By Yaya Ademola
Although much is yet to be understood about COVID-19, the much that is already known about the novel Coronavirus is sufficient to establish workable procedures and protocols necessary to minimise its spread and stem the death counts.
The Federal Government, starting out late, eventually took some commendable, proactive steps to preventing the spread of the pandemic by, among other measures, shutting down every school in Nigeria on March 26, 2020 at the middle of the Second Term Examination at Primary and Secondary Schools until further notice.
Recently, some education administrators and National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) are of the opinion that with the achievements recorded so far in the fight against the virus, time is ripe now for schools to reopen as COVID 19 is here to live with us for a long time to come. They agitated that students at terminal classes especially – Primary 6, JSS3 and SS3 – should resume in order to write examinations, such as the West African Examinations Council (WAEC); slated for 4th of August to 5th of September. The Federal Government has since announced the reversal of such resumption earlier proposed and said Nigerian students will not participate in the exams.
While the measures taken so far by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Presidential and State Task Forces on COVID-19, care givers, etc are commendable, the issue on the front burner is how do we assess the reality on ground so as to determining the time and scope of reopening the economy, education especially, in our gradual return to normal, considering the fact that final remedy to the virus is still farfetched?
While not coming to any judgment in this write-up, succinctly, the following must be seriously and sincerely considered by all stakeholders:
How well has various institutions already opened in the relaxed lockdown mode – banks, markets, motor parks, etc – been implementing and abiding by the laid down guidelines and protocols?
How well are we adults that are patronising these institutions, and generally perambulating the public spaces, abiding by the guidelines and protocols?
Has our collective conduct as such helped the daily COVID-19 recorded figures, are the figures rising or declining?
The Private Schools that are more stridently agitating for the school reopening are not charity organisations. They are profit-making enterprises in the education sector. If they are financially distressed after just four months and one term school fee missed or delayed, what is their capacity to putting in place all the particulars contained in the guidelines for school reopening? What is the quality and discipline of their manpower across board? Are they more disciplined adults than the rest of us?
How better off are the facilities and manpower in Public Schools, 90% of which are without water supplies or toilets?
Can the delinquency of juveniles and the attitude of teenagers, which are not helping-habit with respect to COVID-19 prevention and management, be suddenly reworked on forcefully re-conditioned by the School Management, especially in hostels, public transports, etc, where authorities are not directly present to guide or enforce compliance?
Assuming that only about 30% of the schools population are really returning and the students can be spaced as such, how will the subject rosters be done for same teacher, Chemistry for instance, to go around the two other sets of students in different classes repeating the same topic – without fatigue or loss of valuable time, considering only four weeks is available to cover the grounds before the exams?
In any case, students that have not written the Second Term Exams much else cover the Third Terms syllabus are to be given four weeks to cover everything before writing the same standard exams! Is the standard to be lowered or the 3rd Term Topics be exempted from the exams?
Instead of problematic and potentially dangerous agitation for resumption, why not request for a bailout, as with every distressed sector of the economy, for private businesses in education? Do governments at Federal and State levels not have a register of approved and tax-paying private schools, as to provide palliative for their teachers? Or is it that the private schools are not sure of their book-keeping as to approach the government for such?
Is it ethical or decent that the lives of millions of children be put at risk, as it is clearly a risky thing to do, by opening schools to students at terminal classes even for four weeks when all is not well, simply to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on private school businesses by transferring the burden to their easier customers – the parents?
How sensible is the argument that students are better off engaged in school and more out of harm’s way than being at home with those who brought them to the world? Parents that see their children as such a burden and sufficient enough to offload them to potentially deadly sickness should get their heads examined and should not substitute their minds for those of the generality of parents, who equally groan at coping with kids’ long stay at home but can never think of finding relief in releasing them to potential harm!
To what end is the entire terminal schools resumption? Granted but not conceded that all will go well, what next after the exams? Where do the promoted and graduated students move, if the occupants of the level to which they should move are presently stranded?
If the newly promoted are to wait eventually for resumption of the occupants of the new level and their eventual forward movement so as to create vacancy, what is the sense and urgency in resuming now at all cost when it is not clearly safe to do so, when we will still pause them again when schools resume for the other classes safely?
The NCDC testing capacity, as at March 31, 2020, was 500 per day; with a target to raise it to 1,500 per day. Up till date, it is doubtful if the target has been met as it conducts between 900 and 1,400 tests per day in its 26 molecular laboratories nation-wide. An infected person will eventually use two more test kits, making three kits (3 tests) for all eventually confirmed positive! How do millions of students cope with such a low capacity, should there be an astronomic spike in infection rates occasioned by millions of kids resuming prematurely? What is NCDC’s capacity for contact tracing, isolation and treatment in the event of infection in hundreds of thousand across Nigeria?
In Europe, where the Football Leagues resumed under a new normal, there are about 500 people involved per match, all of them are tested before each match and after, for all the matches. Testing, Contact Tracing, Treatment capacities are fundamental to COVID-19 management and defeat, you don’t bite more than you can chew! This is the reason why the football league in Nigeria did not deceive itself on capacity to resume but have terminated the League and finding consensus on best way to do so.
We cannot play politics, and neither can we do business, with the lives of these children. Those who think differently should look up the case of Arizona, USA presently. We must rise before we jump.