Nigeria: Govt Bows to Pressure, Reopens Schools for Graduating Students

28 July 2020

Abuja, Lagos — Atiku, NUT, private school owners hail decision

PSN lists eight conditions for safe re-opening of schools

WAEC commences August 17

The federal government monday bowed to pressure to reopen secondary schools in the country closed at the onset of COVID-19 in March, 2020.

It said in a statement that it has given approval for schools to reopen on August 4, 2020, for pupils in exit classes to sit for their examinations.

It added that the students would have two weeks to prepare for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) organised by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), which commences on August 17.

But in a swift reaction, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) has listed eight conditions for safe re-opening of schools even as former vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and other private school owners hailed the decision of the federal government.

The government announced the decision at the end of a virtual consultative meeting held yesterday between the Federal Ministry of Education, Commissioners of Education of the 36 states, the Nigerian Union of Teachers, (NUT), the proprietors of private schools, and Chief Executives of examination bodies.

A statement by the Director, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education (FMoE), Mr. Ben Goong, said: "Stakeholders at the meeting agreed that the exit classes should resume immediately after the Sallah break, from the 4th of August, 2020 to enable them to prepare for the WAEC examinations scheduled to commence from the 17th of August, 2020.

"Secondary schools in the country are to reopen as from August 4, 2020, for exit classes only.

"Students will have two weeks within which to prepare for the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) due to start on August 17, 2020.

"The meeting also resolved that a passionate appeal be made to the federal government through the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and public-spirited Nigerians for assistance to schools across the country to enable them to fast track the preparations of safe reopening, as agreed.

"Another meeting is to be convened tomorrow between the Federal Ministry of Education and Chief Executives of examination bodies namely, NECO, NABTEB and NBAIS to harmonise their examination dates, which will be conveyed to stakeholders expeditiously by the Federal Ministry of Education."

Confirming this decision at a press briefing by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 in Abuja yesterday, the Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said that following an agreement between the federal government and state governors and the education stakeholders, all secondary schools in the country are now to reopen on August 4 for the West African Examination Council (WAEC) examinations.

He said the decision was reached in conjunction with all the state commissioners of education in all the 36 states of the federation, the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), the proprietors of private schools, and Chief Executives of examination bodies yesterday.

He said they agreed to prepare the students for WAEC exams that begin on August 17, saying the resolution varied the timetable earlier released by as much as two weeks.

He said by the agreement, WAEC and all the countries in the regional body had agreed that the exams would proceed, but the exams peculiar to Nigeria would be taken from September 5 to 14.

However, exams common to all the countries in WAEC will proceed as previously published.

He said Nigeria would then domesticate the timetable for the exams, which was approved by all the states and endorsed by the PTF at its meeting yesterday.

He, however, clarified that primary schools and other classes were excluded from the decision, adding that the stakeholders will report back on Friday to update the ministry on their preparedness.

"We have said that schools that are reopening are centres for WAEC and only in respect of the exiting classes; primary schools and all other classes are excluded from all these decisions. We arrived at the decisions having met with all stakeholders. Part of what they will update us with on Friday at the stakeholders' meeting will be to report back on their state of preparedness. The state of preparedness of these centres will inform how they will open. All the state governors and state commissioners and association of private schools owners have given their commitment that they will resolve it. They will provide for the teachers while WAEC will also provide for the invigilators and ensure that the conduct is seamless," Nwajiuba stated.

Also speaking, the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, said all the stakeholders in the aviation sector would meet today to develop protocols for the resumption of international flights.

PSN Lists Conditions for Reopening of Schools

The PSN has listed eight conditions for the safe reopening of schools.

PSN President, Mr. Sam Ohuabunwa, said before schools could reopen, the federal government should ensure proper disinfection of classrooms and school environments; ensure all schools have protocols for proper sanitation arrangement, including handwashing facilities, sanitisers, and disposable towels.

He said: "Government must also ensure that sitting arrangements comply with physical distancing. There should be a form of shield between teachers and students to prevent contact, as is the case with some schools in countries that have safely re-opened schools to children. Facilities to check temperatures must be available in each school. Temperature-check of both students and teachers must be carried out daily to monitor them for fever.

"Every teacher must be tested for COVID-19 before reopening. Although it would have been nice to test the students, if that is not possible, the government should ensure every teacher is tested for the infection. Each school should also have medical centres that can handle health emergencies because COVID-19 symptoms can start at any time. There should also be availability of ambulances for emergencies."

Ohuabunwa who stressed that children must be protected at all cost from contracting the virus, said every school should be asked to provide disposable face masks for each student, adding that each face mask should be disposed of daily.

He added that allowing children to wear face masks from their homes may not be healthy.

According to him, if these stringent protocols are not in place, the reopening of schools may cause a spike in COVID-19 and compound Nigeria's fight against the disease.

"Without these protocols, children can contract the virus from their schools and then infect their parents or grandparents or their drivers or anybody they come in contact with. We know the government is trying, but it must not mess around with children. Enough value must be placed on them before we safely open up.

"I am for the staggered reopening of schools and the economy if the right protocols are put in place and enforced. It is better we do not open at all than open and then have reasons to close them back because there were no protocols in place to avoid a surge in COVID-19. It is better we do not open at all than have a flip-flop," he added.

Atiku, NUT, Private School Owners Hail Decision

Reacting to the federal government's decision to reopen schools, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, NUT, and the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) commended the decision to reopen schools for exit-stage students to write their final examinations.

Atiku, on his verified tweeter handle, said: "I commend the Federal Ministry of Education for acceding to the patriotic counsel that myself and other well-meaning Nigerians and organisations gave with regards to not cancelling the WASSCE exams.

"The announcement by the Federal Ministry of Education that the WAEC exam will hold in August is commendable.

"Learning must go on, especially for exit stage students. I do hope, however, that students writing the exams are well prepared through home study during the lockdown. I wish them the very best."

Also, the Chairman of Lagos State Chapter of NUT, Mr. Adedoyin Adeshina, said the state was ready to comply with the decision of the Federal Ministry of Education to resume on August 4.

He said the union had assessed the schools and made recommendations to the state government as regards the provision of the necessary safety materials, which have been provided.

He also appealed to parents to support the government by providing face masks for their children and to advise them against endangering their lives and the lives of others.

NAPPS also commended the federal and state governments for the decision and promised full compliance with COVID-19 protocols for the safe reopening of schools.

A statement signed by the National President, Chief Yomi Otubela, read: "This is particularly cheering for the students, parents, teachers, school owners and other stakeholders who have shown concerns over the initial suspension.

"We thank the Federal Minister of Education and Minister of State for Education for their fatherly roles in listening to our concerns about the suspension and taking steps to resolve it amicably."

He said NAPPS was ready to ensure that the management of private schools would prioritise safety in schools by ensuring that staff, students and visitors to their schools adhere strictly to the safety protocols as laid down by the school management in line with the COVID 19 guidelines for the safe reopening of schools.

"We therefore call on the various state governments to follow suit by calling an emergency virtual meeting of all stakeholders in both public and private schools in their states and enlighten them on what needs to be put in place having taken cognisance of their state peculiarities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

"With the school reopening for SS3 students only, there will be an opportunity for the observance of physical distancing. More so is the fact that we shall use the opportunity of this resumption to assess the workability of safety protocols that are in place in schools and hope that we can use the success of it to ensure other students fully resume as soon as possible," he said.

Chuks Okocha, Olawale Ajimotokan, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Kuni Tyessi, Uche Nnaike and Martins Ifijeh 

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