The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Sunny Echono, said President Muhammadu Buhari was highly concerned and worried over closure of schools, noting that plans are on top gear to reopen schools even in the face of rising trend in covid-19 pandemic because “schools cannot be closed permanently.”
But he said to reopen schools, additional teachers and teaching materials are required to meet the changing circumstances in teaching and learning experience.
He stated this Monday at the EdTech Summit organised by the Federal Ministry of Education in collaboration with Afritex in Abuja.
“This way they can observe social distancing rules. If there are 60 students in a class there is higher risk of contracting the infection. And if you reduce it by half it means you need two classrooms instead of one. And you cannot have one teacher in two classrooms at the same time so you have to recruit additional teachers.
“The federal government can manage their schools but the problem lies with schools in the states that cannot even pay staff salaries,” he said.
He warned Nigerians who hold the wrong notion that covid-19 is for the rich to change their mindset, saying covid-19 is real and doesn’t differentiate the rich from the poor.
He said schools were closed because school children are easy targets for the pandemic.
“We decided to close our schools as directed by the Honourable Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, as student contacts are one of the easiest transmission modes.
“We have also decided to activate our digital literacy policy after that by providing alternative lesson platforms for students by those who have the means to do so,” Echono said.
He said the ministry had undertaken the needs assessment of schools and found that the majority of schools are owned by private individuals and state governments.
“We opened dialogue with the National Education Resource Centre (NERC) in charge of curriculum to see how we can inculcate digital literacy in the curriculum.”
Echono said the ministry has a robust partnership with NTA, FRCN, Voice of Nigeria and the rest for ease of digital lesson experience.
“Twenty eight states are running digital lessons on televisions and radios and other platforms for their students within their states.
“We discovered that private schools have more advanced digital lesson programmes and we are trying to bring public schools along.
“Teachers role is changing; teachers are now more facilitators than their traditional role as teachers.”
“We have identified and prescribed what we need to do to prepare the schools, students, teachers and everybody else and stakeholders in the education system for resumption of schools. We are very keen and eager to do so. A lot has gone to planning for this.
“We have even met with our examination bodies to see how we can synchronise resumption of schools with external examinations. So what we have not decided is the start date for that programme.”
Echono said the pandemic is underreported. “Activities at some isolation centres are not reported. Some people even died before their results came out. So it is real and we are very conscious not to expose children and put them at risk. So we need to take necessary precautions.
“We are not averse to taking risks but we are saying give us a degree of comfort to begin to take those risks.
“The other argument is that this virus may be with us for a long time, and are we going to keep our schools permanently? The answer is no. We are going to reopen the schools but let us do it carefully and make sure that our schools are ready.”
He said that Nigerian schools are overpopulated, classes are over populated and that cannot continue in the face of social distancing rule.
“Are we going to ask some students to come to schools and others not to come? We are going to devise two programmes; a staggered programme for those who have examinations to come in to do revision programme in order for them to take their examinations and go back so that others can come in to take their place.
“We have got the detailed plan which we have presented to the government for consideration. We and other stakeholders are meeting this week again with proprietors of private schools and chairmen of Parents Teachers Association. Parents have to come in; private school owners have to come in and the teachers and their unions and associations have to come in.”