As some states across the country announce dates and plans to reopen schools, the federal government has called for caution, urging them to learn from the experiences of other countries where the opening of schools led to an increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 and fatalities.
Daily Trust reports there is confusion in the country as stakeholders differed on the suitability of opening schools.
While some state governments said they would soon reopen schools, others said they would not. Various groups and government agencies are also issuing conflicting statements while some students of public schools said they have been short-changed by being forced to remain at home for long.
This is at a time when private schools populated by children of the elite completed their academic sessions through virtual teaching because they have access to technological devices.
FG’s position on reopening schools
Speaking during the 62nd joint national briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, warned states against reopening schools.
According to him, as Nigeria perfected plans to re-open more sectors, everyone must support the winning strategy which was anchored on the ability of health institutions to contain the virus.
“It is in the above context that the PTF appreciates the on-going calls for re-opening of the education sector and indeed some sub-nationals are already making preparations for such.
“Whilst the PTF does not discourage making such preparations, we need to be guided by experiences from countries such as Germany, France, the United States and the UK where the opening of schools in some cities led to an increase in confirmed cases and fatalities,” Mustapha said.
He also noted that the task force would be submitting the seventh Interim Report to President Muhammadu Buhari and would be guided by his directives on the next phase.
Mustapha said that the decisions and approval would be transmitted at the national briefing on Thursday, September 3, 2020.
He said that as Nigeria enters the last few days of the extended eased lockdown phase of its national response this week, the PTF, like the global community was confronted with a series of emerging new developments around the characteristics of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The PTF has also observed that from the point the global numbers entered the 20th million, growth in cases has been on the average of a million cases every four to five days. This is a trend that deserves a lot of attention and the PTF is doing that.
“For us in Nigeria, the last three weeks have shown a slowdown in the number of confirmed cases. Indeed, in the last four months of testing, the lowest daily figure of confirmed cases, 138 was reported on August 30, 2020,” he added.
Reopening varsities suicidal, ASUU warns
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on Monday warned the federal government to be wary of possible negative consequences of reopening schools.
Addressing a press conference at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, the Lagos Zone of ASUU warned that reopening of tertiary institutions without taking concrete steps to address myriad of challenges would be suicidal.
The Zonal Coordinator, Professor Olusiji Sowande said that it was not enough to have the students back on campuses but that the atmosphere and conditions must also be right.
Daily Trust reports that public universities have been on strike for long, meaning that even if the federal government approved their reopening, students would have to remain at home until the stalemate was resolved.
Professor Sowande said some of the problems in public universities included inadequate hostel facilities and crowded classes, saying the institutions also lacked water and electricity supply.
“The response of the public universities to the call by the National Universities Commission (NUC) for their readiness to reopen indicated that public universities are not ready.
“Presently, hostel accommodations are inadequate, no facility on ground to carry out physical in large and crowded classes, water and electricity supply are not reliable.
“Reopening tertiary institutions without taking concrete steps to address these issues would be suicidal. While the government made arrangements for special bailout funds for airline operators and other private entities, no such arrangement was made for public universities. Therefore, the government should be ready to take responsibility for any possible negative consequences after reopening of universities,” he said.
On the ongoing strike, Sowande said the union had written to relevant government agencies with a view to finding steps to put an end to the industrial action.
“It seems to us that some government officials are benefiting from the prevailing situation. We demand that the OAGF must immediately remit all illegally withheld check-offs and other third party deductions with accrued interests,” Sowande said.
Osun ready as Lagos ministry disowns resumption calendar
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The Osun State government has set September 21 as the tentative date for reopening of schools.
In a statement on Monday by the Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation, Mrs Funke Egbemode, the government said while stakeholders were expected to continue to put protocols in place towards the reopening of schools according to the guidelines set by the Federal Ministry of Education, all schools in the state were set to resume in phases with effect from September 21 for an abridged third term of the 2019/2020 academic session.
“To make up for lost grounds caused by the COVID-19 induced lockdown, a new academic session (2020/2021 session) is scheduled to commence on November 9, 2020.
“Because of the Yuletide, schools will be expected to take a brief recess from December 24, 2020, to resume on January 4, 2021, for the concluding part of the first term of the new session, which is scheduled to end January 22, 2021,” the statement said.
However, the Education Quality Assurance (OEQA) unit of the Lagos State Ministry of Education yesterday warned the public to disregard a resumption time table flying around the social media.
The time-table claimed to be the 2020/2021 academic calendar said that the first term of the session would start September 21, 2020, and end December 18, 2020, though Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said weekend that the resumption date he announced was not cast in stone.
The purported calendar also gave January 11, 2021, and May 3, 2021, as the start dates for the second terms, adding; “The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology enjoins all stakeholders and members of the public to take note of the details of the academic calendar.”
However, a statement by the Public Affairs Officer, OEQA, Mr Emmanuel Olaniran said the calendar did not come from their office.
“Please be informed that the academic calendar above did not emanate from the Office of Education Quality Assurance (OEQA). Kindly disregard,” it reads. In a related development, the Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU), Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun disclosed that students’ resumption from the COVID-19 lockdown would be in phases.
Professor Fagbohun while speaking on a radio programme (Eko 89.7FM), yesterday, explained that students in 400, 500 and 600 level would resume before others for the duration of two-months with intensive lectures starting from 9 am – 3 pm for those who live off-campus.
After the completion of 400, 500 and 600 level resumption, the VC said that students in 200 and 300 level would resume for a two-month lecture before the commencement of exams.
He further made clear that resumption for students in 200 and 300 level had been divided in different days of the week as those in 300 level would be on campus for lectures on Mondays and Wednesdays while 200 level students would be on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays for lectures.
This, according to the VC, was to protect the lives of the students and staff of the university from the risk of contracting the virus. He stated that the university had just concluded an online examination for the post-graduate students.
Students express mixed opinions
Students of tertiary institutions across Nigeria have said that it is safe to resume academic activities.
A post-graduate student at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Sani Yusuf Isah, told Daily Trust that it was safe for universities to reopen considering that the number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria had started decreasing.
Sani said tertiary institution students were mature and would observe all precautionary measures considering that people would have to learn to live with the virus for a long time to come. He advised the federal government and state governments to adopt phased resumption of tertiary schools, especially final year students and post-graduate students to resume first, to allow social distancing.
Meanwhile, a student of Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic, Zaria, Dorathy Amina Kaffoi, said it was not safe to reopen tertiary schools now.
Kaffoi said despite the fact that the cases of COVID-19 had “drastically reduced,” it was still dangerous to open schools.
“Reopening schools will not allow the distancing process among the students. For example, hardly you will be able to stop students from partying if they are back to school. Everyone wants the school to resume, even I, but it is sadly not safe,” she said.
Dirisu Yakubu, a Postgraduate student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, said “Life is gradually returning to normal and we can’t afford to be part of this gradual return to life before COVID-19.
“What is important is that adequate health and safety measures be put in place to curtail and contain the spread of the ugly virus. Emphasis should be on the compulsory use of face masks, regular hand washing, and sanitising of the same. It is time for schools to reopen.”
Abdulramon Shehu, a 200-level of Water Resources and Environmental Engineering in ABU, said, “It is worth to say that staying at home by students is of no advantage anymore, owing to the fact that many students have been idled for months and groomed in illicit acts.
But Tijani Olakunmi, a Microbiology student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife noted that “It is actually not the safest thing to do for now. The best thing is to see what will happen by December. It is better to protect students than to expose them to the virus.”