Child: Any news about when I’ll resume school?
Mother: Anytime soon dear, but I’m not sure when exactly that will be.
Child: Are things going to be like it was before the Corona virus started? Can I still play with my friends? Can I hug them?
Mother: Well, things are going to be a little different and you can still play with your friends, but we may have to do some things in new ways. We’ll try to make it as fun as possible.
Child: I am really excited I’ll be seeing my friends soon!
For many parents who have been in this position, you are not alone. There’s been mixed reactions and divided opinions on the reopening of schools with some people who say it’s too early to send their wards back to school while others are of the opinion that its way overdue as their children are not learning much at home. It raises the question of which is more important ‘health’ or ‘education? Obviously, both are essential and complement each other which make it a lot more difficult for parents/caregivers to choose one over the other. It is no doubt that the COVID 19 pandemic has brought about many changes in the way things were done which includes educational institutions as well as their activities and those changes may stay around for some time. In some countries where schools were allowed to resume, some areas have recorded higher rates of infection among students which has led to adjustments of varying degrees. The government of many nations have been encouraged to adopt a phased reopening of schools to reduce the spread of COVID 19 and prevent a further hike in the number of cases.
So many questions remain unanswered as regards how ready educational institutions in the country are to follow guidelines on safe reopening. Many argue that while private schools in Nigeria may be able to meet up the requirements as well as sustain hygienic processes, however, the same cannot be said of the public schools in the country and this could create a wide gap among students. The primary aim should be to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for everyone in the best way possible, with little interference to the ideal learning process. For instance, in preparation for resumption, a private primary/secondary school has given students the option of alternating between virtual learning and going into the school to learn. This example requires a little more extra to be done to ensure the student learns in an environment that is safe and healthy.
Hygienic measures and practices would be greatly required to limit the spread of COVID 19 at educational institutions staff would need to get some training on infection prevention and control techniques. Although it would be great to show optimism that the pandemic will no longer be an issue in the nearest future, schools as a way of being realistic should also be prepared to continue with other methods or platforms of learning if the condition(pandemic) gets worse. Families and schools need to put in their best to achieve the common goal because both sides share similar anxieties. Options available for learning will depend on the quantity and quality of resources at hand. Many parents/ caregivers may have to go back to work soon and are badly in need for schools to reopen, thus having increased levels of stress that may impact negatively on their health.
In considering the numerous concerns about schools reopening amidst the COVID 19 pandemic, a very worried parent asked a school teacher ‘How do you intend to limit physical interactions like play amongst preschool children?’ and the teacher answered ‘It will be quite difficult, but we would do our best’. The parent was not convinced the school had made adequate preparations to protect their students. Can schools provide measures that completely protect students from getting the disease?
As a result of the possible interaction of staff and students with people outside the school premises, complete protection may not be possible. However, it is recommended that schools follow the guidelines provided by the local authorities designated to do so. Health and safety should be made a priority in designing the programme for the school year. Sooner or later schools will fully reopen, thus it is important that school owners and families are prepared to follow precautions both within and outside the classroom to protect themselves and others.
Some useful tips for schools on ways they can provide hygienic preventive measures that will prevent spread include:
Provision of adequate facilities for hand cleaning (washing and sanitizing) at the entrance and within the premises as well as regular temperature checks to limit spread is recommended. Washing hands with soap and safe running water and adequate scrubbing of the hand for at least 20seconds with thorough rinsing should be encouraged. There could be stations for washing hands located at various areas within the school premises
Make appropriate arrangements to ensure physical distancing among staff and students as well as ensure classes are well ventilated. For example, sitting arrangements in class (desk spacing may be increased), doing more of outdoor sports with proper spacing.
Encourage the appropriate use of face mask amongst appropriate age groups in common areas
Train and retrain staff on effective ways of cleaning and disinfecting surfaces as well as clean frequently touched surfaces regularly to limit spread of the disease
Encourage staff and students to stay at home and get checked when they feel unwell. Some symptoms of COVID 19 include dry cough, difficulty in breathing, fever, headaches, body pain, tiredness, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, abdominal pain and chest pain among others.
Educate students on COVID 19 including how it can be transmitted and prevented using information from reliable sources and clarify any false information and practice students would have heard
Designate a special area (well ventilated room) within the school premises where students (who are sick or show symptoms of the disease) can wait and be picked up by their parents/caregivers.
Inform parents/caregivers if their children have been in contact with someone who is suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID 19.
The information contained here should not replace specific guidelines laid down for reopening of schools by local or international regulations/standards as it applies in your locality.