Nigeria: Back to School in Covid-19 Times

20 October 2020
opinion

Ibadan — With many schools gradually re-opening in many regions of the world, learners are faced with the task of adapting to the concept of "new normal" in their learning environments. However, it is not just learners who will be basking in the "Back to School" fever which is reverberating in these Covid-19 times but also teachers and parents, alike. For these stakeholders, their concerns spread across safety compliance, mental health issues, learning losses, overwork and job losses.

Safety compliance is an issue of grave concern, globally. In regions of the world where Covid-19 health requirements are continuously disregarded despite efforts invested in creating awareness, cost of health care continues to mount. This issue can be worsened by the massive influx back to school as the probability of community infections could peak with schools being sources of the infection. The shortage or lack of health personnel, sanitation materials and effective monitoring of schools can equally aggravate health concerns for learners, teachers and parents.

Mental health issues are another source of apprehension. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in anxiety, desperation, depression and stress-related disorders for learners, teachers and parents in different dimensions. For many learners, their experiences of mental health challenges spring from poverty. Food poverty for instance, has been caused by irregular and less feeding due to factors like the stoppage of school feeding programs. Child Rights Abuse is another cause of mental health issues for learners and has been aggravated because of the level of access to qualitative health care, absence of redress or even opportunities to report these crimes. Compounding these mental health challenges for many more learners is the possibility of dropping out of school, suffering irreparable learning losses, being bullied or stigmatized, especially if showing signs of respiratory illness.

For teachers, mental health issues have been related with the loss of income due to the extended closure of schools, health concerns about workplaces with little or no provisions for adequate sanitation and health safety, underlying ill-health problems, infrequent sensitization on Covid-19, unclear school measures to mitigate the spread of infections and the likelihood of minimal involvement of teachers, themselves in these measures, among others. For parents, mental health issues could stem up from the increased possibility of their children being infected with Covid-19 at school and infecting other family members, weak monitoring of schools to ensure necessary compliance to health guidelines, reduced disposable income, job insecurity and poor access to qualitative healthcare.

With respect to learning losses in formal education settings, the concerns have been on a global scale, as well. Losses in learning have been linked with dropping out of school due to poverty and learning difficulties, displacement due to conflicts, ineffective teaching, prolonged absenteeism from school due to health issues and long school holidays, among others. The loss of learning over a prolonged period of time typically impacts learners negatively by slowing down their educational progress and aggravating existing learning inequalities. With teachers being unsure of what to expect in terms of the mental preparedness of learners, the new adjustments in classroom interactions and the achievement of curriculum goals within reduced time frames, there is a possibility that learning losses might linger for longer even after schools' resumption.

Overwork and job losses are equally causes of worry, especially for teachers. In many schools, teachers do not only teach but are responsible for a variety of other roles such as child care, mentoring, coaching and sometimes, parenting. These responsibilities and their intensity are bound to increase as teachers play these multi-faceted roles in schools. Consequently, teachers will be at the focal point of most schools' interactions with parents, school administrators, government representatives and health officials requiring more information and reassurances from teachers in their bid to ensure that learning continues safely. Job losses too, remain another issue that cannot be downplayed at this time. Many teachers currently don't have enough job security and this can be exacerbated by the risk of illness, workplace misunderstandings and lack of clarity on Covid-19 measures implemented at their schools.

At this juncture, it is vital that meaningful interventions be made for every educational stakeholder to ensure that schools successfully re-open safely and remain opened. For starters, teachers' voices should be amplified and recognized. Their input and feedback in the Covid-19 school measures should be sought actively from time to time. Their needs in terms of mental health support, provision of sanitation and health safety materials, work support and job security should be met as much as possible. Teachers should also not be overworked but assisted to delegate some of their multi-faceted responsibilities to capable hands. Training of teachers too is also pertinent. Apart from obvious training needs in areas such as online teaching and improving teaching skills, it is also important to train teachers on social skills needed for fostering a class environment where positive emotions prevail as such emotions are critical to teaching and learning success.

Bidemi Nelson,

Shield of Innocence Initiative, Ibadan, Oyo State

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