Education

Stakeholders kick over reopening of schools

MIXED-FEELINGS

 

For the umpteenth time, there is palpable anxiety among stakeholders over directive by the Federal Government for reopening of schools. Though, many stakeholders have kicked against the move, some described it as a welcome development

 

˜Proposal to reopen schools from the pit of hell –Parents

 

˜ASUU, NLC caution govt on schools’ reopening

 

˜NAPPS: We’re ready to reopen

 

˜States: We’ll consult relevant unions, stakeholders

 

 

Again as the Federal and some state governments mulled the reopening of schools, stakeholders for the umpteenth time have expressed apprehension and anxiety about the plans amid rising cases of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

Critical stakeholders, especially parents, state government, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Civil Society Organisations, and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), among other numerous bodies have since the government’s pronouncement have been expressing apprehension over the plan.

 

The Federal Government had through the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 Response, Boss Mustapha, on Monday last week, released new protocols effective from July 1 for reopening schools to allow graduating students resume classes.

 

In the release, the government said Primary Six pupils, as well as students in Junior Secondary III and Senior Secondary III who are to sit for the National Common Entrance Examination, the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO) should return to school to allow them write their examinations.

 

 

Though, this was not without some caveats that the schools must comply strictly with safety measures to be issued by the Federal Ministry of Education for the reopening of institutions.

 

But it, however, the government insisted that all daycares and primary schools, as well as secondary and tertiary institutions, are to remain closed until further notice, pending the evaluation of the COVID-19 situation.

 

The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, who spoke during its briefing in Abuja, said: “Students in only graduating classes – Primary 6, JSS 3 and SS3, will be allowed to resume in preparation for examinations, as well as for pupils, who are to  go to new classes can resume so as to write their examinations.”

 

The Task Force said: “Arrangements are to be made for students taking part in NABTEB and BECE examinations, WAEC examinations, NECO and sub-examinations respectively.

 

All schools must comply with the strict recommended steps and required measures to be issued by the Federal Ministry of Education before an institution is reopened in the timeline to be provided.

 

“We need to find a way to safely get these students to write their examinations and move on. Otherwise, we will have a serious spillover when it comes to education.” BasedonthePresidentialTaskForce(PTF) on COVID-19 record on Sunday, the figure of coronavirus confirmed cases had risen 28,167; with 634 deaths and 11,462 discharged

 

Meanwhile, prior to last Monday directive, the Federal Government had rolled out six conditions which must be met before schools could reopen.

 

The six conditions, as announced by the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba are 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 every entering points including school gates, hostels, classes and offices, among other critical areas.

 

In line with the directive, the Lagos State Government had on Friday unveiled its phased re-opening of schools programme with instruction to students in transitional classes, who have mandatory  public examinations ahead of them, to resume for revision classes and examinations on August 3.

 

 

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who said that the plan was in line with the updated guidelines issued by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 on the easing of lockdown, however, banned boarding school, as affected students are to come from home.

 

The governor said: “Students in transitional classes, who have mandatory public examinations ahead of them, are now permitted to resume for revision classes and examinations.

 

All education establishments are to follow established public health guidelines and protocol for re-opening the schools for these categories of students. “The commencement date for this opening will be on August 3, 2020 for SSS 3 and TEC 3 students only. Dates for JSS 3 re-opening for revision classes and examinations will be announced in due course.

 

The permission to open will apply only to day-schooling, as boarding activities are not permitted at this time.” According to him, school authorities are expected to spend the period between now and the day of reopening to put in place infrastructure, protocols and essential items required to comply with all hygiene, safety and physical distancing requirements.

 

However, investigations by New Telegraph across the federation indicated that the plan is generating dissenting views among a cross section of stakeholders, who described the decision as “ill-advised and ill-timed.”

 

But to some others, especially the Federal Capital Territory chapter of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) the directive was a welcome development.

 

According to the association, its schools had put every measure in place to reopen schools for graduating students to hold revision classes and sit for their certificate examinations.

 

Its President, Olusola Bankole, noted that most private schools had already purchased infrared thermometer/ temperature scanners and hand washing stations and endorsed the practice of frequent hand washing as a culture to forestall contraction of infections within the school environment.

 

In the same vein, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said the re-opening of schools must be done with due diligence and utmost precaution, given the overcrowded nature of schools at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

 

NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who disclosed this at the end of a joint meeting of NLC affiliate unions in the education sector and the education committee of the union, stressed the need for the provision of adequate measures needed in schools to ensure effective enforcement of the NCDC protocols and guidelines on COVID-19. The union stressed the need to adopt phased/structured education

 

 

 

activities, adjust examinations and lecture/teaching time, National Safe School policies to assist educational institutions to conduct risk assessment audit of schools in the country.

 

 

Besides, NLC also called for a revisit of outsourcing policy of security personnel and cleaners, especially in institutions of higher learning to enable the institutions to have full control of the security personnel and cleaners, as private cleaners and security personnel cannot guarantee the health and safety of staff and students.

 

“We call for the immediate releases of intervention funds to all institutions to enable them to provide needed safety measures; provide an outdoor learning environment with a view to achieving physical distancing,” the union stressed.

 

 

Again, the university lecturers, under their umbrella body, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), on their part, called for caution and warned the government against reopening of schools, saying that with the present situation of COVID-19 upsurge it was not ripe for schools to reopen.

 

The union, which said the reopening of schools across the federation amidst the pandemic could endanger the lives of poor Nigerian children, however, described such a plan as a crash model of an experimental approach.

 

ASUU National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, however, insisted that the basic minimum must be met with decontaminating of the schools in order to avert disaster.

 

The Chairman of Plateau State Universal Basic Education Board (PSUBEB), Prof. Mathew Sule, has said though the state was yet to receive any correspondence on school reopening from Federal Ministry of Education, the state was adequately prepared to reopen schools for final year students in Primary 6, JSS 3 and SS3 respectively.

 

He pointed out that the state had planned to train teachers on how to handle the situation in schools, and apply all measures to guarantee the safety of students.

 

Towards this end, Sule noted that seating arrangement, which used to be about 45 students in a class, will be reduced to a ratio of one teacher to 20 or 25 students in a class, depending on the classroom size.

 

“Apart from this, measures to observe all the protocols such as social distancing, washing of hands, wearing of face masks, using hand sanitisers and thermometer for checking temperature, have been put in place,” he added.

 

Expressing fear over COVID-19, many parents vowed that they would only allow their children back to school if the schools observed all guidelines and protocols for the safety of their children, with government and school authorities putting in place adequate proper safety measures to safeguard the children.

 

“As long as the government and school authorities are ready to provide the necessary safety requirements there is no reason the children should not go back to school,” the parents said. Also, the teachers, however, appealed to governors across the states to provide safety measures in schools since they will be interacting with students from various homes.

 

According to Abia State Chairman of NUT, Kizito Kalu, the government should provide essential minimum safety measures for teachers and students in schools.

 

 

But, thestateCommissionerforEducation, Dr. Kelechi Nwangwa, noted that reopening of schools would only be feasible on conditions given by the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, saying the state government wouldonlyannounceresumptiondate after necessary modalities have been worked out.

 

“The state is prepared to reopen school after consultation with relevant unions and stakeholders including the National Association of Private School Proprietors, the NUT, ANCOPS to work out the modalities before announcing the date,” Nwangwa added.

 

Some teachers, who said that they were ready to go back to class, noted that the fear of coronavirus should not be the excuse for keeping the children at home forever. Going by the July 20 date fixed for school resumption in Ekiti State as directed by Governor Kayode Fayemi, the state Commissioner for Education, Foluso Daramola, explained that the state has been working tirelessly to ensure that the situation is in proper shape to ensure safety of children.

 

He said the tentative date fixed depends largely on achieving the guidelines released for both private and public schools such as clearing the school premises, provision of water and soap for washing hands, sanitisers for students and teachers, provision of face masks for students and teachers, as well as maintaining social distancing of about two metres.

 

Based on this, the state government, he said, had already met with critical stakeholders such as the NUT, ANCOPS, private schools owners and others relevant stakeholders across the 16 local government areas of the state on how to adopt school shifting period/multiple sessions.

 

But, the state Chairman of NUT, Mr. Olugbesan Samuel Olusegun, who expressed mixed feelings over the resumption considering the spread of coronavirus, warned that the union would not want a situation where the lives of teachers and students would be put at risk.

 

Therefore, he spoke on the need for the government to carry the union along in its plans, but wondered how they are going to maintain social distance in some schools where there are over 1,500 students and about 200 students in certificate classes.

 

A parent in Ekiti State, Mrs. BoseAdegbenro, whohastwochildren in certificate classes (JS3 and SS3), however, calledforproperguide, safety andprecautionarymeasurestobeput in place for the children and teachers beforeschoolreopeningtogiveparents the confidence to send their children back to school.

 

The situation in Imo State was, however, not different as parents are apprehensive overschool resumption, given the current developments and realities of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

 

A parent, who was evidently agitated at the thought of sending kids back to school, said it was reckless, insisting that the decision is more like death sentence on innocent children, unless the government has been lying to Nigerians about COVID-19.

 

This was as some civil society organisations called on parents and patriotic Nigerians to rise against the decision to reopen schools, even as some parents lamented:

 

“There is no safety guard on ground to encourage anyone to return their kids to schools.

 

While the figures are still climbing, and community transmission is apparent, they want us to bring our children out to school. Unless this COVID-19 of a thing had been a hoax, I do not see any justification for putting our children in risk in order to avert loss of academic session.

Similarly, the Delta State wing of NUT also kicked against the government’s proposal for school reopening, even as the National Association of Delta State Students (NADESSTU) called on the government to promptly work out modalities for the reopening, insisting that schools could resume if proper measures were put in place to prevent the spread.

 

 

“It is better to delay reopening of schools to save lives,” the association said. The Chairman of the state wing of NUT, Comrade Titus Okotie, hinged the union’s rejection on the spread of the pandemic, especially now that there is yet to be vaccine discovered to combat the virus.

 

They, however, urged the government to decontaminate the schools and to put in place other precautionary measures rather than to hastily reopen schools based on agitations by school owners.

 

The Chairman of the National Association of Private Schools Owners in Oshimili North Local Government Area of the state, Carl Ofonye, said if proper measures were put in place to enforce the COVID-19 protocols of social distancing, the use of alcohol-based sanitisers, face masks and constant hand-washing, the schools can function again.

 

Given the Federal Government directive, the Bayelsa State Ministry of Education, Permanent Secretary, Walton Liverpool, told New Telegraph that the state government could not announce a resumption date yet for schools.

 

 

He, however, spoke on the need for the schools to imbibe some safety protocols and guidelines include provision of running water for hand washing, face masks for the students, social distancing of one meter before reopening of schools.

 

The Permanent Secretary also harped on the need to train public schools heads before resumption of schools, expressing the ministry’s determination to enforce compliance by going round the schools to inspect protocols in public and private schools.

 

But, to the Kwara State Government, all is set for reopening of schools for certificate students as directed by the Federal Government, even as the state Commissioner for Education, Hajia Ahmed Fatimah Bisola, noted that the state was only awaiting final communication and guidelines from the Federal Government on the issue of school reopening.

 

However, the state Chairman of NUT, Comrade Olu Adewara, cautioned against any hasty move to reopen the schools while the coronavirus pandemic was yet to abate in the country. •Additional report by Regina Otokpa, Adewumi Ademiju, Pauline Onyibe

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