Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, public and private schools across the country were shut down to prevent community spread.
In Ogun State, where the first index case of coronavirus was recorded, the governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, quickly ordered the closure of schools. The step, no doubt, was to ensure students in the state were safe from the novel virus.
Two months before the reopening and eventual resumption of secondary school students in terminal classes, especially those in SS3 who were to prepare for the WAEC examinations, the state government had engaged stakeholders in the education sector on how to ensure a safe reopening of schools.
The reporter gathered that one of the issues taken into consideration during the stakeholders’ engagement was that of students in boarding facilities who would be returning to prepare and write their final exams. Part of the conditions to ensure a safe learning academic atmosphere for teachers and students was a mandatory COVID-19 and malaria test for all SS3 boarding students in the state.
Special adviser to the governor on primary and secondary education, Mrs. Ronke Soyombo, said principals of private and public schools in the state had been instructed that all the returning boarding students were to stay in the school hostels only.
Parents were also advised that private hostels were exempted from accommodating students to ensure strict compliance with the directives of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
The governor’s adviser further noted that tests were to be conducted in certain hospitals between Friday, July 31, and Monday, August 3. The selected hospitals were 250 MTR Specialist Hospital, Oke Mosan, Abeokuta, Ogun State General Hospital, Ota, and the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital, Sagamu.
Soyombo noted that part of the strong conditions of admittance to the school for boarding students was the COVID-19 certificate showing negative status.
Meanwhile, Governor Abiodun declared that all the SS3 students in boarding facilities in public schools would be tested free of charge.
Earlier, parents of pupils in private schools were asked to pay N25,000 for each student for the test. But the parents, on August 2, protested that the fee was on the high side. The parents, who had besieged the MTR Specialist Hospital, Oke-Mosan, venue of the test, queried the rationale behind the levy.
But on Monday, August 3, the governor cleared the air on the controversy, apologised to the parents and directed that the COVID-19 test, as a mandatory requirement for returning students in exit classes, should be halted. He also directed that government laboratories should carry out tests for the returning students in public and private schools at no cost.
He said: “The health of our children remains our utmost priority. However, in view of the total number of boarding students to be tested (5,340 private and 500 public), and bearing in mind the limitation of our installed testing capacity of 500 tests per day, it may not be feasible for all boarding students to get tested and get their results prior to resumption or even exams, which commence on August 17, 2020.
“Consequently, the state government has stepped down the COVID-19 test as a mandatory requirement for returning students in our exit classes. We, therefore, enjoin private school owners to exercise their duty of care to their pupils. The admittance of students into boarding house in private secondary schools will be at the discretion of the management and the Parent-Teacher Association of such private schools.
“Ogun State government recommends that students who do not have to stay in the boarding house should attend school from home, especially those with underlying health conditions. I have also directed the provision of face masks to all students in both private and public schools.”
The governor further directed all secondary school teachers in the state to be at their duty posts on Monday, August 3, to work with their principals in preparation for students’ resumption on August 4.
This, according to Soyombo, would enable the teachers to assist in the distribution of preventive materials provided by the state government before the commencement of the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) on August 17.
Daily Sun, on visiting some public schools, found that the state government had made available items such as buckets, soaps, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, infrared thermometers, isolation rooms, water and face masks.
Similar visits to some private schools revealed the same scenario. Ogun State government made the distribution of the face masks to the private schools through the authorities in each school.
Teachers and management of some private secondary schools in the Abeokuta metropolis, lauded the governor for providing face masks for their students.
“There is no need asking our students to buy face masks from the school, because the state governor made good his promise by providing face masks for all students that resumed.
“We all know that nobody would use two facemasks at the same time. What we only expect from all the students is to ensure that their face masks are clean at all times,” a school administrator who preferred anonymity stated.
A parent, Akindele Hafiz, whose son is an SS3 student in a private school, praised Abiodun for stepping down the N25,000 COVID-19 test fee. Akindele added that parents in most of the private schools, especially those in boarding classes, paid huge amounts for their children’s examinations, declaring that the cancellation of the test fee was a huge relief.
Another parent, Felicia Asela, expressed delight and appreciation to the state government for refunding the N25,000 she had already paid for her daughter’s COVID-19 test.
She said she decided to pay the test fee when she was informed by a parent in a neighbouring state that N50,000 was being charged for a similar test.