–Finny Abraham, educationist
Vera Wisdom Bassey
Mrs. Finny Abraham is the proprietress of Mafina Schools, Lagos.
As the Federal Government has given directives for schools to reopen and different states are beginning in phases, she has made a case for teachers by pleading with relevant authorities to find ways to ameliorate the financial burden on teachers occasioned by the lockdown.
Mrs. Abraham hopes that paying the teachers will boost their morale and encourage them to put in more in the post-lockdown era as schools reopen.
She spoke to Daily Sun recently in Lagos.
Now that the Federal Government is moving to reopen schools, what should government do to assist schools and their teachers?
Everybody understands the excruciating effects of COVID-19 and, worse still, the lockdown was most devastating.
Five months of non-payment is like hell for Nigerians and teachers are not exempted. Teachers are like every other Nigerian. They have families, go to the same market, pay bills and were affected like all other persons, I think there is a lot the government can do to help ameliorate the economic burden placed on them by the pandemic.
I think if they (both private and public school teachers) are paid some money in the form of palliative, it will help a great deal. This will enable them resume back to school, so that they can be happy and be in the best form to teach the children well as soon as they resume school.
And don’t forget that, when one is happy and taken care of, only then will he be at his best to put in his best.
For schools to achieve success as the children return to school it will greatly depend on the teachers’ welfare.
Most schools have been conducting lessons and continuous assessment through the online format since the lockdown. What is your position on online education?
I think those who are engaging in it are out to cause confusion and deceive themselves. I make bold to say this for many reasons.
Now, you would ask, does every child have access to Internet and data in Nigeria? So, how will they all be assessed if only a few whose parents can afford to provide data are able to partake in the continuous assessments and examinations?
So, don’t you see that they are only out to cause chaos? How can a market woman or a farmer who lives in the hinterland, having battled the economic hardships occasioned by COVID-19, start thinking of buying data for her ward?
Nigerians have too many financial demons to contend with and provision of data for online schooling is the least of their worries. They have so many things to worry about. And online school is not yet part of it for obvious reasons.
Nigerians are still grappling with the government shortchanging us in the basic provisions and now you are talking about online school. Where is the regular supply of electricity to even charge phone batteries, let alone buy data, when most families can’t afford three square meals?
It’s all a sham, as far as I am concerned.
We have not reached that level to go online in education, except we call the communication house, and tell them about the students, if not, in Nigeria, we are still very far behind.
What are the modalities should government put in place as schools gradually reopen?
As schools are reopening in phases now, just imagine the crowd you are going to see on the road with the human and vehicular surge everywhere. It is not that we don’t know what to do, Nigerians like being pushed. The government should put up the guidelines. That is what we want, and then allocate days for schools just as they did for markets’ reopening in Lagos.
We will know they are serious and it will be for schools alone, and those days will exclude other people from the road.
Most schools are empty now. One thing the government should understand is that schools are not like commodities that we buy from markets, whereby we can operate today and close tomorrow.
We are talking about children here. We are talking about children who are Nigeria’s future generation. If we play with our children’s welfare, we are gambling with our future.
Maybe the issue of hurriedly reopening schools without putting in adequate safety measures will excite some private school owners because of the financial gains and money, but we should remember that everything does not revolve around money.
We should think of the children’s safety first as schools reopen. We must make sure that everything is in proper place, safety-wise.
How do you think school owners, teachers, welfare officers in schools can successfully manage the children as schools reopen?
It is easy, and I think we can manage well. The Minister of Education initially gave certain numbers that would be permitted in a class, of not more than this or that in a class, but because of COVID-19 we can reduce them and take exactly the number, according to the capacity your school can manage.
For the junior classes, the students’ number should not exceed 16 in a class because they have to run around; and, for the secondary section, 30 in a class is ideal.
With the restrictions arising from COVID-19, children in the crèche are not supposed to be more than six so that they can run around, while primary classes should be just 10 pupils. Again, it depends on the size of the classroom.
What they asked us to do is 40 by 40, but most of us don’t have 40 by 40 classrooms. So, each classroom, for secondary, should be 40 so that it will be spaced and have enough ventilation. So, if your classroom is not up to 40 by 40, then you know the number of children you are going to put there, or you simply reduce it.
However, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the rules were there, but now they have to be followed strictly.
Apart from running a school, you are engaged in other humanitarian activities. Now, there is a disturbing increase in rape in schools. What are are you doing to curb rape that is on the increase today in the country?
I run an NGO, called Ada Igbo Di Nma. The essence of the NGO is to provide a platform for women to speak out on issues concerning women in Igboland.
The first problem with issues of rape is the victims’ inability to speak out. More often than not, during investigations in rape cases, what you normally find is that the victim might have been severally abused without speaking out, especially the ones that happen in a family.
They hardly speak out for fear of being isolated from people, or rejected or being denied their school fees because once they tell their parents, they say it is a taboo to do so. Mothers do not allow their girl child to talk to them but, naturally, once the rapist is apprehended, he will be brought to book.
Part of our programme for the organisation is to employ the services of a lawyer who will help in the process of getting justice for rape victims after our rescue. We also will rehabilitate them and reintegrate them into the mainstream of social life.
Our focus is to keep preaching to young schoolgirls about the dangers of allowing strangers to touch them or abuse them and, worse of all, not speaking out. Young girls and boys are vulnerable and should be encouraged to speak up when the need arises in cases of abuse.
What else do you hope to do to bring succour to vulnerable people?
Hopefully, we also plan on having a hospital or clinic where we can give medical assistance to victims of rape and sexual abuse.
We would have put up that earlier than now but, with the pandemic and its attendant consequences, not only in Nigeria but globally, some of our projects have been stalled.
Nonetheless, it is still in the pipeline and we are passionate about caring for these people because their welfare is our goal.