Gabriel Dike, Fred Ezeh, Abuja, and Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Stakeholders in the education sector have commended the Federal Government on its decision to reopen schools nationwide, describing it as a wise move.
Government, yesterday, announced that secondary schools would reopen on August 4, though for exit classes only.
Director, press and public relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Bem Goong, in a statement in Abuja, said the decision was reached at a virtual consultative meeting between the ministry, commissioners of education of the 36 states, Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), proprietors of private schools, and chief executives of examination bodies.
He said key stakeholders agreed that students in exit classes (SS3) should resume immediately after the Sallah break to enable them prepare for the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) examinations scheduled to commence from August 17.
Goong explained that: “Stakeholders at the meeting also resolved that a passionate appeal be made to the Federal Government through the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and public-spirited Nigerians for assistance to schools across the country to enable them fast-track the preparations for safe reopening, as agreed.”
He said another meeting would be convened today between the Federal Ministry of Education and chief executives of examination bodies, namely, NECO, NABTEB and NBAIS, to harmonise their examination dates, and the outcome would be conveyed to stakeholders.
Schools were ordered to shut down in March as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.
On July 6, Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, at the daily briefing of the PTF, announced that the Federal Government had agreed to reopen schools to allow students in exiting classes participate in WAEC examination earlier scheduled from August 4 to September 5.
However, two days later, on July 8, Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, told State House correspondents shortly after the Federal Executive Council meeting that the decision to reopen schools had been reversed to allow for further consultation.
Adamu announced that final-year students preparing for the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) would not be allowed to return to school, contrary to the earlier announcement, and that Nigeria might pull out of the 2020 WAEC examination because of the rising number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country.
The decision generated a lot of reactions from Nigerians, including lawmakers, religious and community leaders. Nevertheless, the minister insisted that WAEC could not determine the resumption date of schools for Nigeria. It was reported that the minister was under pressure from the regional examination body.
Adamu, however, remained resolute, saying he would rather Nigerian students lose an academic year than be exposed to COVID-19.
The Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission has commended government for ordering schools to resume on August 4.
Director-general of the commission, Seye Oyeleye, said: “Federal Government’s reversal and agreeing to reopen on August 4 should be seen as a victory for dialogue, which is always the hallmark of a federal system that works. We have always maintained in the South-West region that such a sensitive matter was never going to be solved by an executive diktat from the central government, but rather once we had conflicting proposals on the way forward, particularly regarding the WAEC exams, it becomes a necessity for the federating states to sit down at the table to dialogue and reason together.
“This new decision taken in collaboration with all the 36 states is a triumph of reason. We will now implore all the other states to emulate the readiness of the South-West states and ensure that safety of the teachers and pupils is not compromised, by putting adequate measures in place as they welcome them back.”
Similarly, the national president, All Nigerian Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS), Mr. Anselm Izuagie, said the union was in support of government’s decision.
Izuagie said SS3 students were getting frustrated because of the prolonged closure of schools and their inability to write the May/June 2020 WASSCE as scheduled.
“We presented a position paper on the resumption of schools. Parents should prepare their wards with face masks and sanitisers for their safety. We have sensitised our members nationwide on safety measures and they are ready to receive the SS3 students,’’ he said.
President, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Yomi Otubela, said private schools nationwide were ready for the SS3 students and working towards meeting the Federal Government’s guidelines, adding that many had already fumigated their environment as well as provide other safety requirements in line with COVID-19 protocol.
Otubela commended the Federal Government for approving that SS3 students resume academic activities preparatory to the WASSCE, adding, “We are waiting for various state governments to come out with their own peculiarities for school resumption.’’
He acknowledged that the resumption of schools would help in the take-off of academic activities, starting with SS3 students and later other categories of pupils. He said members had the guidelines on safety released by the Federal Government and were working to meet them.
Secretary-general of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Mike Ene, said he was at the meeting where the decision was taken.
“All stakeholders in education sector were in attendance. We had extensive and heated deliberation on the matter before we arrived at the decision that SS3 students should return to school to participate in WAEC examination. At a meeting, state commissioners proved to all stakeholders that they were 90 per cent ready for the school resumption. However, our major concern is for the regional examination. Ghana is already taking the WAEC examination because they will have general election in September and they don’t want any disruptions.
“We had the option of August/September and November/December for the WAEC examination. But the latter will cost us more financially and otherwise. After due consideration, we agreed on August 4 for schools to resume to allow students participate in the regional examination.
“However, education being on concurrent list, allows states to take decisions on reopening. Nevertheless, all schools must join the WAEC examination on August 17. Instructively, the decision is for SS3 students who would participate in WAEC examination. No other class is allowed back in school.”
He said plans were underway to educate teachers on what to look out for, as first responders to any suspected case.
National president of the National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Haruna Danjuma, said , “We have been agitating for the resumption of schools for a long time to enable primary six, JSS3, SS3 students and TECH 3 write their terminal examinations. NAPTAN is very happy with the Federal Government decision on resumption of schools on August 4. We are also happy for our teachers, they will play their roles by preparing the students for the various public examinations.”
Meanwhile, former executive secretary, National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE), Prof. Rashid Aderionye, has challenged state governments to provide measures to contain community transmission of the disease in school, as the case in some countries.
“Some countries were forced to quickly shut down schools shortly after records of massive infections among schoolchildren. Teachers, parents and school owners should be educated on what to do protect themselves and the children,” he said.