COVID-19: Must schools open now?

By Christie Doyin
To say I’m worried about this schools reopening matter is using the wrong adjective to state how I feel, really a big understatement to what I feel right now. As a matter of fact, since report of the second wave of Covid-19 sets in, I’ve been wondering about the importance of reopening of schools. Is it a must that schools reopen now? I’m taking about physical learning!
It is rather sad that in spite of the world record of second wave of the pandemic Covid-19, which so far has Nigeria recording high number of cases and deaths than what it was in the first wave, most schools in many states across the country reopened for physical academic activities last Monday, January 18.
It can be recalled that the primary and secondary schools’ students were in session until they had the Christmas holiday and just returned to school to continue with their academics in 2021, while the universities were now able to resume after a long-term strike embarked on by universities lecturers.
No doubt, one cannot play down the importance of schools’ reopening. Meaning it is of high necessity that students return to school so that they can finish their academic works and move to the next stage or grade as scheduled by various schools in Nigeria. But then, the rate at which new cases of the corona virus pandemic in Nigeria is wreaking havoc as recorded by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC should not be ignored.
There is no doubt now that Covid-19 is real, as Nigeria, according to the Presidential
Task Force on the pandemic, has sadly recorded quite a number of deaths and well over 100,000 cases in the country.
Notably, there are 12 states that has been most affected by the pandemic in Nigeria and they are Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Plateau, Kaduna, Oyo, Rivers, Edo, Ogun, Kano Delta, Ondo and Katsina States. My take is that Kwara state is not excluded except for inadequate records considering what we see on the streets, worship centres and other forms of social interactions, including parties and other daily activities.
Recently and sadly, a group tagged association of private schools owners started an hash tag when they got a hint that resumption date may be extended by government. One could not but get dismayed that this group of school proprietors were only concerned about the money they might lose and not the impact on the pupils and their parents if schools were to resume as they have done.
Can you stop children from mixing with one another? It’s almost impossible, especially now that they had missed out on plays and talks. Can’t really blame the children considering the fact that most of their parents do not believe the existence of the pandemic, while some believed its virus for the rich and some still take it as scam.
However, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) has expressed concerns over schools reopening, just as not a few parents are expressing concern despite their wish to give their children and wards comprehensive, quality and timely education. A parent noted that omo ti ko ku ko fail. A child that is alive is not a failure. Alluding to the fact that going to school amid this serious second wave may be fatal and he rather would have his children home and alive than send them back to school now. I concur because schools are meant for the living and not the dead.
The NMA President, Prof. Innocent Ujah, in a Television interview, expressed concerns over the reopening of schools. According to him, decisions made in Nigeria are most times sentimental and not based on the advice of experts. He noted that Nigeria does not have statistics to know the schools that have put in place adequate prescribed measures to observe the Covid-19 protocols.
According to Ujah, “What we have been saying is that this Coronavirus pandemic is totally unprepared for and that has been since it started. But one year after, what lessons have we learnt? We know that students should go to school, and we know that they should maintain the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocol, but what have we done in schools?”
Exactly my question and reason for querying why schools should open now.
He further noted that “While we are saying that schools should reopen, we should be prepared and there should be monitoring. Who are those monitoring and supervising the process? Even those who are not in schools are not obeying. How much compliance do we have amongst people on the streets to the NCDC protocols? The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has been singing that we need to comply”, he averred.
The University of Ilorin on its own has mapped out a phased reopening of the institution for physical activities. They noted, this is to inform students particularly ‘hostelites’ that hostels have been scheduled to open as follows:
(1) January 24, 2021 for those having outstanding examinations;
(2) January 31, 2021 for final year and postgraduate students.
Students, in these categories, in the first phase of reopening will only be allowed into the hostels after providing required details in the online form provided.
It was also noted that students are expected to come with minimum of 5 reusable face masks and avoid crowded environment under any guise while stating that no visitor will be permitted in the hostel while common rooms will remain locked.
It went further to note that students who have symptom(s) of any ailment are advised to please stay off the campus and make necessary report through their Faculty Sub Dean to the Student affairs unit.
Where the problem lies is how responsible are some students and parents? If you are careful, do you think others will be as careful as you are? What measures have government put in place in our schools to control spread of the pandemic? For schools to resume physical learning, government and all schools administrators must ensure control, monitoring and especially compliance in all learning institutions.
We have heard that oxygen and bed spaces are in short supply in hospitals, doctors, nurses and other health caregivers are daily contacting and dying from the virus. It is such a sad story but unfortunately, Nigerians are rather not really perturbed.
I say no to school reopening at this time until institutions of learning are adequately prepared to keep safe and ensure compliance of all Covid-19 protocols, this will help control the spread of the pandemic in the country.
I also appeal to everyone to please maintain social distancing from others where you must be with anyone, wash your hands frequently and for about 20 seconds with soap and water before you touch the face, eyes and mouth, wear face mask and face shield in crowded places, encourage others to wear their facemasks at work and wherever you are.
*Doyin writes from Ilorin via e-Mail:cdoyin@gmail.com

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