AS PRESSURE MOUNTS on the Federal Government to reopen schools across the country in the wake of the 2nd phase relaxation of the COVID-10 restrictions on socio-economic activities, critical stakeholders in the health and education sectors have called on the Federal and state governments to exercise restraint in reopening schools.
In May, the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19 had recommended that states be allowed to decide on the reopening of schools, has not fixed issued for resumption and reopening of schools across the country. Calling for caution, the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, and the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, ALMSN, warned against any plan to rush to reopen schools.
In a similar response, the National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, and the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, said a critical appraisal of the situation must be done to arrive at a decision that would not lead to regret later, even as the It is better to lose a session than lose lives — Prof Innocent Ujah, National President, NMA On his own part, the President of the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Prof Innocent Ujah said the coast was not yet clear to reopen the schools.
“We may not have to rush; if it is left to me I would say we should have waited for the next quarter and see what will happens. It is better to lose a session than losing our lives. It does not matter whether we are losing a session rather than escalating the community transmission and die of COVID 19. Nobody has the answer when it is rising or the trend. Ujah, who frowned on the poor compliance of the public with the relaxation guidelines, argued that it is better to lose a session than lose lives.”
“I think it is better to be alive than dying or be infected. I think we should be cautious. If the coast is not clear because we don’t even know the directions that we are going, the coronavirus cases are increasing. Fatality is increasing even though it is about is still under 3 percent but any one life lost matters. “It is difficult to say what is on ground to make the state government think of telling students to go back to school. Have they gotten the emergency protocols including the wearing of face masks, hand washing, and use of sanitisers and social distancing?”
“Those are the basic protocols that they need. We don’t even know the capacity of the classrooms. Are they congested? Will they just sit down and take lectures and go home and not go for sports? If they go home and they are infected will they not infect their family members? There so many questions unanswered so we need to be cautious,” he asserted.
Most appropriate time to open schools is September — Dr Casmir Ifeanyi, National Publicity Secretary, AMLSN In the views of the National Publicity Secretary, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, AMLSN, Dr Casmir Ifeanyi who expressed worry about Nigerians compliance to the lockdown protocols, said it is not safe to open schools now because Nigeria has not run enough tests for a reasonable time to determine the curve of the infection.
“If I am a part of the technocrats driving this intervention, our schools should have remained closed until sometime in September. That is a more effective thing to do in this circumstance. That way, we would have had enough time to interpret this spike with epidemiological parameters to decide the prevalence of the disease and where we are in the pandemic in Nigeria. “There are a lot of uncertainties on where we are in Nigeria and the disease morbidity in-country. Unfortunately, people are in a hurry and I have always advocated we make haste slowly. That is not happening and that is worrisome.”
Ifeanyi who expressed worry about the low level of compliance to the lockdown protocols by Nigerian adults said: “We are not very much worried by the increase in numbers as compared to our worry that most adults have thrown caution to the wind. But we are worried about the compliance rate with non-pharmaceutical interventions like the use of nose masks to enforce respiratory protocol. “What is the compliance rate for hand hygiene, and the use of hand sanitisers intermittently? What also is the physical distancing in gatherings? Are we still complying with not more than 20 persons or are we still complying to the second phase of the lockdown which stipulates that those offices should not exceed 75 per cent of capacity? These are areas where I am worried.”
Ifeanyi said that the government should be fair and firm, even as he cited what happened in South Korea and Brazil where schools were hurriedly opened and shut almost immediately due to the rate of infection.
“These are countries were compliance rates are better than, as it is in Nigeria, where infrastructure is even a lot better than we have in Nigeria, even some of those schools that were opened in those climes have some sort of effective screening going on including laboratory-based screening to make sure that if they have asymptomatic cases or very new active cases they could be readily be detected and taken out of the midst of the students but that cannot happen in Nigeria and that is not part of the protocols in Nigeria and it is not anywhere near it.”
Reacting on the position of the Cross River State government, Ifeanyi who faulted the government provision of facial shield for students said: “I like the Governor for other things he is doing but I am worried that he is in a hurry to open schools. Now he had said he is going to produce masks for life to continue in Cross River and Calabar. He has not made available the projected number of local fabric-based masks he promised, now he is dabbling into making available face shields for students and pupils to return to school.”
“I am also certain that he will not meet that expectation because those are lofty ideas but before these ideas, we need to evaluate compliance rate.”
“I tried getting my ward to wear a face mask for 30 minutes but the young lad could not stay with it and you expect he will go to school and stay with it for eight hours? These are issues we have to avail our minds.”
In a telephone call on Sunday, the National President, NAPTAN, Haruna Danjuma, told Vanguard that the Association has entered into discussion with the Presidential Task Force in COVID-19 on the matter.
“Two weeks ago, we had a meeting with the committee and a number of issues and proposals were raised. The committee put forward some conditions that must be met before schools will be reopened. This is because we are not talking only about public schools, private schools are also involved and we cannot reopen one and leave the other.
“The meeting was not conclusive as there were some issues to be thrashed out and we are going to meet with them soon. However, one thing is important, the decision to be taken must consider the safety and health of all persons in the education sector,” Danjuma stated.
Health factor takes pride of place — Adesina Adedoyin, Lagos State Chairman, NUT Also reacting to the development, the Lagos State Chairman of the NUT, Otunba Adesina Adedoyin, argued that the health factor must take pride of place in arriving at whatever decision.
“As teachers, we want to go back to our duty posts but safety first. When we talk about safety and the health of stakeholders, we are not just talking about the pupils and students, but also about teachers and other workers in the sector. It is only the living that can learn, teach or sponsor the education of another person.”
“I understand the plight of our colleagues in private schools, most of whom are not paid salaries during this period, but that is not to say we should rush to do things we will later regret. Let us aggregate the opinions of experts and if they say it is safe for all to reopen schools, there is no problem with that,” he noted.
Adedoyin said although those suggesting adoption of virtual teaching had a point, it could never replace teacher-student physical contact.
He also opposed the call that virtual teaching being adopted by some private schools should be taken to have replaced the third term they ought to spend in school.
The National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, NAPPS, had earlier issued its proposals for the reopening of schools.
According to the National President, NAPPS, Chief Yomi Otubela, a phased reopening was suggested by the Association even as it canvassed that pupils in primary six, students in Junior Secondary School 3 and students in Senior Secondary School 3 should be allowed to resume and sit for their final examinations before others would join.
A circular from the Federal Ministry of Education granted an approval for the closure of all school for a period of one month commencing from Monday, 23rd March, 2020 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Each state in Nigeria has, however, contextualised this circular.
According to UNESCO, almost 40 million learners have been affected by the nationwide school closures in Nigeria, of which over 91 per cent are primary and secondary school learners.
In a short time, COVID-19 has disrupted the landscape of learning by limiting how students can access learning across the country.