Inside Abuja

Reopening schools amidst cheers, fears

 

The decision of the Federal Government to reopen schools after over six months of lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic has raised mixed reactions amongst parents and teachers. DEBORAH OCHENI reports

 

Earlier in the year, all schools in Nigeria were forced to shut down following the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the country. The Federal Government shut them down based on the advice of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the global pandemic continued to spread exponentially.

 

Between February 27, when Nigeria’s index case was discovered and June 1, the country recorded over 10,000 COVID-19 cases. At least, 3,000 of them later recovered and were discharged.

 

But between June and September 3, the incidents of infection have escalated to 54, 588 total cases. Although recoveries have also increased and now stands at 42,627 with 1, 048 deaths, there are still over 10,000 active cases and that number has continued to rise without a vaccine.

 

Experts believe that there is little real chance of controlling the disease. The impact of the shutdown on schools has been enormous. Academic sessions have been disrupted for students at primary, secondary, and university levels. The government and administrators expected the shutdown to be just brief enough to contain the spread of the virus and return to normal life but the reverse became the case.

 

By the end of June, the government ordered the partial opening of the schools to enable students and pupils in the exit classes in secondary and primary schools to resume and take their final examinations.

 

Similarly, government recently announced the second phase of re-  opening of the schools, which will involve more pupils and students returning to the classrooms. National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, who gave the directive at a media briefing about a fortnight ago, urged state governments and school authorities to conduct risk assessments before throwing the school gates open. He said the reopening would be done in phases and advised the educational institutions to begin the process of working towards potentially reopening within four weeks.

 

According to the government, the school authorities are to ensure that proper hand washing and sanitization facilities were installed in their schools ahead of the resumption. The authorities have clear directives to ensure that their school environment was made healthy, COVID-19 compliant and conducive for teaching and learning.

 

However, these arrangements have not gone down well with some persons in the society. Inside Abuja interviewed some parents, who confessed that they were not yet prepared to send their wards back to school.

 

 

On the other hand, teachers in private schools were very happy about the resumption of schools because that means their source of income would bounce back after several months of deprivation. The voices Esther Attah, a parent, who lives in Kurudu, Abuja, expressed fears about the reopening, stressing that it could lead to further spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. “What we heard was that academic session will be rolled over for the year and now government is saying schools will reopen this month.

 

The truth is that I don’t understand why they are considering re-opening schools now that most families are finding it difficult to feed. They should not give me high blood pressure because I am not prepared for the reopening and I don’t have money to feed my children not to talk of paying school fees. I will advise government should suspend the decision of reopening school for now because minors are at risk of contracting the virus by going to school,” Attah said.

 

On the other hand, Mary Ochigbo, a private school teacher, said the government has made the best decision by ordering the reopening of schools. Ochigbo said that since the worship centres and markets were already open, schools should also be opened but precaution should strictly be adhered to safeguard the health of both teachers and pupils.

 

“The truth is, children are easily controlled and managed. So, there is nothing to panic about. I feel if children continue to stay at home, they will forget all they have been taught and our effort as teachers will be wasted.

 

“Private school owners and teachers are the ones bearing the brunt of this whole thing because we have been home for months without salaries. It’s the mercy of God that has kept my family and I    since this lockdown.

 

Government is not giving us jobs and the ones we are managing in private sector is somewhat taken from us with no plans on how to give us palliative to support our upkeep. “If markets can be open, school should also be open.

 

The lives of our children is precious but keeping them out of school is not the best because some of these children follow their parents to the offices and even markets.

 

As such, their safety is not even guaranteed in those places. I feel it’s better to keep them in school, where their activities will be checked. I’m particularly happy that academic activities are returning because I have missed school a lot,” Ochigbo said.

 

Inside Abuja observed that while the school were shut down, parents became home teachers to their children, while the children were gradually forgetting what school feels like. Nigerians who are in support of the resumption of schools believe that the system had suffered enough and needed to be reopened for normal activities.

 

The reopening of schools is seen as part of a wider plan by the government to ease the lockdown and gradually reopen the economy. Cynthia Shiga, a parent and resident of Abuja, noted that economic activities were gradually returning to normal in many parts of the country.

 

“The government, though previously nervous about the spread of the virus, is now more worried about the spread of poverty caused by job losses and lack of income to the informal sector.

 

Half of Nigeria’s GDP comes from the informal sector. “I don’t support the reopening of schools now because we are still having good number of confirmed active cases daily. Children could easily contract the virus, show little or no symptoms, and then pass to their parents or elderly ones at home. There is still no cure for the virus despite progress made with vaccines.

 

The risks of reopening school are dire” Shiga noted. Another parent, who did not disclose his name, said that mandatory COVID-19 tests should be conducted by schools on their teachers and administrators as it is the case in other countries where schools have reopened. He also suggested that schools should be fumigated, hand sanitizers, constant running water, soaps, and other disinfectants must be  provided in all schools and public places.

 

Uche Hendrick blamed the government and Nigeria’s poor population for the wide spread of the virus. “Nigeria’s pandemic control measures are uncoordinated, leading to communal infections, thereby leading to increase number of confirmed cases.

 

Although the country went under lockdown for over four weeks, it was largely ineffective as health authorities were unable to ramp up testing.

 

Nigeria’s already poor population was unable to fully obey the lockdown rules as it temporarily ruined their sources of livelihood,”he said Kudirat Khadijat, a mother of three, who lives in Kurudu, a suburb of FCT lamented that government palliatives and relief funding were both inadequate and not evenly disbursed.

 

“The CBN’s COVID-19 relief fund for families and small businesses could not provide funding to many in these groups. University and boarding school students would have to travel long distances to return to their schools. It won’t be a funny experience.

 

“Nigeria’s transportation system is notoriously cramped as vehicles are filled sometimes beyond the capacity and passenger luggage is squeezed into the extent that there is poor ventilation in the bus.

 

That is a health challenge for a country witnessing a highly contagious pandemic. There is just no point asking children to come to school especially now that the vaccine has not been discovered,” she said.

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