Nigeria: How Cross River Battles Reopening of Schools

Calabar — The excitement in Cross River State following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and reopening of schools is diminished after students were sent back home upon arrival on June 16, 2020.

Authorities were forced to rethink their decision after stakeholders and parents expressed fear over the safety of the students, with the stakeholders saying reopening schools prematurely risked spike in the spread of the disease.

The Federal Government, on Monday, confirmed "safe reopening" of schools for graduating students while pre-primary and primary schools pupils are to remain at home.

But before then, students reportedly returned to the classroom at the Government Secondary School (GSS), Egoli, Ogoja LGA, GSS Ikom, Cross River Central and West African People's Institute (WAPI) as trial ahead of reopening all schools but were told to return home until further notice.

Showing excitement at the resumption of schools, a JSS student, Glory Akpan, said, "I want to commend the state government for ensuring that people comply with the laid down COVID-19 protocols. I know that our school authorities will abide by the same protocols as we resume."

Another student, Etebong Abraham of Great Prospects Children Academy, Calabar, said, "Schools closure has disrupted our academic calendar. I got bored staying at home. Let all schools reopen. We will wear face masks."

Some parents insist that if the government can allow churches and other religious organisations to operate, schools should follow suit, but safely.

A parent, Mr. Peter Udoh in Calabar South, said "churchgoers" could be easier to control than children who could soon forget instructions.

Udoh said, "Schools will have difficulties in restricting the number of children per class and keeping physical distancing," and added that, "I suggest that health officials should ensure constant testing of children in all schools."

Another parent in Calabar, Madam Veronica Ikpi, disagreed with the decision on reopening of schools.

Madam Veronica said, "COVID-19 is real; I would like the government to hold on until the coast is clear."

A teacher, Mr. Dopse Edet, said the decision to reopen few schools would amount to cheating because majority of students were not given equal opportunity to return to school.

Mr. Edet explained that if the schools were allowed to conduct lessons for many weeks, they would have an edge over others.

Another teacher in Calabar, Amos Ituen Effiong, said he was on the same page with the government on schools resumption and that it was the responsibility of teachers and school administrators to ensure that pupils complied with the protocals.

Effiong became rhetorical and asked, "All markets, and now churches and other social places have been operational without hassles. Why not schools?"

Meanwhile, the Cross River State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) cautioned the state government against its plan to reopen classes.

In a press release jointly signed by the Cross River NMA Chairman, Dr. Agam Ayuk, and Secretary, Dr. Ezoke Epoke, the association noted low level of testing in the state, saying the situation was unacceptable.

The state NMA maintained that the hasty resumption of schools could lead to spread of the disease among students and therefore called for adoption of remote learning opportunities for public schools in the interim.

It said, "The declaration by the Cross River State Government on public schools reopening is alarming. The COVID-19 tests breakdown by states as at June 10, 2020, revealed that Cross River had carried out only nine tests using the NCDC Molecular Laboratory.

"The association continues to advocate for upscaling of COVID-19 testing in the state."

The state NMA further noted that the increasing reports of flu-like and respiratory symptoms and loss of smell/taste in various hospitals was an indication of potential community transmission of an undetected disease fitting the "epidemiological pattern" of COVID-19.

In the meantime, Gov. Ben Ayade said the state garment factory produced 300,000 face shields, nose masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to be distributed free of charge to students and teachers as part of the trial resumption of schools in the state.

Gov. Ayade said the production of the PPE was part of his administration's effort to fight the pandemic and explained that if schools were reopened, it would help to reduce laziness, loss of memory and indiscipline among learners.

He further said, "I think that the Federal Government will be excited to encourage the resumption of schools because obviously the coronavirus has come to stay with us and the reality is that countries that have attempted to resume schools have had to contend with the increasing prevalence of the virus.

"Perhaps, we have to adopt a new lifestyle that will integrate coronavirus as part of our lifestyle; we have a strong commitment that our children cannot continue to stay at home, the more they stay, the more the moral decadence, the more indiscipline, the more they become lazy of getting back to school and getting started because for every stage in life there is time where you have to be in class and once the children miss that delicate phase, it becomes very difficult."

He added that, "I think it is wise for the kids to go back to school, and I have seen this happen in China where kids are back to schools with their nose masks and shields. So you wear your nose mask and you wear your face shield when you get to school you drop the mask and wear only your shield to allow for more ventilation and more breathing."

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