• As schools across the nation reopen, findings from Saturday Sun reporters’ visits to the ones in Lagos raise concerns
Vivian Onyebukwa, Elizabeth Ogunbamowo And Vera Wisdom-Bassey
It’s been more than a month now since schools in Lagos State resumed studies on August 21, 2020. The resumption was initially limited to the exit or final classes, especially those sitting for external exams. This week, starting from Monday, September 28, 2020, it spread to include not only other classes and schools in Lagos, but indeed, in many states across the nation.
Ahead of the exercise, the Lagos State government had released a 52-page document directing schools on what to do as regards the safety of their students and staff on duty. The document indicated, among other recommendations, that where the two-metre rule could not be applied due to some factors, other risk mitigation strategies might be adopted.
Rules on wearing of facemasks flouted in some schools
The rules also recommended that schools and places of learning be fumigated and disinfected ahead of pupils’ return. They were also directed to ensure that they make use of safety mask, among others. But when Saturday Sun reporters went round to monitor the level of compliance, they discovered that while some schools are fully adhering to these rules, some of them found the directives a tough one to execute.
For instance, when our reporter sat for about 15 minutes, in front of Treasure Court School, Iba, Lagos, she observed that while the students were leaving the school premises almost all of them were without facemasks. Those that bothered to put it on left it hanging by their jaws. At Hynoble Schools, a private school also in Iba, the same scenario replayed itself as many pupils and academic staff were seen strolling into the premises also without the face masks, while a few who had put them on either put them under their chins or held them in their hands. While hand-washing equipment and hand sanitizers were provided for in various schools visited, the hand-held temperature reading devices were missing.
A visit to some of the schools around Ijesha and Itire areas of Lagos, showed some level of compliance. Most of the schools were strict especially with the wearing of facemasks, but failed in the areas of temperature checks, and hand washing. The children are expected to wash their hands before entering the classrooms.
At Allison Group of Schools, Ijesha, Lagos, two pupils belonging to the same parents were seen crying at the gate. Reason: the security guard refused to allow them in because they were not putting on their facemasks. Initially some kind-hearted parents who brought their wards to the school, wanted to help by buying for them, but when they learnt that the facemask is sold at N300 per one by the school authorities, they backed out. All the same, they advised the guard not to send them home as the children who claimed to live at Ogunsanmi Street, Ijesha, revealed that their parents had left home for their place of work. They pleaded that sending them home was not the best decision as the children could get harmed or kidnapped on their way home. They advised the security man to find a place to keep them but warned that they should not be allowed to mix with other children in the school until they get their facemasks. But even the security guard himself fared no better as Saturday Sun observed that he merely hung his own facemask on his jaws.
At Itire Nursery and Primary School, the use of facemask is strictly adhered to. But there was no handheld thermometer to check temperature and no hand-washing basin or sanitisers provided. Saturday Sun spent some time to observe the children who were entering the school premises, and noted that the security man never allowed any of them in without their facemasks on. At Timi Nursery and Primary School, there was also some level of compliance except that some adults were seen going in and out of the school without their facemasks.
A proprietress provides some alibi
The Proprietress of Mafina Schools, Iba, Finny Abraham, speaking to Saturday Sun, gave reasons why she thinks some of the rules are not being obeyed to the letter. She said: “We should know that we are Nigerians. We want children to do everything while their parents themselves are not doing it. But fortunately now the children are learning because the teachers are trying to control them. Although it is not easy we are trying to teach them social distancing. As they gather in class, once you leave them they cluster again.”
She called on the government to create more awareness on radio or newspapers every day to advise the children on the need to adhere to these rules. “Once you leave them, they remove their facemasks. But when they see you coming, they put them on again. The safety of the children is the most important thing that matters now,” she said. She also called on parents to wear facemasks because by doing that they will be helping their children to learn and to instill in them the habit. One of the students, Johnson Eke who spoke to our reporter after school hours, complained that the facemask pains him. Therefore, he has to remove it. Some other students complained that it is not comfortable and they are also not used to it.
Schools share their reasons why they obey
At Caleb International College, Ikosi, modern hand washing machines were erected at strategic locations, while visitors and students were mandated to wash their hands before entering the premises. A visit to Phidel College, Idimu, showed that the use of facemasks was made compulsory as our correspondent was asked to use one, while teachers and other staff members were seen with their nose masks and face shields provided by the school. Hanged on the wall was a banner with the inscription: ‘Did you remember to wash your hands?’ boldly written on it.
Speaking with Saturday Sun, Mr. Adenugba Olanrewaju, the school administrator stated that the school’s compliance is a norm. He said that even before the COVID-19 spectre kicked in, the school used to fumigate the premises virtually twice every term before the resumption of a new term and during the midterm break, which usually lasts for a week.
He said: “We’ve put all hands on deck. Even parents are asking us what we’ve done as regards safety and I told them that the only thing left is what we do every morning: educating the students that we’re under a new order; no close contact is allowed. I told them to abide by whatever space distancing is earmarked for them. At the gate there, anyone who comes in must have their temperature checked. We’ve told our staff members to watch out for anyone showing any basic symptom adding that such people should be pointed out. We have qualified nurses on standby to attend to such. We don’t want to lose any of our students. These are children we’ve been training for the past six years. All we want for them is success.”
He noted that though the Lagos State government had not made a COVID-19 test result a prerequisite for the students’ resumption, t but that the school has made provision for checking the temperature of the students as they come in from their respective homes. Boarding students have their temperature checked at least twice a day, he added. “Asides that, we are asking those questions pertaining to sore throat or any of those things we can’t easily decipher so that we can know what else to do.”
At Hanniel College, also in Idimu, our reporter observed that any visitor who walks into the premises would be directed by the school’s security personnel to wash their hands at the taps stationed at the school gate, rub their hands with an alcoholic-based sanitizer and had their temperature checked before they are allowed into the school. She also noticed another running tap with a hand washbasin stationed directly behind the security post of the school. The school administrator, Benjamin Aluko, told Saturday Sun that the school had done everything possible to ensure strict compliance with the social-distancing protocol.
He further added that the school had made provision for hand-washing facilities for the students, staff members and visitors to the school premises in line with the directive of the government. He also informed that the students are being sensitized constantly on the need to keep safe and avoid close contact with one another in the course of their schoolwork. “We have tried our best; we have made provision for infrared thermometer to check the temperature of the students and everyone who comes around including the parents. As far as I’m concerned, this school has obeyed the state’s safety guidelines.”
The story was the same at Bejide Memorial School, Idimu. The Principal, Morakinyo Gbajumo said that the school’s premises had been fumigated in preparation for resumption. At Brain Builders College, Abule-Odu, the security personnel, with an infrared thermometer checked the temperature of students and visitors. When Saturday Sun approached the principal of the school, he stated that he could not speak to the Press without the permission of the Director of the Schools.
At Racy and Sturdy Group of Schools, Lagos, the proprietor, Prince Mike Adewoye said that the school had done everything necessary to ensure its compliance with the safety guidelines. He said that the school did not just clean up the place because of the virus but also to get rid of reptiles that might have been lurking around.