Gabriel Dike and Fred Ezeh, Abuja
What actually informed the sudden U-turn of the Federal Government to halt the reopening of schools and suspend the May/June 2020 West African Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE)? Could it be the outcome of the Tuesday, July 6, 2020 meeting between government and stakeholders? That decision would affect the admission chances of 1,549, 463million candidates as the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) will start the exercise in August.
Some of the stakeholders who attended the meeting told The Education Report that, that was not what they agreed at the meeting as the pronouncement disrupted the arrangement to reopen schools and prepare the SS3 students for the WASSCE. Eight days after, government reversed its earlier decision to reopen schools on August 5 for primary six pupils, JSS3 and SS3 to write their terminal examinations.
Stakeholders were of the view that if Nigeria failed to present candidates for the May/June 2020 WASSCE, the implication was that the 1,549, 463million students would have to wait for another year. On Monday, June 29, 2020, Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, at the briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, announced that schools will reopen for certain categories of pupils and students.
But Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on Wednesday, July 8, 2020 said: “Whatever the case maybe, schools under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Education will not be opened on August 4 or anytime soon. Our schools will only open when we believe it is safe for our children, and that is when the situation is right, not when the incidence of the infection is going up in the nation.
“WAEC cannot determine for us what we do. Schools will remain closed for now. We invited stakeholders for a meeting to assess the situation and the way it should be done for it to be safe. But while the meeting was going on, WAEC announced that they are starting examinations. Let us see who they are going to start with.
“I will also like to use this position to ask those states that have already announced (reopening), I appeal to them. I think it is not safe. I feel responsible for all Nigerian children, not just those who are in Federal Government-controlled schools. Please let us save our children from this.”
In line with the announcement, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) Head of National Office, Mr Patrick Areghan, on Tuesday, July 7, unfolded plans to conduct the May/June 2020 WASSCE between August 3 and September 5, 2020, nationwide and in three other countries.
Statistics from JAMB revealed that out of 1,949,983million applicants that sat for the 2020 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), only 536,813 candidates with O’ Level results uploaded them in JAMB portal while 1,352,988 wrote as awaiting results.
Breakdown further revealed that 129,336 with O’ Level results scored 200 and above in the UTME, 180,309 with WASSCE/SSCE results obtained 190 and above, 244,963 got 180 and above, 320,216 recorded 170 and above, 398, 984 candidates scored 160 and above, 531,382 made 130 and above while 536,813 got 120 and above in the UTME.
The implication is that 71.59 per cent of 1,949,983 candidates who did not upload their O’ Level results because they are yet to write the May/June 2020 WASSCE may miss admission. This has made many SS3 students and some parents to express concern about the situation.
Folake Adesanya, 17-year-old SS3 student of Gloryland Academy, Egbeda, Lagos, said the decision of the Federal Government “may affect the chances of over one million candidates securing admission in either universities or polytechnics.” She urged President Muhammadu Buhari to reconsider the decision as the future of the candidates is at stake: “Many of them did well in the UTME.”
Leke Yusuf, a student of Top Class Secondary School, Igando, Lagos, said: “I and my colleagues in SS3 are not happy with the decision. Most of these government officials have their children schooling abroad. Schools were given conditions and I know that many have started making provisions for the requirements. I don’t want to waste one year because with a score of 268 in UTME, I am sure of getting admission at the Lagos State University (LASU).”
An angry parent, Mr Oseni Fatai, asked: “Where were Buhari and Adamu when the announcement to reopen schools was made? I am shocked that this government changed its mind on a very important issue like this. I am disappointed.’’
He faulted Adamu’s statement that Nigerian candidates may not participate in WASSCE: “I am not sure WAEC imposed the timetable on Nigeria as alleged by Adamu. Is he saying WAEC did not consult the government?”
National President, Association of Nursery and Primary Education Instructors in Nigeria (ANPEIN), Mr Simeon Fowowe, said: “A healthy and safe child is the one that can write exams. If governments at all levels are not sure of the safety and protection of citizens especially, the most vulnerable, students, schools should not open. Government should ensure the safety of standards in the schools before reopening them.
“WAEC is an international body. Special request could be made by countries to allow their candidates write the exam when it is best safe for them. Let it not be that private school owners are the ones pushing the government to risk the lives of our children.
“My prayer is that let our children will be safe. Once we lose any, they cannot be regained. There was pressure from private schools at the top, but the emerging figures on COVID-19 are alarming.”
‘Why NUT kicked against reopening’
President, Nigeria of Teachers (NUT),, Nasir Idris, said: “We had maintained this position long ago that the Federal Government was not ready for the safe reopening of schools. Obviously, necessary things that would make the schools safe are yet to be provided. We have raised this issue repeatedly at different forums, including the stakeholders’ meeting that was held virtually last, where we made presentations regarding the move for the safe reopening of schools.”
He made reference to Bangladesh and some other countries where governments hurriedly reopened schools following pressure only to shut them down after a significant spike in community transmission of coronavirus in the schools.
He asked Federal Government not to bow to pressure particularly from external sources on schools’ reopening, but wait patiently, watch carefully, consult widely and assess the situation of the pandemic before any decision on that can be taken, to avoid unnecessary regret of their actions when the positive cases might have risen to a scary figure:
“Obviously, the number of confirmed cases is on significant rise on daily basis. So, it will be suicidal to reopen schools and expose children and their teachers to unnecessary health dangers. These children have been at home for over four months now and they have missed themselves. Upon resumption, they would begin with play, with total disregard for COVID-19 prevention protocols.”
Its General Secretary, Mike Ene, said: “Currently, we are experiencing significant rise in the number of confirmed cases because we are in community transmission phase. In addition, government has not provided things required for safe reopening of schools, especially in rural areas.
“Federal, state and local governments are busy shifting responsibilities. Some are insisting that education is on the concurrent list, therefore, they won’t take certain steps as regards some schools.
“Mind you, these school children are coming from homes or locations where there are positive cases. Chances are high that such children would infect others with the disease as was the case in Israel recently.
“Howbeit, the position of the NUT is that we are not ready for safe school reopening because the necessary things are not done yet by government at all levels. Also, we won’t like to expose our members, teachers, to some unnecessary health dangers.”
NAPPS expresses disappointment
Chairperson, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Federal Capital Territory (FCT) chapter, Olusola Bankole, said: “This decision is unpopular and unaccepted by us. There are no evidences that children are getting infected with the virus. Besides, school is the best place to teach these children the NCDC protocols, notably, hand washing, use of face mask, hand sanitizers, and other measures.
At home, they don’t observe these measures. We asked our members to constantly reach out to their students with words of encouragement and hope that things would return to normal in no distant time.”
Obioma Michael, SS3 student, Government Secondary School, Karu, Abuja, said: “I was so glad few weeks ago when I heard the announcement that schools will reopen for us to write WASSCE. But I broke down in tears when I heard about the reversal. I sat for 2020 UTME without O’ Level and I was waiting to write the examination, get the result and upload on JAMB portal so I can stand a chance of securing admission into university.”
Another SS3 student, Blessing Dogo, said: “I had prepared for this examination very well, knowing that it was difficult for me to pay the examination fees. I don’t know what would be our fate now. We may wake up soon and hear that NECO too has been cancelled. The implication is that we may miss the opportunity to secure university admission this year.”
President, National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, told The Education Report that the body was not part of the stakeholders that met online with the ministry officials on reopening of schools and writing of May/June 2020 WASSCE.
We’re not happy with FG’s position –AFED
National President, Association For Formidable Educational Development (AFED), Mr Emmanuel Orji, decried the decision: ‘’We have over 20,000 members with a minimum of 12 workers, teachers, cleaners, vendors, school owners, learners numbering over 4,000,000 have been out of school without support from the Federal Government. These workers have dependants and children.
‘’As investors, some of us have no other business than this school business. We agree that all government directives that can lead to protection of lives will be implemented but the government must know that we exist for the betterment of our children.’’