Nigeria: Covid-19 - South-West Divided Over Schools' Resumption

Blackboard and chalk eraser in classroom.
10 September 2020

Will the country not be witnessing a second wave of COVID -19 pandemic if schools are reopened as directed by the Federal and state governments?

Has the recommendation by the Federal government that states should conduct risk assessment to ensure that all schools are at a level of compliance and create monitoring mechanism to assess and monitor level of compliance been adhered to?

Are Nigerians ready for another lock-down and its consequences if things go bad again?

These and many other pertinent questions are agitating the minds of some stakeholders in the education sector as the gates of school shut about seven months ago are about to be flung open for students to resume.

They have warned that re-opening of schools now may be "an open invitation to tragic explosion of the pandemic since its outbreak if precautionary measures are not in place.

To them since necessary facilities such as hand washing facilities, running water, sanitizers and toilet facilities are still inadequate in schools, re-opening of schools to student is exposing them to serious risk of contacting the virus.

Recall that schools across the country were closed by government due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.

Government hinged the decision to close schools on the urgent need to safeguard the health and general well-being of children, youths, teachers and education personnel.

Opinions of some stakeholders in the education sector points to the fact that the consequences of re-opening schools in the absence of basic facilities in schools across the country would be disastrous.

Bodies such as the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT; Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools; and the National Association of the Parent/ Teacher Association of Nigeria. have disagreed with the decisions by state governments to reopen schools.

They have warned that the shortage or non-provision of toilets and hand washing facilities in schools will definitely put students at serious risk of getting infected with COVID-19.

According to the education bodies, government across the states should put the right measures in place to minimise the risk of exposing the students to the virus before re-opening the schools.

According to them it would be better that schools remain closed for the rest of the year to minimise the risk than to reopen them.

ASUU cautions against school re-opening

The Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Coordinator of lbadan zone, Prof Ade Adejumo, said "that throwing schools open in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic is an open invitation to tragic explosion of the scourge.

"Has government met the NCDC criteria on COVID-19 protocol in our institutions? How many of our public institutions can confidently vouch for the safety of our children given the available facilities such as running water for hand washing, social distancing, use of face masks, which are key components of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocols?"

According to him, agitations to re-open schools especially by proprietors of private universities should be ignored because they are doing so for pecuniary gains, " lives of students should not be endangered for pecuniary gains."

Adejumo said that members of the union would not resume work even if government re-opens universities saying that it has the responsibility to call government attention to its duties to the nation and its citizens.

NANS South West Zone supports schools re-opening

The Deputy Coordinator of NANS South West Zone, Utman Oladimeji said reasons given by some states in the zone for not wanting to join other states to reopen schools were not tenable.

Oladimeji said " the continued closure of schools puts the academic life and by extension the future of Nigerian students at peril. I think state governments should begin to develop practicable mechanism, guidelines and policies that will make school re-opening possible across board."

Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Ogun okay resumption

Lagos State was the first to announce September 14 as resumption date for tertiary schools in the state and September 21 for primary and secondary schools while Osun State announced September 21 as the tentative resumption date. Ondo followed suit by announcing November 2 as a tentative date for resumption for both state owned and private higher institutions.

Ogun State has equally announced September 21 date for the reopening of schools for the first term of 2020/2021 session while the second phase of the re-opening of schools is extended to all classes in primary and secondary schools, Technical and Vocational Colleges, and Tertiary Institutions.

Former Chairman, State Universal Basic Education Board, Professor Soji Adejumo, in an interview said there is no harm in re-opening schools provided all precautionary measures are taken.

To him: "Without reopening schools, the pandemic can still increase. It would be counterproductive if schools are closed because of the pandemic.

"Schools can re-open provided all COVID-19 regulations are adhered to. The pandemic seems to be imported from abroad. So, it can still spread if the schools are not reopened. Now that the airports have been re-opened, the government should ensure that those coming in go through the COVID-19 regulations."

Also, former Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Teachers NUT in Oyo State, Mr Olu Abiala, said: "I won't subscribe to indefinite suspension of the school system. That would amount to ushering us into illiteracy and encouraging the downward trend in the educational development of the country.

"We can't afford to close the educational space when the transportation and work space is open. Why should we close down the school system?

"I think all the government needs to do is to put all necessary preventive measures in place to keep the school system running. With continued closure of the school system, we would be relapsing into illiteracy, a culture of silence. The society is growing and we must be growing with the society."

Human Rights Activist and the Convener of Voters Assembly, Comrade Mashood Erubami, also aligned with those who are against indefinite closure of schools.

He said: "Apart from COVID-19 pandemic, there is danger everywhere in the country even in our homes. Before COVID 19, people have been dying of one ailment or the other. People die of malaria and other ailments. So, is it because of COVID-19 that we should close down schools permanently forever?

"World Health Organization has given us certain precautionary measures to follow. In countries where we have had very huge fatalities, they still come out everyday. They are just cautious. We can't close schools forever.

"COVID-19 is not a death sentence but it is a deadly disease; we should prepare ourselves for it on the basis of taking care the precautionary measures set by NCDC and WHO. Parents, and teachers should help our students prevent carrying the pandemic from schools to homes or from homes to schools."

The Ogun and Ekiti Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools, ASUSS, Alhaji Akeem Lasisi and Sola Adigun, respectively, said our schools cannot be shut permanently considering the long term effects of the closure such as truancy, unwanted pregnancy, breeding of thugs and miscreants which may lead to colossal waste of the future of these students.

Adigun urged the government to adopt the old term methods of morning and afternoon sessions in order to reduce the number of students in classes at a time thus ensuring that pupils and students observe social distancing.

Private universities have complied - Afe Babalola

On his own, Founder of the Afe Babalola University, ABUAD, Aare Afe Babalola, described as unfair, the lumping of private and public universities, despite the reassurance of the private universities of their readiness to resume.

"The Associations of Vice Chancellors and Pro-Chancellors of Private Universities in Nigeria have written to NUC that they had complied with government guidelines and are therefore ready to resume.

"To underscore the readiness of private universities to resume, the parents and students have protested the continued closure of private universities even after the private universities have met the PTF conditions.

"It is common knowledge that many universities in countries such as the United States of America, England and even China where COVID-19 originated have since resumed.

"Many of the private universities have full residential facilities for both their staff and students. This makes it possible for teachers in private universities to mentor and monitor their students day and night.

"Some of the private universities even have lectures in the night while some have state-of-the-art Teaching Hospitals and well equipped Medical Centres. To ascertain their readiness to reopen for academic works, many of the private universities have written NUC to come and verify their claims of compliance with the PTF guidelines."

Reopening without adequate measures in place is suicidal - CONUA

The National Coordinator of the Congress of University Academics, CONUA, Dr. Niyi Sumonu said that re-opening schools without putting adequate measures in place to curb the spread of corona-virus could amount to embarking on a suicide mission.

"Reopening schools without putting appropriate measures in place is like a suicide mission because the COVID 19 pandemic is still very much with us and has not subsided.

"However, we must begin to interrogate the feasibility of Federal Government's guidelines and protocol, whether it is being put in place in schools, whether government would have to look for other means to interface to ensure schools are reopened."

Speaking in the same vein, the Vice Chancellor of Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, Professor Solomon Adebola, warned that re-opening public schools without putting adequate measures in place could be disastrous not only for the university environment but also the entire country.

His words: "I believe the public universities should have put in place the necessary measures required by the NUC for re-opening otherwise the students and the university community will be exposed to danger.

"It will be a complete disaster to re-open public universities because students do not just relate among themselves but with the society outside the campus, hence, it is advisable that public universities adhere to NUC directive. We cannot close schools perpetually, hence, measures must be put in place."

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