Schools resumption: Anxiety mounts over student’s safety

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As Nigeria continues to record increased cases of Covid-19 anxiety is mounting over safety of students as schools resume despite the second wave of the pandemic, ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU reports.

The federal government on December 22, 2020, ordered the closure of all schools in the country until January 18, 2021.

The Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19, Boss Mustapha, who made this known at the briefing of the taskforce, said the decision to move the date was reached based on advice from the Ministry of Education as part of measures to curtail the spread of coronavirus.

“The PTF on the advice of the Ministry of Education expects that schools would have vacated from the 18th December 2020 and remain closed till at least the 18th of January, 2021 to enable the measures introduced to take effect,” he said.

The federal government had re-introduced some restrictions as Nigeria joins the list of countries experiencing the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the question most people are asking is whether the decisions had been followed as schools reopened in the most party of the country.

This is as critics insist that government hasn’t done enough to ensure schools were equipped to observe Covid-19 regulations.

What schools, teachers, students need to do

The Ministry of Education said no Covid-19 test was required for returning students to be admitted into their schools.

It also charged all schools to follow the safety guideline put together by the ministry and PTF.

A statement by the Director Press and Public Relations of the Ministry of Education, Ben Bem Goong, said only temperature checks should be carried out on students and any other person crossing any school gate.

He warned school authorities to refrain from asking students or parents to undergo Covid-19 test before they are accepted in their schools.

It said schools must ensure the compulsory wearing of facemasks by all students, teachers, and workers, in all schools and temperature checks and hand washing facilities must be at strategic locations in all schools.

No statistics on schools that comply – NMA

The President, Nigeria Medical Association, Professor Innocent Ujah, has said the federal government has no statistics to measure which schools are prepared for re-opening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Prof Ujah, while speaking on Channels Television’s breakfast show Sunrise Daily, recently, said: “If we know that children should go to school, what facilities have we put in place? Our problem is that we do a lot of talking and do very little. It is also true that we do not listen to experts.

“What we have been saying is that the coronavirus is unprepared for and one year after, what lessons have we learn?

“We know that students should go to school, we know that they should maintain NCDC protocol. But what have we done in schools? Nigeria is a very interesting country, a country full of contradictions.

“The truth is we have no statistics as far as I know, of the number of schools that are ready, whether public or private and what they should put in place. I feel that we are very sentimental as a nation.

“While we are saying that schools should be reopened, we should be prepared. Who are those monitoring? Who are those supervising the process?”

Reps propose 3 months postponement

The House of Representatives, while disagreeing with the federal government for giving schools the go-ahead to resume despite the increasing cases of Covid-19, called for a three-month postponement .

Chairman, House Committee on Basic Education and Services, Prof Julius Ihonvbere, disclosed these in a statement titled: School Resumption: Are We Truly Prepared?

It read in part, “The Committee on Basic Education and Services, House of Representatives, has received with concern the decision of the federal government to reopen schools on January 18, 2021.

“We are particularly concerned that when the infection rates hovered around 500 and under, schools were closed; but now that it hovers well above 1,000 infections daily, schools are being reopened.

“Why are we rushing to reopen schools without adequate verifiable and sustainable arrangements to protect and secure our children?”

Governors disagree

Interestingly, while some governors have gone ahead and reopened schools in their various states, a few ordered that schools remain closed till further notice.

In Lagos state, Schools were reopened for academic activities on Monday, January 18, 2021.

Explaining why schools were opened despite the spike in Covid-19 cases in the state, the Lagos state Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said: “It was a difficult decision to make in light of the second wave of Covid-19, but I assure you it was the best decision for our children’s safety and long-term development especially our most vulnerable children.”

Stressing the need for students to return to school, Governor Sanwo-Olu disclosed that almost 24,000 students were yet to report in public schools after last year’s lockdown necessitated by the first wave of Covid-19 in Nigeria.

“Last year after the first lockdown and kids have to come back to school, we are still looking for about 24,000 of them that have not come back to school. So, there is a challenge.

“If you keep them out for that long and their parents or guardians now turn them to other things instead of ensuring that they have time to come back for learning even if it is twice or thrice a week. At least they have been registered since the beginning of a session and they can be monitored. If not, they will just be roaming the streets and become endangered.

“We have seen incidents of child abuse and all unprintable things that are being done to these children.

“So, we believe to a large extent that schools sometimes happen to be the haven for them. We have done the roster in which we ensure they keep social distance and we are monitoring,” he said.

On his part, the Kaduna state government said schools would remain closed till further notice.

The Permanent Secretary, Kaduna State Ministry of Education, Mrs Phoebe Sukai Yayi, told journalists in Kaduna, that the state government was yet to declare the exact date when schools would reopen.

According to her, “We know that the federal government stated that schools can resume on Monday, January 18, 2021, following the closure of schools last year due to the second wave of the Covid-19 increased cases.”

The situation was different in Kaduna state, as we have the second wave; we also had increases in the number of the Covid-19 cases that are coming up.

“In Kaduna state, we have our own peculiar situation. Before now, we had the news through the social media that, Kaduna state government had declared January 18, 2021, to be the resumption date which we disclaimed.

“We want to make it categorically clear that, Kaduna State government is yet to fix a date for resumption to schools.

“In as much as the federal government has declared January 18, as the date for resumption, Kaduna state is yet to declare a date for resumption”

The government, she said, was still monitoring the situation and promised to make a pronouncement in due course.

Parents express fear

The re-opening of schools amidst increase in Covid-19 cases has generated mixed reaction among parents. For Bolanle Olaoluwa, she was afraid that the children may be at risk; however, she was also glad that the schools were re-opened given her experience during the lockdown last year.

She told our correspondent that, “I am happy because my children can continue to learn without wasting additional time.

“They will be busy with their time building their future and spend less time on unnecessary things. This will also enable me and their Dad to also plan our time well considering our work and business.

“But I also afraid the way this virus is spreading like wildfire. I educate and discipline my children to obey all Covid-19 safety measures, but I am not sure of other children they will mingle with on school, their teachers and even the environment. I am afraid because I don’t want them to contract Covid-19.”

It’ll lead to spike – Analyst

A Public Affairs Analyst, Dr James Samuel, has said the re-opening of schools would lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases.

In a phone chat with Blueprint Weekend, Dr Samuel said: “If there is one danger ahead of the re-opening of schools, it is certainly that it is going to lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases in the country.

“The re-opening of schools in the pandemic comes with its challenges. The truth is that the virus will be with us for a very long time and we cannot afford to keep them close for that duration of time. So the difficult and necessary thing to do is to open the schools. This has its negative side.

“Re-opening schools means more movement of people in public places, more crowded area, and possible abuse of almost all the safety protocols. So, it means there will be an increase in Covid-19 cases in Nigeria. So the government and other stakeholders should get ready for a possible increase.

“I honestly think it’s right for schools reopen. But it is, however, dangerous for public safety to see many schools and their students not obeying all the safety measures recommended by the Ministry of Education, the PTF on Covid-19 and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

“We all have a role to play in this. The parents should counsel their children and ensure the use of face mask, watch their hands frequently in running water and as much as possible maintain physical distance.

“The teachers and school management must also put facilities that will enable easy compliance of these protocols.

“As for the government at all level, they must ensure that all these safety measures are adhered to in schools across the country.”

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