The Nigerian government Wednesday reversed its decision to reopen schools across the country for graduating students to write final examinations.
Minister of Education Adamu Adamu announced this while addressing State House correspondents at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja.
He said no school in the country would participate in the West African Examinations Council (WAEC)-organised examinations scheduled to take place from August 5, 2020, to September 5, 2020.
The federal government had earlier announced July 13 as the date for the reopening of schools to allow graduating pupils in Primary 6, JSS 3 and SSS3 write their examinations.
And not long after the announcement, WAEC slated the commencement of this year’s examination to commence August 3.
Change in position
But barely weeks after announcing the July 13 date, the federal government reversed itself, saying Nigerian schools would not reopen any time soon until it is safe to do so because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister of Education Malam Adamu Adamu, who said this in Abuja, emphatically stated that final year students preparing for the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE), would not be allowed to return to school as announced earlier.
He said WAEC cannot determine resumption dates of Nigerian schools
“I don’t know whether you journalists are misquoting the Minister of State for Education or maybe quoting what WAEC said and made it into a story. Schools under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Education will not be opened on August 4 or anytime soon.
“Our schools will only open when we believe it’s safe for our children and that is when the situation is right, not when the incidence of the infection is going up in the nation. I just want to make it clear.
“We will not open soon for examination or for any reason, unless it is safe for our children, even WAEC. WAEC will not determine for us what we do. Schools will remain closed.
“Yesterday (Tuesday) we called on stakeholders who will tell us the situation and the way it should be done for it to be safe. While the meeting was going on, WAEC announced that they are starting examinations. Let’s see who they are going to start with.
“I will also like to use this position to ask those states that have already announced (reopening), I appeal to them. I think it is not safe. I feel responsible for all children, not just those who are in federal government-controlled schools. Please let’s save our children from this.
“One infected child is enough to infect a whole class. When they close from class they go into the dormitory, this is not the right time to open schools. I appeal to the states that have already announced to reconsider it.
When asked if Nigeria will be the only country to miss out of the WAEC examinations, he said: “Me as Minister of Education, if I’m given the chance, I don’t mind Nigeria losing a whole school year than exposing our children to danger. WAEC is a parastatal of the Ministry of Education; they cannot determine for the government what it does.”
The minister said FEC also approved an agreement between Kaduna Polytechnic and an investor to renovate 18 blocks of student hostels.
The contract which is a 15-year concession at N744.2 million is under a Renovate Operate, Maintain and Transfer (ROMT) arrangement.
“It will take one year to construct the hostels, after which the contractor will run it for 15 years within which they will recover what they have sunk into the project.
“There are 18 blocks of hostels and each room in a block will house four students. The total number of students to be housed will be 4, 032,” he said.
NLC faults decision
Faulting the decision however, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said rather than shifting resumption date, the federal government should seek home-grown solution.
NLC President Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who spoke to Blueprint Wednesday, urged the federal government to engage all the major stakeholders in the education sector with a view to providing sectoral protocols for schools to reopen.
He said: “The issue is that many countries around the world are looking at how to put in place measures and strategies in places including protocols to open up places, including schools because nobody knows when this COVID-19 would end and therefore the strategy globally is actually to find means and ways of working with the pandemic.
“So, I think this is the way to go because even in the context of Nigeria nobody can say when it would come to an end. So, if that is the case and even WHO has also continually said that countries must find ways of living with these particular challenges of COVID-19.
“It would be double jeopardy if we don’t find means and ways including protocols. What we did at the level of NLC was that we have a meeting with all the educational sector unions where we came up with sector-specific protocols that if implemented and observed, can allow schools to be opened and the issues are not something that cannot be done.
“This is because our children matter a lot so that we are not faced with the double challenge of not taking the necessary action when we needed to take it. And at the end of the day, you will also find out that keeping these children long at home can be another challenge.
“So there is the need to strike a balance because today, the ILO held a global summit where over 50 Heads of government spoke on the strategies-each of them is taken to address and respond to the pandemic.
“Some countries are devising a home-grown solution to those challenges. In my view, if markets are opened, then we can also look at how to work with all the educational sector unions.
“Because what I expected the government to do is to call for education summit to engage all the trade unions in the education sector, the parent-teachers association, various stakeholders including the leadership of all-conference of the principal of all secondary schools for a meeting and discuss how to develop protocols so that schools can be opened even if gradual.
“For instance, if they shifted the date to September and our expectations for the curve to down is not, what do we do? You remember that is how we started the issue of lockdown because even with the lockdown, the cases continue to go up. So, we have to find a way that can also survive because when that continues, there can be a breakdown of laws and order, that is socially disobedient because people will begin to go out as a result of hunger.”
Head teacher lauds move
In a reaction, a head teacher and proprietress, Pinky and the Brain Schools, Dutse, Abuja, Mrs. Juliana Usman is of the opinion that schools shouldn’t reopen for now until things were put in place.
Speaking to Blueprint on the telephone Wednesday, the teacher said: “In my opinion, reversing their decision shows they are aware of what is most important for these children. Though, they haven’t done the real thing, we are waiting to see something from the Ministry of Education, to see the quality assurance of private schools.
“Looking at their decision, I will not blame them because they don’t have what it takes on ground. Their schools are populated. Like the aviation sector has put in place things, well conducted, to show their readiness to start functioning. But for the education ministry, we haven’t seen anybody going round to see whether we are ready with or without the announcement they earlier made.
“We, the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), have been waiting to see whether any officials will volunteer or mandatorily seek to see whether our schools are ready to resume but reverse is the case. This is the life of young ones we are talking about, we cannot afford to put their lives at risk,” she said.
The school proprietress further said NAPPS had been yearning to have series of meetings with the government, but that had not been forthcoming.
“I think they will go back with this decision they have made and get something concrete on ground and now request to come back to school. I think their decision isn’t out of place,” she said.