Cosmas Omegoh, Christy Anyanwu, Olakunle Olafioye and Agatha Emeadi
About four months ago, the threat of Coronavirus forced the Federal Government to close all the schools in the country. But right now, that forceful closure is taking the character of an albatross, leaving many in the education value chain seething with pain with an ominous cloud hanging in the air.
Many pupils and students in primary and secondary schools are in a fix. Those of them who are supposed to take various examinations to move to the next class or another tier of education cannot progress. They are stuck with their fate hanging in the balance. It is not only them, every party in the education sector is at the crossroads.
As it is, the Federal Government and the West African Examination Council (WAEC) cannot agree on the appropriate time to reopen schools for final year students to take their senior school certificate examination. Both parties are singing different songs, though some days ago, the Federal Government has hinted that it might reopen schools in September.
But now, deadlock is the word and its cost would be princely to every stakeholder. Thus no one is keeping quiet about this development.
Students speak on their fate
Lamenting, Jaachinma Bumah, an SS3 student in one of the unity schools in Lagos said: “I do not really like the idea of postponing our examination because, according to what I heard in the news, Ghana is still writing their WASSCE despite the pandemic. So, why can’t our system allow us to write ours?
“There was an initial suggestion that we should write it as day-students. For us to start waiting for another whole year is not proper at all. After all the preparations, with high hopes, the next thing we saw is this postponement.
“If schools reopen as being clamoured in some quarters, I also believe the authorities would do all the checks before we get into the school. Checks can be done in school as often as possible until we finish our examinations.”
Kosisochukwu Ferdinand is an SS3 student in a private secondary school on Lagos Island. He told Sunday Sun that “the initial announcement for schools to resume on August 3 gave us hope and should not have been cancelled because we have written our matriculation examination already.
“From what we gathered, school authorities were ready to welcome our class (SS3 only) and guide us through our certificate examination.
“Although our lives are more important than examination, government should find a way around it because the news about COVID-19 says it will not be eradicated soon. So does that mean we will be home forever?”
Also reacting, Amarachi Dike, an SS3 student at Gbaja Girls High School, Surulere, Lagos said: “I’m feeling too bad that I have not written my WASSCE; due to lockdown and postponement of the exams, students are just lazing around at home.
“It is not everyone that has the opportunity to do the online lesson. I don’t have a phone to do online lessons. Those students doing online lessons are children from rich homes. We are government school children; it’s a public school, so how many students would teachers do online lessons for? Some of us are even tired of reading.”
Immanuella Tamie-Amakiri, an SS3 student, of Firm Base College, Yaba, Lagos reacted in similar manner. “It’s kind of confusing. We had already prepared. We wrote our UTME on March 17; after that, we were supposed to write WASSCE immediately. We were not expecting this long break. We ought to have ended our examination on June 12, and maybe start writing our NECO exams by now or even done with it. But it’s so unfortunate.
“Now, I’m home. I just read on my own. In my school, we are not having classes online, but I read with my friends online.”
Costs to students
The ongoing impasse has had its own telling effects on the students.
Rachel Adeogun’s diligence to her studies was rewarded with good grade in her UTME, but she refused to backpedal. “I knew I must have good SSCE result to make my UTME result count,” she told Sunday Sun. “But barely a month to the much anticipated examination, the Federal Government suspended all academic activities in schools following the announcement of lockdown in the country.
“Initially, I was not disturbed until the lockdown began to stretch into months. I became demoralised and lacked the enthusiasm to carry on the way I had done before the lockdown began. I really feel drained; I mean drained and dry,” Rachael confessed.
Recalling his experience on the way many students are carrying on now while at home, Mr Ola Adeyemo, a principal in a private school in Lagos said: “Awhile ago, someone told me that in our area, two girls attending government secondary schools got pregnant. They are in SS3 and about to write their WASSCE.
“Now, due to the situation on ground, they have gone astray. The boys too are not left out. Just this morning, I noticed one of my students in SS3 in a gang smoking Indian hemp at Fashola Garden in Ijeshatedo. When he saw me he dodged.”
Speaking on what might befall the students if they fail to write their school certificate, he said: “Losing one year is enormous. It could have been a great opportunity for them to move forwards in life.
“If they don’t write this exam, it will affect them greatly. Not only them, look at those in SS2 now, they too will be affected. I don’t know whether they will be merged to write their exam next year if the government does not allow them to write their exam now. Or government will push their examination to the end of next year? This is the puzzle one cannot unravel now.”
While assessing the impact of COVID-19 and failure of students to write their examinations, Mr Olalekan Aina, a teacher admitted that “they are demoralised now. Not just the students, everyone is living in fear.
“For some of us who have been doing revision for SS3 students, what we notice now is that many of them are no longer coming online. They are tired.
“Yes, government said the SS3 students cannot resume immediately; the initial directive was that on resumption, they would do revision. But if that is not done and they go into their exams, be sure there will be mass failure.”
Cost to parents
Juliet Bumah, Saturday Editor, New Telegraph newspaper is a mother to an SS3 student billed to write his WASSCE. Speaking on the effect of not writing the examination this year because of COVID-19 pandemic, she noted that “it is not going to be easy both for the parents and the pupils, but we have no choice. There are certain things we cannot control and this is just one of those things; so we take it as it is.
“It means the parents have to spend more; now, the cost of keeping them at home is high; we are even beginning to appreciate the teachers all the more now. Being with the children in the last four months, we can imagine what the teachers go through. But then, the parents will also have to work harder; after preparing for their examination, all of a sudden, they are no longer in school to write their examination. This is actually slowing down their learning spirit, though they are doing their online classes.
“Overall, this has a serious effect on everybody. By the time schools resume, the pupils would have to work extra hard and we parents will have to prepare because it will also be cost effective.”
Another parent, Mrs Abimbola Adeogun said that the family’s hope of taking a breather from the expenses incurred on their daughter’s secondary school education was hanging in the balance now. “Rachael has two private lesson teachers who have been taking her in her core subjects.
“Before the suspension of academic activities in schools, we had hoped that the era of paying her lesson teachers and other sundry expenses would be over in about a month’s time. But three months after, we still find ourselves in the same position. It’s really disturbing,” she lamented.
Similarly, Adeyemo noted that on the side of parents, “in fact, the effect is enormous. It is tough. No one is happy. One of my children is in boarding school. We have even paid for his third term fees before the lockdown. His is supposed to be in school now writing his junior school certificate exam, but he is at home. And now there is no way we can get back the money paid.
“Those of us whose kids are undertaking the online stuff, it is tough paying for extra cost and data too for parents who have not been collecting salary. We have not been paid since March when the lockdown started. If I don’t have any savings, how would I be able to purchase data for the online studies they are engaged in?
“Now, many of the distraught students are already moving with bad gangs. Some of them are no longer listening to their parents. Once their parents go out, they leave home, same for the girls, they don’t read any more; they go out and fall into bad gangs.”
Parents express anger, want students write exam
Young Rachael sat for this year’s UTME and recorded an aggregate score of 253, a feat she believes is good enough to qualify her for admission into the university of her choice provided she is able to replicate the same performance in her Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE).
Her mother, Mrs Adeogun, said her daughter’s determination to secure admission this year was never in doubt before and after writing her UTME as she displayed much more dutifulness to her studies as the examination date drew closer.
But now, all that is petering out to disappointment and frustration, a reflection of the agony and pains of tens of thousands of Nigerian students and their parents who find themselves in the same precarious situation like the Adeoguns. This is a development educationists said could prove rather costly for the affected students and their parents considering the level of investments and resources that had gone into preparing the students for the examinations prior to the announcement of the nationwide lockdown.
Mrs Adetoun Ojediran, principal of Gloryland Academy, Ota, Ogun State, said the prevailing situation in the country is likely to impact negatively on the performance of the students if and when they are allowed to sit for the examinations, saying such delay and the uncertainty surrounding the examination are capable of depleting the zeal of the students.
“In my school for example, we were in the second month of camping our SSCE students in preparation for the examinations when the nation went on a lockdown. That development threw a spanner into the entire preparations. Imagine what went into the preparation in terms of financial resources on the part of the parents and the school. And what about the students who left their homes and were subjected to a new regimented lifestyle, which of course, they were not used to before coming for camping?
“We can only hope and pray that the students would not get disenchanted by the whole scenario by the time they are called for the examinations,” Ojediran stated.
A parent, Rev. (Mrs) Abby Amakiri, said: “I’m highly disappointed as a parent as to why WAEC is not taking the exams as stipulated.
“Why would other African nations like Ghana be resuming schools and Nigeria, the so-called giant of Africa is pulling back. I have a friend in South Africa, whose children are already attending school. In South Africa, it’s either you bring the children to school or they can have the online Zoom. You have the option as a parent. The school sends you the scheme of work to treat with the children at home. It’s so organised. Why would we have other African nations doing something to further education and Nigeria is now pulling out of WAEC. It doesn’t make sense to me.
“Like somebody said to me, when you have leaders who do not know the value of education, the abuse is inevitable. They should just let students who need to pass out pass out of school. I know Nigeria can handle it, but some people are playing some pranks as usual.
“To be candid, government has not done as much as we expected. There are so many nations that have been open up to schools; we are surprised right now that government is pulling out of WAEC that is the saddest part of it. It is sad, it is a big surprise to us parents. They should go back to school; there are examinations to take. Coronavirus is not as deadly as we have made it to look.
“Does the government want to waste the whole of 2020 academic year for students? I cannot put it together. I’m not agreeing.”
Mr Aina contended that the Federal Government ought to reopen schools and allow the students take their examination as long as they can keep to the protocols laid out by NCDC.
“Since the resumption is for the apex classes, the student will not make much crowd.
“People are arguing that the students be allowed to write their exam because the situation in schools is no less than what we currently experience in the markets and banks where people are not keeping to any form of protocol. So, why the schools and churches and mosques where adults mostly worship?
“If the government can provide the infrared thermometer in schools to check the body temperature of the students, they should be allowed to write their exams bearing in mind that the future of the students is at stake.
“If the students fail to write this examination they might be losing a whole year. That means so much to them,” he maintained.
Caution is the word
But on the other hand, some stakeholders are calling for caution, warning that calling out students to take WASSCE amid the onslaught of COVID-19 needed to be re-examined. One of such is an educationist, Bolaji Osime, CEO, Global International Secondary & Sixth Form, Lekki, Lagos. She noted that as a school proprietress, she would be careful to tell her students to come and take exams.
“If anything should happen, the parents are going to sue the school. They would say ‘you took a decision, you had an option to cancel it.’ That is why the Minister of Education is in a very delicate position right now.
“If anything should happen to the students, it is the same parents that are telling us they want to do exams that are going to be the first to start causing trouble.
“That’s why I said the parents should tread on the side of caution and listen to the Ministry of Health officials.
“Why would Nigerians want students back at school when the number of Coronavirus infection is going up? In other countries, when it’s coming down that’s when they will be talking about going back to school.
“You cannot jeopardise a human life. There are no alternatives. They can do GCE in November; they can do Cambridge in November; they can do other courses while they are at home. They don’t need to waste a whole year, although it’s very sad that the class of 2020 has to go through all this.
“About 1.5 million students registered for WASSCE, so how is WAEC going to cope with that number? How are they going to cope with their invigilators; how are they going to cope with the teachers that will monitor them? That’s why the situation is delicate.
“As a mother, I will be very careful; as a school owner, I will be very, very careful. I have many children in my custody; I have to account for them all.”
Similarly, Mr Adesina Adedoyin, Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) chair, Lagos State chapter, while lamenting the seeming imbroglio, noted that “what is happening now is not good for everybody; it is not good for our educational system either. It is a global challenge. But what can we do? Health is wealth; it is only the living that can go to school to learn. What is the need going to school to contract COVID-19? If a student is at home, they can be part of virtual learning. If we tarry awhile, we will preserve the lives of these students.”