Education

Much ado about schools’ reopening

 

Lagos, Ogun to reopen schools Sept 21

˜Some states not ready

 

˜ Minister: I’m not convinced

 

˜ASUU, NUT: Caution must be taken in reopening schools

 

 

SCHOOL REO PENING Despite the 30-day window approved by the Federal Government for states to prepare for schools’ resumption, the government is, again. saying that it is not convinced that schools should be reopened for academic exercise

After a long lull, due to closure of educational institutions across the country following the lockdown occasioned by outbreak of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic in March, schools are set to reopen for 2020/2021 academic session.

 

The Federal Government had recently given 30-day window for state governments to commence preparation for normal in academic activities to resume in schools by the Federal Government, which it said would be the third phase, with four weeks window to enable school management and administrators, students, parents and guardians to put the necessary safe protocols in place to ensure safety.

 

But, the Federal Government last Thursday again said that it had not come to a point where it was convinced that schools should be reopened for academic exercise, insisting that “at the moment we have not come to the point where we could say that we are convinced that schools can manage themselves and reopen comfortably.”

 

Already, the Lagos and Ogun State Governments had announced September 21 for reopening of all primary and secondary schools in the states for the 2020/2021 academic session in line with the Federal Government directive.

 

While releasing the resumption plans for both public and private schools in Lagos State, the Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo announced that JSS 3 and SS 2 students in public schools are to resume classes from Monday, September 21.

 

This phased approach to reopening schools, she added, would enable public schools to meet COVID-19 social distance rules and safety protocols and will help us watch the behaviour of the pandemic as the state gradually opens up schools. Like the public schools, only JSS 3 and SS 2 are also to resume in private primary and secondary schools on Monday, September 21, while the state government strongly recommended and encouraged school owners to put safety first and open in phases similar  to the plans for public schools.

 

A statement by the state Ministry of Education, tagged: “LASG reveals plans for a new 2020/2021 academic session resumption,” specified that only JSS 3 and SS 2 students are to resume in public school as primary schools are not to reopen now, while for in private primary and secondary schools all classes are permitted to resume for a new 2020/2021 academic session, except pre-primary

 

 

The statement reads in part: “We assure parents that announcements for opening the other classes will occur as soon as we are certain of their safety. In the meantime, the unopened classes in public schools will continue their lessons on our various distance learning platforms (online platform, radio, television and WhatsApp) while the next phase for physical resumption will be announced in due course.” Meanwhile, the phased opening also includes strategies for staggered resumption in the mornings, classes on alternate days during the week and teaching through various e-learning/online or distance learning methods.

 

The schools, as mandated, must also comply with safety protocols and hygiene guidelines as instructed by the state government through the Office of Education Quality Assurance (OEQA), while officials of the agency will continue to monitor and evaluate schools’ preparedness. The government added that JSS 3 already in exit class would be able to prepare for their BECE which is scheduled between October 6 and 12.

 

This was as the state government had earlier directed all state-owned tertiary institutions in the state to resume on Monday, September 14 (yesterday), but with the caveat that they should follow a phased resumption arrangement, while ensuring that all COVID-19 protocols and precautions must be strictly adhered to.

 

Meanwhile, for reopening of schools in Ogun State on September 21, the state Governor, Dapo Abiodun, in a statement by the Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Kunle Somorin in Abeokuta, disclosed that this second phase of the reopening of schools would be extended to all classes in primary and secondary schools, Technical and Vocational Colleges, as well as tertiary institutions.

 

The governor, who warned school administrators to strictly adhere to the COVID-19 guidelines which included provision of sick bays/isolation rooms in schools, training and designation of some teachers as first line responders and provision of face masks and infrared thermometers, listed other guideline provisions to include adequate hand-washing facilities and alcohol-based sanitisers for students and teachers in all schools and suspension of general assembly.

 

Based on the staggered schools hours for public schools, the statement said Primary 1 to Primary 3 will be in school between 8 am and 11am; Primary 4 to Primary 6 (12 noon to 3pm), JSS 1 to JSS3(8am to 1am), and SS1 to SS3 (12 noon to 3pm).

 

“Technical and Vocational will operate their normal school hours of 8am to 2 pm, while Early Child Care Development and Education classes for children between 3 and 5 years of age will not be resuming in public schools until the next phase of schools’ reopening, while private schools are also expected to take necessary measures to meet the COVID- 19 protocols for physical distancing, among other requirements,” the statement added.

 

However, some private schools under the strict COVID-19 rules have directed all students to bring along three face masks each, one bottle of alcoholbased hand sanitiser before they could be allowed into school. But, owing to the loss of almost two terms due to closure of schools, the government had directed that all students and pupils should be given automatic promotion to the next class.

 

While Lagos and Ogun have concluded plans on reopening of schools, many states across the country are yet fixed any date for the reopening of their schools, despite the completion of the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), last week, by the Senior Secondary School (SS 3) students, who resumed school on August across the country.

 

The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF), Dr. Sani Aliyu, who broke the good news of the 30-day window, had however mandated all state governments to carry out risk assessments of public and private schools in order to monitor compliance to PTF guidelines for safe reopening.

 

He, however, directed that all day care and education institutions should remain closed to in-person classes, insisting that reopening of schools must be done in phases, in order not to expose the general public and vulnerable groups, in particular to coronavirus infection.

 

According to him, education institutions, including day care, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions should begin the process of working towards potentially reopening within this phase, but states should conduct risk assessment to ensure that all schools are at a level of compliance and create a monitoring mechanism to assess and monitor this compliance.

 

The guidelines earlier issued by the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, include decontamination of school premises, provision of hand-washing facilities, resizing of classes to accommodate social and physical distancing, body temperature checks and body disinfectants at entering points such as the gates, hostels, classes, and offices,    among others. Besides, private school owners were directed to meet and submit self-assessment reports on or before 29 July, 2020, to assist further consultations aimed at ensuring the safety of students and staff when schools reopened.

 

But, the Minister of State for Education, last week, disclosed during a meeting of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 with the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee (NTLC) on National Primary Health in Abuja, that it had not come to a point where it is convinced that schools should be reopened for academic exercise.

 

At the meeting presided over by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on behalf of the Chairman of PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Nwajiuba said: “At the moment, we have not come to the point where we can say we are convinced that schools can manage themselves and reopen comfortably.

 

According to him, the government teams have gone out and will continue to do a proper evaluation on the schools, as the Federal Government is still evaluating the situation. This was as the Minister pointed out that the government strongly believed in the opinions of experts that 15 per cent of transmission of the pandemic is from school environment and that was why they proposed remodeling of classes.

 

He said: “We are suggesting that classes be remodeled if there are not enough classrooms for social distancing. We can do a tier system, some can come in the morning, maybe the junior classes and the senior classes can come in the afternoon. We are also working out guidelines such as washing of hands because school must go on at one point.”

 

The Federal Government had in March ordered the closure of schools as part of measures to contain the spread of the virus and to keep the students safe from contracting the pandemic.

 

Before now all the attempts mulled in the past by the Federal Government to reopen the schools, especially for students in examination classes, such as Senior Secondary School (SS 3) and Junior Secondary School (JSS 3) students writing the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO), Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and NABTEB had failed, causing ripples in the system.

 

Following the controversies that greeted the decision of the government not to open schools for Nigerian students to take part in the WASSCE earlier rescheduled for August 3 to September 5, the Federal Government, however, made a U-turn in July when it announced reopening of schools on August 4 only for SS3 students to write the WASCCE. To return normalcy to the nation’s education sector, the Federal Government on September 3 directed all schools in the country to commence preparations for reopen the system within the next 30 days.

 

This was coming after the government has continued to reopen some sectors of the economy bit by bit for activities, through gradual easing of the lockdown as approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

Worried by the prolonged closure of schools, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) had warned that the continued closure of schools posed great harm on the students in many other ways despite keeping them safe at home from the virus.

 

 

According to the international organisations, such harm includes exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood and unwanted pregnancies, overall challenges in mental development, poor nutrition and stress.

 

WHO, in a survey had revealed that out of 39 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, schools in six countries have fully reopened; schools in 14 countries are still closed and schools are partially opened in 19 countries for examination classes, while about a dozen countries are planning to reopen this September, being the original start of the academic year in some countries, including Nigeria. Unexpectedly, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, who reversed the decision to reopen schools before, said it was unwise and that it would put the lives of several students at risk of contracting the virus.

 

Displeased with the botched reopening of schools by the Minister, especially for graduating SS 3 and JSS 3 students, private school owners lamented how they had spent several millions of naira on procurement and installation of the items listed by the Federal Government as preconditions for reopening of schools.

 

According to the President FCT NAPPS, Olusola Bankole, some high flyer schools had spent as much as N5 million to meet the stipulated conditions, while low end schools spent N100,000 and above in meeting the conditions in order to reopen their schools.

 

However, there has been increased clamour since August from several quarters requesting the government to reopen schools, probably due to the perceived reduction in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases being recorded daily in the country.

 

A few weeks ago, university students across the country took to streets in Abuja to protest the continued closure of their schools despite the reopening of certain sectors of the economy such as markets, places of worship and local airports

 

. The students, led by President of the National Association of University Students (NAUS), Comrade Ejigah Felix, accused the government of double standards for preventing students from returning to school.

 

 

The students argued that the government could not claim to be fighting coronavirus when universities and polytechnics, where the research for coronavirus cure and vaccines could come from, were closed to academic activities. “Our schools have been shut down for too long, markets are now open, political campaigns in states where there will be elections are going on. What this clearly shows is that the education sector is not recognised.

 

Challenging the Minister’s decision, the President FCT NAPPS, Olusola Bankole said the reversal further exposed the insensitivity of the government to the plight of students and school administrators, whose lives and efforts have been put on hold without considering the devastating consequences at its trial. Against the backdrop of continued closure of schools, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), had accused the government of playing politics with education, an act it described as unhealthy for the sector.

 

Secretary-General of the union, Dr. Mike Ene, had raised several questions bothering on the government’s seriousness to adapt to the new normal in the face of its insincerity.

 

Although he maintained that NUT was ever ready to return to classes, he called for caution, even as he appealed to the government to speed up COVID-19 testing and for the people to take up personal responsibility to save more lives.

 

On its part, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has kicked against reopening of schools without COVID-19 protocols, and faulted the moves by the Federal Government to reopen all schools, especially universities, without taking responsibility for the institutions to meet COVID-19 precautionary guidelines.

 

The union, which insisted that those leading the agitation for the reopening of schools, are mainly private school owners in view of the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations.

 

While warning that pecuniary gain should not be considered more than the lives of lecturers and their students, recalled that before the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, public universities were already overcrowded with students, while hostel facilities were taken more than its capacity.

 

Its President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, who advised Nigerians to exercise some patience and warned that “public health is in the interest of everybody,” also urged parents not to jubilate at the news of possible reopening of schools, but should rather charge the government to take responsibility for whatever surge in COVID-19 that may happen as a result of the ‘ill-thought’ out re-opening.

 

ASUU, which said it was not in any way opposed to this call to reopen schools, however, argued whether the government had met the NCDC criteria on COVID-19 protocols in our institutions, adding that “we must not endanger the lives of our children for pecuniary gains.

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