders over the continued lockdown of schools, especially for pupils and students, who are to write their final examinations.
Under the new directive, the government ordered reopening of schools only for students in the Senior Secondary School 3 (SS 3), Junior Secondary School 3 (JSS 3) to allow them to sit for the 2020 Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), National Examination Council (NECO), as well as the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) for JSS 3 students and NABTEB for the students in Technical Schools or Colleges.
The Federal Government had at the wake of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic outbreak in the country ordered the closure of all institutions of learning in the country in March as part of urgent moves to contain the spread of students.
Following the closure, the government had at different times announced the reopening of the schools for this category of students, only to reverse the decisions later, thereby generating hues and cries among stakeholders, particularly parents and private school proprietors.
They, however, described the “inconsistency” of the Federal Government to reopen schools for the final year students in order to write the examinations as unhealthy on the part of the government. Prior to the March closure of school, the West African Examinations Council had fixed between April and June for the conduct of WASSCE before the examination was suspend-ed due to the pandemic.
To some stakeholders, when last week, the Federal Ministry of Education announced August 4 for resumption of academic activities for only SS3 students to write the 2020 WASSCE, it was a big relief. The government, according to the Director of Press and Information of the ministry, Bem Goong, “the fresh moves were the unanimous decisions reached at a virtual consultative meeting between the Federal Ministry of Education, Commissioners of Education of the 36 states, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), the proprietors of private schools, and Chief Executives of examination bodies.”
The ministry said: “Secondary schools in the country are to reopen as from August 4, 2020 for exit classes only. It was agreed that the exit classes should resume immediately after the Sallah break, from August 4, to enable them to prepare for the WAEC examinations scheduled to commence from August 17.
The statement gave two weeks for students to prepare for the exam due to start on August 17, 2020, while pupils and students in other classes would still remain at home.
Based on the outcome of the Federal Ministry of Education meeting with Chief Executives of the various examination bodies including NECO, NABTEB and NBAIS to harmonise their examination dates, it was agreed that NECO SSCE examination will commence on October 5 and end on November 18, while the National Business and Technical Examination Board (NABTEB) examinations were fixed for September 21 to October 15.
Other examinations are the National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies (NBSIS) examination now fixed for September 23 to October 17; the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) for JSS 3 students, conducted by NECO starts from August 24 to September 27, and the National Common Entrance Examination (NCEE) into the 104 Unity Schools will hold on October 17 across the country.
Minister of State for Education, Mr. Emeka Nwajiuba, who announced the directive at the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, said that “all primary schools and other secondary school classes were excluded from the resumption arrangements.
The Minister, however, noted that all state Governors, Commissioners for Education and other stakeholders had given their commitment to ensure seamless conduct at the centres.
Towards reopening of schools, the government had earlier reeled out some pre-conditions for public and private school authorities to put in place, which include provision of infrastructure, compliance with PTF and World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols such as safety and physical distancing requirements, regular washing of hands with soap in running water, wearing of face masks by students and teachers, as well as ensuring provision of these essential items required to comply with all hygiene to contain the spread of the virus in schools. Reacting to the government’s announcement, the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), which had earlier mounted pressure on the government to reopen schools and that their schools had adequately prepared for resumption, has lauded the development.
The National President, Chief Yomi Otubela, in a release, entitled: “NAPPS appreciates the Federal Government and assures full compliance with COVID- 19 safe reopening of schools,” expressed gratitude to the federal and state governments over their resolve to reopen schools as from August 4 for SS3 students to prepare for their WASSCE examinations and eventually join their fellow counterparts in other West African nations to partake in the examination scheduled to commence on August 17.
According to Otubela, this directive was particularly cheering to the students, parents, teachers, school owners and other stakeholders, who had shown deep concerns over the initial suspension. “We thank the Federal Minister of Education and Minister of State for Education for their fatherly roles in listening to our concerns about the suspension and taking steps to resolve it amicably,” the statement added.
NAPPS, as a responsible association, he noted was fully ready to ensure that the management of private schools takes safety as a priority by ensuring that the staff, students and visitors to their schools adhere strictly to the safety protocols as laid down by the school management in line with the COVID-19 guidelines.
He further stressed that with the school reopening for SS3 students only; there would be opportunity for the observance of physical distancing, saying the resumption would also avail them the opportunity to assess the workability of safety protocols that are in place in schools and use the success to ensure that other students fully resume as soon as possible.
To prevent private education sector from collapse, in view of the hardship that private school owners and the numerous staff are experiencing most especially salaries, loan repayment, taxes and levies without any corresponding income presently, coupled with acquiring the necessary items to cope with COVID-19 challenges, the Lagos branch of NAPPS has appealed to the state government for loan and other financial assistance.
In line with the directive, several states, including Lagos and Ogun, Delta, Rivers, had assured the Federal Government and stakeholders of their readiness to reopen their schools for students to write their examinations.
The Lagos State Education Commissioner, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo and the Special Adviser to the Ogun State Governor on Education, Mrs. Ronke Soyombo, confirmed the resumption for only SS3 students, while the Ekiti State Education Commissioner, Mr. Foluso Daramola, said a decision would be taken on JSS3 classes after a meeting with the state Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi.
In view of this, Lagos State was said to have intensified the fumigation and decontamination of all public secondary schools across the state, even as the Permanent Secretary, Office of Environmental Services, Mrs. Aderonke Odeneye, said most of the public secondary schools in the six educational districts of the state had already been fumigated.
The school management, she added, had also been warned to avoid all sporting activities till further notice, saying the exercise was part of the protocol/guidelines for reopening of schools. The government also advised school management to provide hand sanitisers in all classrooms and hostels, enlighten the students on the need to constantly sanitise their hands after every educational activity in the classrooms and to always wear face masks, as well as enforce physical distancing and to also provide necessary facilities to reduce the risk of the infection among teachers and students.
However, in Ogun State, there was a new twist to the reopening of schools as the state government directed each school returning student to pay N25,000 for COVID-19 testing, a development which has continued to draw the ire of parents and guardians.
Meanwhile, Oyo State Government, which had earlier reopened schools, announced a slight adjustment to the school calendar and the reopening schedule in conformity with the commencement of the 2020 WASSCE, according to the state Commissioner for Education, Science, and Technology, Mr. Olaleye Olasunkanmi.
The Commissioner said that the JSS 3 and Primary Six classes would resume for their examinations on August 10 and 20 respectively, while continuation of lessons for the SS3 classes would be sustained until the examination begins on August 17, adding that other academic schedules approved by the State Executive Council on July 21 remained as announced.
In Rivers State, Governor Nyeson Wike was said to have distributed COVID-19 protective kits to 257 public schools in the state, as part of guidelines for resumption of schools. The sanitary and hygiene kits consist of hand sanitisers, gloves, face masks, detergents, running water buckets, and disinfectants to ensure that students were not infected by coronavirus.
To the state Commissioner for Education, Prof. Kaniye Ebeku, the kits were distributed through the principals to the 257 schools approved as the 2020 WASSCE centres. He, therefore, promised that the ministry would monitor the process, warning that any principal contravening the protocol would be sanctioned.
Delta State Government, in readiness to reopen school, declared that the government was working round the clock to ensure that appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the dreaded COVID- 19 were put in place. Towards this end, the state Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Mr. Patrick Ukah, said no fewer than 5,697 private and public school teachers across the state had already been trained on COVID-19 protocols and guidelines, and collaborating with the Ministries of Health and Environment to ensure the safety of students and teachers.
Among the various measures taken by the state government are fumigation of schools, repair of doors and broken ceilings, provision of sickbay in schools, toll free lines as response centres across the 25 LGAs, as well as thermometers, sanitisers and water for school without storage tanks, bucket taps and face masks for all the students and teachers, with provision of 30 pieces of hand towels that could be used to disinfect and clean their chairs and tables daily to every school.
Meanwhile, a Non-Governmental Organisation, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), in statement, entitled: Federal Government’s Ill-thought decision to partially reopen schools on August 4, 2020 – Re-opening of schools without an independent assessment by trade unions to confirm schools’ compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols can put teachers and students in danger,” has called for caution in reopening schools.
Therefore, it called for the setting up of a COVID-19 Task Force at the level of the local government area, state and the federal to ensure that students, health professionals and parents were mobilised to join teachers on the task, which would involve visitation to all public and private schools in order to accredit them for resumption of academic activities.
According to the National Coordinator, Hassan Taiwo Soweto, the organisation is reiterating its earlier position that schools should only be reopened after an independent COVID-19 Task Force composed by teachers, students and parents had assessed schools’ readiness.
He, however, bemoaned what he described as several weeks of policy summersault and contradictory statements by government, even as he condemned the only two weeks given to students who had been at home for over four months without any real opportunity to study, to prepare for the WASSCE.
Hassan, who insisted that this showed how ill-thought the decision to reopen schools is, wondered that many teachers had not completed the syllabus, saying the much orchestrated online classes which attempted to fill the void during the lockdown was only accessible to children from middle class and well-off families.
He said: “It is in this light that we find it condemnable the position of the national leadership of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), which acquiesced to school reopening on the basis of the claims of state Commissioners for Education without carrying out an independent enquiry to ascertain the level of preparation and readiness of schools.
“As far ERC is concerned, a correct approach by the NUT would have been to set up an independent process through its branches at the 36 states of the federation and the 774 Local Government Areas to certify the preparedness of the schools,” he said. Hassan noted that the task force should put in place the certain basic requirements before teachers and students would agree to go back to school.
These, according to ERC, should include extensive fumigation of school facilities and environment; provision of additional classrooms and recruitment of more teaching staff to prevent overcrowding and ensure that class size ratio of 30 students to a teacher is achieved. Other recommendations are recruitment of more non-teaching staff members, who are to be adequately trained to ensure the availability of an in-house crack team to monitor compliance with the NDDC protocols within the school premises.
Part of the recommendations are provision of free facemasks and other essential PPE for all staff and students by the government; provision of temperature checking devices, hand sanitisers, running water and other items for hand washing; well-equipped and well-staffed sick bays in schools to offer emergency medical support in the event of illness; availability of COVID-19 test and test kits for all staff and students; provision of school buses at no extra cost and with socially-distanced seating arrangement to convey pupils and staff to and from school; construction of perimeter fencing of all schools.
Meanwhile, the management of Mayflower Private School, Ikenne in Ogun State, in a letter to parents and guardians, said “as we close in on the reopening of schools to accommodate students of certificate classes (SS3 and JSS3), we strongly advise that conscious efforts should be made to ensure compliance with the Federal Government regulations/ directives on COVID-19 pandemic safety measures.
Towards ensuring that necessary preparations were in place in anticipation of the much-awaited schools’ reopening, the management therefore requested parents and guardians to provide a minimum of three face masks and one bottle of hand sanitiser for their children on resumption.
The school said: “The obvious fact is that the school is going to incur extra cost to accommodate this special arrangement as more personnel will be required and engaged, compared to the normal situation, particularly with social/ physical distancing practice among the students both in the classrooms and dormitories.” On its readiness to reopen schools, Abia State Government announced plans to hold a special summit last week on education to deliberate on modalities for reopening private and public schools in the state.
The state Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi-Kalu, in a release said the summit would be attended by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, the Deputy Governor, members of the State Executive Council, and some critical education stakeholders and non-education bodies such as Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), the leadership of Abia Council of Traditional Rulers and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).