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Schools re-opening: Discordant tunes across states as safety concerns mount  


Umah Muhammed
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With the number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease in the country now in a downward spiral, many states have been gearing up to re-open schools which have been shut for about six months as part of the strategies to contain the spread of the pandemic.

However, safety concerns remain paramount. In fact, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 last Thursday warned that gradual flattening of the curve of the pandemic “should be taken with vigilance and cautious optimism based on the fact that we are convinced that we have not tested enough, as we have only recently re-opened our international flights.”

Aware of this, many state governments that have announced plans to re-open schools have been treading cautiously while some others still feel it is unsafe to allow pupils/students back to the classrooms.

For instance, in Lagos State, tertiary students resumed on September 14. The state has also slated the resumption of primary and secondary schools in the state for September 21 but not all pupils/students would be allowed to resume on the said date. While all classes in private primary and secondary schools were permitted to resume, only JSS 3 and SS2 students in public schools would return to the classrooms. The government said pre-primary pupils would also remain at home until a further review of the situation.

A recent statement by the Head, Public Affairs Unit of the state Ministry of Education, Kayode Abayomi, quoted the Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo, as saying, “this phased approach to opening will enable public schools meet COVID-19 social distance rules and safety protocols and will help us watch the behaviour of the pandemic as we gradually open up our schools.”

She said that the state government strongly encouraged school owners to put safety first and open in phases similar to the plans for public schools.

“Schools must also comply with safety protocols and hygiene guidelines as instructed by the state government through the Office of Education Quality Assurance (OEQA). The office of education quality assurance will continue to monitor and evaluate schools’ preparedness,” she said.

The Special Adviser to Lagos State Governor on Education, Mr. Tokunbo Wahab, told The Guardian that it took the state about six weeks to arrive at the resumption plan.

He said: “We have been planning for the resumption in the past six weeks, doing simulations to ensure that we have a programme that is well tidied up. The first thing that was done was to disinfect the campuses, and it was done twice. The opening of the schools is premised on two things; that COVID-19 has come to stay, so we have to find a way to live with it.”

Speaking on the development, the Chairman of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Lagos State chapter, Alhaji Amusa Mohammed Olawale, praised the move by the state government to re-open schools, saying they have been expecting it for long and were fully ready.

“SSS3 students have resumed before now to write WAEC and to the glory of God, there was no sickness or COVID-19 case recorded in the state due to the measures we put in place to prevent anything like that from happening. As for steps we have taken towards re-opening, all private schools are required to register online with the Ministry of Education and participate in online training. We have been holding theory and practical trainings for all our members. After the training, they will be given a code for clearance. All the various schools must have cleaned and fumigated the whole school and compound and collected a certificate, get infrared thermometres and the necessary COVID-19 awareness banners, facemasks and face shields if possible.

We have told all our member schools that they must be very conscious of the younger children in particular, maintain two-metre physical distancing and monitor the children more than ever before. They must also keep record of all students, maintain effective communication with parents, have a recovery room/sick bay that must be well equipped and manned by a qualified nurse. We are also trying to inaugurate blended learning to make up for time lost.”

He stated that in the area of enforcement of rules and regulations, officials from the education ministry would be paying unscheduled, regular visits to schools, adding that the association would also be going round to monitor member schools.

“We have appointed senior members that would be going round schools to monitor and train them. We have been holding regular training sessions and we would continue with these sessions after schools resume fully. I believe our members would comply with laid down directives because they are very much aware of the gravity of what we are dealing with and we are responsible for young lives.”

The Head of Staff, Jeed Trinity College, Ilasamaja, Mr. Victor Oliseh, said the school was prepared to welcome students back, adding that every requirement needed to ensure the safety of pupils has been met.

He explained: “We are also sending messages to parents to prepare their children for school by buying them face masks and hand sanitiser. There is no place for isolation centre because the school is not big enough to create an isolation centre. But the school has been registered in a general hospital. So, in case of symptoms or an emergency, we can take the patient to the general hospital where we registered.

School is safe to resume. We just have to be conscious and follow the modalities or the rules provided by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).”

Oliseh outlined the strategies the school would adopt to ensure the safety of pupils and teachers, saying: “There will be no break and no buying of food in the school. All students will resume with their own food, which they will eat in their classes when it is time for that. There will be no assembly before and after classes.”

A Physics teacher at Bright Brain Secondary School, Ikorodu, Gaffar Owolabi, said a place has been set aside for hand washing in his school. “Liquid soap, running water and hand sanitisers, a thermometre for checking students temperature frequently and nose masks have been provided. Social workers have been employed for proper check on the students,” he added.

A student of Ilamoye Grammar School, Olamide Adetunji, said he was ready to go back to school, saying he could take responsibility for his own safety.

“I am happy to be going back to school very soon, because staying at home has been very boring and exhausting. I know the virus is still out there but I will make sure I avoid crowded places, wash my hands with soap and water, always go out with my sanitiser, avoid touching my face and avoid allowing any of my friends to come close or hug me. I think I am ready and enthused to go back to my studies because there are so many things I am missing,” he said.

Findings showed that many tertiary students in the state are also itching to return to campus, but with the consciousness that the pandemic is not over yet.

A 200 level student of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Tolulope Ogungbemi, said he was enthusiastic about school resumption.

COVID-19 has taken enough from us and it’s about time we take back our lives from the pandemic by actually ensuring that the country begins to function in full capacity which of course includes re-opening of schools at all level. It is a pandemic and I know it is a big deal, a deadly deal actually. But we have got to fight it and defeat it by adhering to all preventive measures, keeping social distancing and protecting ourselves. So as I return to school, I will ensure that I keep myself safe by following all NCDC directives,” he said.

Another student of the university, MaryJane Ezeanowi, also said she was eager to resume, noting that her only worry was that she had not been reading her books.

“I will be able to take care of myself. I am eager to resume because I miss being in the school environment. There is Coronavirus, but we can prevent ourselves from being infected. My major fear is that the school is naturally crowded,” she said.

Cynthia Obinatu of the same univeristy, however, said she was not prepared to go back to school because she would not be able to cope with the COVID-19 preventive measures.

“I am actually not prepared for resumption. I would not be able to take care of myself. I am not eager to resume school except for the fact that I miss some of my school friends. I don’t think I would be safe in school.

“If truly COVID-19 hasn’t ended yet I just feel the school is still not safe because there are a lot of students. Most times, lectures are held in smaller classrooms with over 200 students trying to fit in. How can we practise social distancing in such situations? I don’t think going back to school is safe,” she noted.

In other states of the federation, students, teachers and parents also expressed similar fears as the following reports indicate.

Rivers: Govt Keeps Mum As Private School Owners Express Readiness To Resume
The Rivers State government is yet to announce dates for resumption of schools in the state despite the Federal Government’s approval for the commencement of a new academic session.

However, The Guardian gathered from the media aide to the state Commissioner for Education, Faustina Nwaneku, that in the past three months, the state government has been releasing funds to school administrators to clean the schools and get them ready for resumption.

Nwaneku also disclosed that in July this year when the exit classes resumed, the government provided some hygiene kits such as buckets, soaps, water, hand sanitisers and infrared thermometre for temperature checks in the schools. The wearing of facemasks was also compulsory for both teachers and students.

The State Commissioner for Education, Prof. Kaniye Ebeku, had then said the ministry would provide a sickbay or nursing stations in all schools in the state. It was not clear if that had been implemented but it was learnt that an inter-ministerial committee comprising officials of the state Ministries of Education and Health was set up to move round schools to ensure strict compliance with the COVID-19 safety protocols.

As the state government perfects its strategies for the full re-opening of schools, the Chairman of National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) in the state, Dr. Roberta Tekena, told The Guardian that private schools were very prepared for the re-opening.

“We have finished the WAEC examinations and just rounding off the Junior WAEC exams. There was no incident of COVID-19 recorded in the state.

“We have adequately sensitised our teachers and students to abide by the COVID-19 protocols. All the guidelines put down by NCDC for school resumption, like regular washing of hands, use of hand sanitisers, decontamination of schools, temperature checks with infrared thermometres and compulsory wearing of facemasks are all in place.

“We are prepared; we have ensured physical distancing. A class that used to house 20 students now houses only 10. So we are prepared; we are just waiting for the state government to pronounce a date and we will hit the ground running,” she said.

An official of the Universal Basic Education in the state, Cyril Hart, said lack of adequate infrastructure may hamper proper take off of schools, noting that e-learning, if supported by government, would make great impacts in the lives of pupils/students.

Meanwhile, four undergraduate students of the Rivers State University have developed a software known as ‘BrainField’ to enhance e-learning in the state. The application encourages effective teaching and learning by offering e-books, questions, answers with explanations, videos, animation and games, among others.

Speaking on the launch of the app as the wait for the re-opening of schools in the state continues, the Chief Executive Officer of Cinfores, Ibifuro Asawo, said:   “What we have launched is the virtual learning environment that will complement the physical learning environment. Schools are resuming and we know that schools will be segmented. We have people that will go to school in the morning and others in the afternoon. So, they may not have the required minimum five hours that children used to have in a physical learning environment. Therefore, they will need to extend that by virtual teaching. That is what we have done.”

Tekena, who is the Proprietor of SilverBird Group of Schools in Agip Estate Port Harcourt, described the BrainField app as a welcome programme, stating that combining it with the physical learning environment would make learning richer for pupils/students.

Cautious Optimism In Abia As Government Works Out Modalities
In Abia State, the schools remain shut and the government has not announced any date for resumption yet. But pupils and students in exit classes are currently sitting fort their final exams following the earlier nod to that effect by the Federal Government.

However, the state government recently indicated that it would soon release the guidelines for the full re-opening of schools in the state. While some teachers, private school proprietors and students lauded the initiative, others urged caution.

“If the government directs re-opening of schools, we shall comply as workers because we trust that the government would do the needful. But we suggest monitoring other states that have re-opened to assess their experiences with a view to making necessary adjustments,” said a teacher who pleaded anonymity.

On his part, a private school owner, who gave his name as Ken, said the time was ripe to re-open the schools, saying all that would be required was to abide by the rules set by the government.

He acknowledged that special care and precaution was needed to protect the pupils/students who would inevitably mix with themselves.

A student of Ibeku High School in Umuahia also welcomed the proposed re-opening, stressing that he was tired of staying at home. He noted that COVID-19 could be contacted anywhere whether in school or out of school, praying that God would protect all pupils/students when schools re-open.

Worries Over Inadequate COVID-19 Safety Materials In Ekiti
Ekiti State government has announced a phased resumption of schools in the state, stating that the first categories of students would resume on September 21.

According to Governor Kayode Fayemi, students in SSS II, JSS III and Primary 6 would resume on September 21, while students in SSS I, JSS II and Primary 5 and 4 would resume from September 28. On the other hand, students in JSS I and Primary 1-3 would resume on October 19, while pupils in kindergarten and nursery schools would resume on November 2.

The Guardian learnt that the government met with all the stakeholders including the leadership of the NUT, ANCOP and private schools, among others, across the 16 local councils where the modalities for the re-opening was agreed upon. The stakeholders also agreed that before allowing any school to re-open, the state COVID-19 Task Force must issue a certificate of resumption/preparedness to such school to ensure that they have met all the guidelines.

The Guardian further gathered that every public school in the state has a COVID-19 committee saddled with the management of pupils/students when schools resume. However, a teacher and member of one of such committees, who confided in The Guardian, said that COVID-19 protective materials made available to the schools so far were inadequate.

“For instance, they provided our school with just an infrared thermometre, one hand sanitiser and few wash hand basins and they told us to look for a place as isolation centre,” he said.

Also the state Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Mr Olugbesan Samuel Olusegun, said teachers in the state received the news of school resumption with mixed feelings.

He said: “We received the news of schools re-opening with mixed feelings. Firstly, we are happy that after a long time that teachers and students have been away, they are coming back to school.  Why I said mixed feelings is that we are very conversant with what the COVID-19 pandemic is doing. The NUT doesn’t want a situation whereby the lives of teachers and students would be at risk. We want to see what the government is putting in place before we can say we are comfortable to re-open. This is a time when government and the Ministry of Education should carry the union along so that we would be able to assure our members that their lives are secured. There is no alternative to life.

“For instance, we have some schools in Ado Ekiti where we have almost 1,500 students. How do we maintain physical distancing? There must be infrared thermometre in schools to check the temperature of students, water for washing hands, hand sanitiser and some other necessities to be able to observe the precautionary measures. The classes need to be reorganised because there are some classes with 70 students.”

He explained that the NUT had earlier written a letter to the Ministry of Education stating some necessary guidelines that needed to be met before the resumption.

An SSS 2 student of Holy Child Academy, Ado Ekiti, Babatunde Olawale, expressed eagerness to return to school after staying at home for about six months. He, however, urged her school to liaise with government to provide proper COVID-19 protective materials for both staff and students of the school.

Plateau Working On Re-Opening Modalities, Says Commissioner
The Commissioner for Information and Communication in Plateau State, Dan Manjang, has said that modalities have been put in place to ensure strict compliance with the COVID-19 protocols when schools re-open in the state.

According to Manjang, the government would strictly ensure compliance with the protocols especially in the Jos North and Jos South local councils where the cases were more pronounced.

The Headmaster of Divine Private Academy, Jos, Mr. Okomanyi Audu, told The Guardian that private schools in the state were ready to re-open.

“We are seriously prepared because before you enter the school through the gate all these measures have been put in place. And without face mask, no one would be allowed entrance into the school,” he said.

Audu stated that physical education where pupils cannot be controlled would be suspended when schools re-open.

An educationist, Musa Mahmud, noted that the Nigerian educational system was the worst casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, blaming it on the failure of government at all levels to give priority to education.

“If all markets, airports, other social and religious activities are allowed to operate under this COVID-19 pandemic, I do not see why Plateau State will refuse to open the schools. In Plateau, for the past five years, the Ministry of Education has left no stone unturned in going round the state, closing schools that do not register or pay the necessary fees. So, it is difficult for any school to operate without government supervision,” he added.

A student in one of the secondary schools in Owerri, Ngozi Nwosu, urged the authorities to hasten the re-opening of schools, saying she was prepared to resume learning.

“I am appealing to the state government to provide the safety protocols and re-open schools. I am ready. I am tired of staying at home since March,” she appealed.

No Plans For Schools Resumption In Adamawa, Commissioner 
The hope of parents in Adamawa State that their children would soon return to school for academic activities has been dashed as the state government has declared that there was no date yet for re-opening of schools in the state.

The Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Wilbina Jackson, told The Guardian in Yola that the state was waiting for the Federal Government to first re-open its schools before it would decide on the exact date of resumption.

“We are law abiding citizens. So, we cannot re-open schools when the Federal Government schools are still closed. We are not from a different republic; we are under the Federal Government. So, we cannot operate as if we are not part of Nigeria.

“Any time the Federal Government gives the order, we will commence full processes of reopening our schools in line with the COVID-19 protocols,” the commissioner said.

Jackson said that the state has purchased all the necessary health facilities for government schools to protect the students and staff against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We cannot re-open schools just because few states have announced re-opening dates for their schools. If their governments are prepared what about the private schools in those states? How prepared are those private schools to properly handle people’s children.

“In Adamawa State, we set up committees which are going from one private school to another to see what is on ground. Our children’s lives are more important to us than to impress people that we have re-opened schools. Children cannot observe those protocols; there are some that are less than five years. So, we must be careful with the lives of people’s children as a responsible government,” she said.

Jackson, who is a former teacher with more than 30 years experience and former member of the Adamawa State House of Assembly, cautioned those rushing to re-open schools to consider the lives of students as paramount and ensure that private schools are properly monitored to fully comply with the COVID-19 protocols.

The Chairman of COVID-19 Task Force, Mallam Bashiru Ahmad, told The Guardian that the government has procured necessary COVID-19 preventive equipment to protect students and staff when schools re-open.

“If you go to our stores, you will see everything for yourself. For over two months we procured those facilities in thousands. So, we are only waiting for the Federal Government to give the directives and our schools will be re-open,” he said added.

Ahmad, who is the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), cautioned members of the public that the decline in number of confirmed cases in the state does not mean that the pandemic was ebbing, saying it only indicates that people were not going out for testing.

He noted that before schools would be re-opened, both government and private schools must be fumigated under the full supervision of the Ministry of Education and COVID-19 Task Force.

He pointed out that any private school that did not meet the COVID-19 protocols would not be allowed to re-open.

Source: Guardian Nigerian Newspaper

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