AHEAD THE August 4 date approved by Federal Ministry of Education for nationwide resumption of secondary school pupils in classes for West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination (JSSCE) exercises, many issues come to front burner. There are many critical issues that gnaw at the decision and may turn the society into a calamity, depending on how they are handled.
ACCORDING to a statement released by Director of Press and Public Relations of the ministry, Bem Goong, the reopening of schools is necessitated by a resolution of commissioners of education of states. In his words “the decision was unanimously reached at a virtual consultative meeting between the Federal Ministry of Education, Honourable Commissioners of Education of the 36 states, the Nigerian Union of Teachers, (NUT), the proprietors of private schools, and chief executives of examination bodies.”
Goong also indicated that further meetings had been lined up for interest groups to harmonise modalities for a seamless resumption.
WHILE this may fortify those who ask whether there was adequate consultation of stakeholders, there are fears in some quarters that whatever gain that comes with the proposed nationwide resumption of schools amid resurgent global, national and community spike in coronavirus pandemic may prove pyrrhic ultimately.
The fear is based on the facts that many – including those that love and appreciate education – have not come up with what can be done if the reopened schools turn out a vent for farther outbreak. The weight of public health implications of the move is better appraised by pondering just what one case can cause. The implication is scary. Such fear is rife given the fact that the mode of spread of COVID-19, one infected pupil in a school can share it with an entire community within just some days. Neither the pupil’s homes nor workers in the school may be exempted from a new wave of infections which a contact with just one coronavirus positive pupil by his or her mates may trigger.
HENCE, not a few believe that it is either that those who had the chance to address this issue chose not to do so or that the federal government may have been pressured to approve school resumption, not long after telling Nigerians that it was a very dangerous idea. But who would muster such an enormous pressure on government that it appears to have been intimidated to act in a way that had once deemed risky or economic smartness being placed ahead of health savviness to placate self-centred school proprietors whose businesses must stay afloat at all cost?
EXPERTS debate on the issue that tilt towards worry and warnings an support in an almost predictable direction. While Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) was so irked with reopening schools that it urged Nigerians to be wary of the development hinting that it would be better for the students to lose an academic year than be exposed to COVID-19, Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) commended government.
BUT giving commendation to condemnation now may just be dwelling in the past rather. What is needed now is forward. For even if federal government has her many blames on the matter, the challenge now is on everyone to rise up to whatever the reopening of schools for graduating students less than one week from today will cause. Indeed, government is not an island, but just another stakeholder looking for partners, when it comes to social services including education.
ELSE, what other fear remains apart from the fact that many schools may be financially unprepared or by prejudice and indifference unwilling to abide by COVID-19 protocols? Given hard-to-solve problems that schools have in the area of such as dense students’ population, inadequate classrooms space, poor sanitary conditions, lack of water and mindset of teachers as well as proprietors which lead to downright sabotage of the fight against COVID-19 there is need to address the impending schools’ reopening as an emergency.
GIVEN the possibility of the development to cause COVID-19 outbreak, this is where the relay baton goes to captains of industries, philanthropists and good spirited organisations. They should stand up to be counted on the side of society and humanity by contributing their quota in providing those things that schools in their neighbours do not have that are vital for COVID-19 fight.
WE call them on board to commit to provision of more palliatives by enrolling to fund logistics such as compulsory testing of students on arrival, and thereafter, more testing at regular intervals, sources of regular water supply for handwashing; soaps; sanitisers; water receptacles; ample spaces for emergency treatment of the ailing among others. Money should equally be made available to urgent fumigation of classrooms, religious, recreational and leisure centres in the school premises before students move in on Tuesday.
BOTH philanthropists and proprietors should partner to convert some school blocks into sick bays or quasi-isolation centres where any pupil who shows symptoms of sickness may be observed before being quarantined if there is any reason to suspect coronavirus infection.
WE recommend vast social orientation that temphasis peoples’ need and personal responsibility and make the youngsters more safety-conscious while away at school. Moreso, regular hand washing under running water with liquid soap and using hand sanitiser – between classes should be made mandatory in the schools’ timetable. Seats and beds should also be spaced in line with social and physical distancing requirements.
THESE are uncommon times, and uncommon times call for uncommon measures. This is time for all hands to be on deck. No room for blame game.