Awka — With the gradual lifting of lockdown measures, civil servants and teachers have been directed to report to work in Anambra State even as students remain at home and the government is said to be working towards a framework for safe reopening of the schools.
Schools nationwide were closed in March, 2020, to stem the rapid spread of COVID-19 just a few days before lockdown restrictions were imposed on the whole country.
However, with the ease of the lockdown restrictions, countries, especially in Europe, have reportedly reopened schools at least basic levels with no report in spike of new cases of COVID-19.
The Executive Director, Health and Emergency of WHO, Dr. Michael Ryan, has said the disease might not go away soon and would remain in communities like the HIV; hence people might have to live with it.
As a post-lockdown strategy, authorities are contemplating strict hygiene and physical distancing measures to reopen schools. This is to ensure that students do not lose out.
With the WHO stance on COVID-19, Gov. Willie Obiano, on April 28, 2020, ordered teachers to return to work while safety measures are put in place for parents to send their children back to school.
An official of the state Ministry of Education confirmed that stakeholders were working on the roadmap for the safe reopening of the schools. The new guidelines, according to the official, involved running morning and afternoon classes in overcrowded schools and the compulsory use of PPE in addition to other preventive measures against the spread of the virus.
Confirming the development, the Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, said government might allow shifting of classes with some students attending morning classes while others attended the afternoon shift to avoid close contact.
Mr. Adinuba said government was considering other measures in its plan on post-lockdown activities, and that the safety measures that would be instituted in the school system were basically to prevent teachers and students from contracting or spreading the disease.
He said, "We are also looking at running two classes in schools where students are many. There are some schools that have high population and they have to run two shifts to decongest the classrooms in obedience to government's directive on social distancing.
"Some Private schools in the state have overcrowded classes and we cannot allow that now, especially under this condition."
According to him, the state government initially asked teachers to return to work to offer their contributions on the procedures to be taken in preventing the spread of the disease among students and households.
Adinuba added that, "Teachers are critical stakeholders in the running of schools and we are meeting with them on the best way to run the schools in the state during this time so as to maintain social distance and other directives by government to contain the spread of COVID-19.
On if private schools will agree to abide by the measures, including the two shifts, he said the private schools were operating under the laws of the state and that they were statutorily expected to obey government's directives.
Meanwhile, a Professor of Measurements and Evaluation at the Faculty of Education, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Romy Okoye, has called for proper evaluation of things before coming out with any modality for reopening of the schools.
The don said, "If you introduce the morning and afternoon shifts, it will shorten the time for morning classes to accommodate the afternoon shift. It will also tell on the teachers, especially when the same teachers are to teach morning and afternoon lessons," but that if the COVID-19 crisis continued, the state might have no other option than to reopen schools and run the two shifts because keeping children idle over a long period would be counterproductive.
A teacher with the Central Primary School, Awka, Mrs. Nkechi Okafor, advised that schools should not be allowed to have more than 30 pupils in a classroom at a time when they finally resumed.
Mrs. Okafor said several meetings involving teachers in the state were taking place to arrive at a roadmap for the safe reopening of the schools, and added that government was training teachers on how to cope with the pupils.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Education, Prof. Mrs. Kate Omenugha, said government would train teachers on post-COVID-19 teaching and classroom management, and that before the schools were reopened, the Ministry of Physical Planning would inspect all physical infrastructure and make sure they were safe for teaching and learning.