In a bid to curb the spread of the Covid -19 pandemic ,the federal government had, in March, shut down schools nationwide .The government also imposed lockdown in some states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Last month , the federal government begun the gradual opening of the economy by easing the restrictions that came with the lockdown.
Expectedly, private schools proprietors have been piling pressure on the federal government to reopen schools to ease their financial burden. Similarly, some states have also announced plans to reopen schools, probably as a result of the pressure on them.
But the federal government did not see that as the right move. In its reaction, the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Covid -19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation ( SGF), Boss Mustapha has warned state governments against reopening schools arguing that it’s still not safe to do so.
He stated: “ we have received reports that some states are contemplating the reopening of schools, television viewing centres, sports stadium and other places where large gatherings could take place.
“The PTF re-emphasises that it is not yet safe to do so and that utmost caution should be exercised. The PTF guideline should still be complied with while considering decision of this nature.”
Similarly the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, has given conditions for the reopening of schools and tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
The minister listed the conditions to include; all institutions must have hand-washing facilities, body temperature checks, body disinfectants at all entry points to their major facilities including the gates, hostels, classes, offices and so on. The whole premises of each institution must be decontaminated and all efforts must be geared towards maintenance of the highest level of hygiene, ensure social and physical fistancing in class sizes and meeting spaces.
This Newspaper agree completely with the submission of the PTF that it is too early to open schools and the reasons are not far-fetched .In our considered opinion, we should not be in a hurry in reopening the educational institutions.
First, there are concerns that with the percularities of our country, some of the Covid -19 safety protocols and regulations can not be properly observed by some of the schools and their pupils and students . It is no secret that some schools in villages and surburbs of major cities don’t even have the luxury of portable water even for drinking not to talk of using same for hand washing and sanitization of the school environments.
Also, how can the children especially those in public schools observe social distance? In many of those schools, the number of pupils in one class is sometimes up to 100. Besides, how can little kids observe physical distancing at break times or wear facemasks for long periods of time when most adults are even finding it difficult to wear masks for such a long time.
These concerns cannot be said to be frivolous especially with the astronomical rise in number of confirmed cases of the virus in the country. Simply put, it will be foolhardy to expose children to such a glaring and looming danger that is lurking around. Right now, the hospitals have the challenge of bed spaces in some states due to the growing number of infected persons. No doubt, opening the schools now will lead to an exponential spike in cases.
Nigeria should learn from what is happening in other countries. For instance, two weeks after Israel fully reopened schools, a COVID-19 outbreak swept cross schools including at least 130 cases in a single school.According to its Ministry of Education, at least 244 students and school employees had tested positive for the coronavirus after the reopening of schools.
Similarly, in South Korea , over 200 schools in South Korea were forced to close down just days after they re-opened, due to a new spike in virus cases.
Alarmingly, health experts have posited that Nigeria is yet to reach the peak of the pandemic . As of June 17, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)confirmed 587 new cases of the coronavirus disease in 17 states and the federal capital territory.While 344 people were discharged, increasing the recoveries from 5,623 to 5,967, the number of fatalities rose from 455 to 469.A total of 17,735 COVID-19 infections have now been recorded in 35 states and the FCT.
We agree that the precious time being lost by pupils and students should be of concern to governments and parents, even aside from the financial loss to the proprietors of private schools. But it must be admitted that preservation and protection of the lives of the younger generation should be of more paramount importance. Time lost can be made up for but a life lost cannot be replaced.
We therefore advocate that reopening the schools now especially in the hasty manner being canvassed by proprietors should not be the first option. It’s a risk the country can ill afford to take more so in view of the poor healthcare system. However, we suggest that government should engage operators of the private schools to find an amicable way to assuage their plight and cut their losses.
Consequently, while we contend that we can’t shut down our schools forever,we call on the government and stakeholders in the education sector to think of ways of reopening schools after we have reached the peak of the pandemic in the country. We suggest that they should look for ways of splitting the classes into three for maximum three hourly shifts each daily.
The government should also invest massively in technology for public schools, while private schools are embracing online learning, the public schools can also adopt online learning so as not to be left behind. Till we reach the peak of the pandemic, schools should remain shut for now.