Rising from the Federal Executive Council meeting (FEC) held on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, announced that Federal Government schools would remain closed until it was safe to reopen.
Prior to this, there was a widely publicised media report that the Minister of State for Education, Mr. Emeka Nwajiuba, during a press briefing by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, on Monday, July 6, 2020, announced that the 2020 WASSCE, conducted by the West Africa Examinations Council (WAEC), would hold between August 4 and September 5, 202O.
Even before Nwajiuba’s announcement, there was another media report that the PTF, at one of its briefings, announced that schools would be reopened for students in graduating classes of primary six, Junior Senior Secondary School 3 and Senior Secondary School 3, to enable them to prepare for their examinations.
But the latest pronouncement by Adamu has automatically put an end to the planned school reopening. According to him, it is unwise to reopen schools now in view of the disturbing cases of rising infections and fatalities arising from the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria. He said he would prefer students losing an academic year than exposing them to the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic. The minister also appealed to respective state governments planning the reopening of schools to hold on in the interest of the safety of our young ones and the nation at large.
Said the minister: “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 country. I just want to make it clear.”
The minister further stated, “I will also like to use this position to ask those states that have already announced, I will appeal to them. I think it is not safe. I feel responsible for all children, not just those who are in Federal Government-controlled schools. Please, let’s save our children from this.”
However, this sudden change in the reopening of schools has continued to generate mixed feelings among Nigerians, with some sections applauding the minister while others have expressed their disapproval.
Though the ministry might have initially given its nod to the reopening of schools for a certain category of students, this does not mean the decision cannot be reversed when facts indicate that coronavirus poses a greater threat to the health and safety of the students and our society, if schools are allowed to reopen. Being an overall supervisory officer for managing the nation’s education, the minister has the responsibility to ensure students and their custodians operate in a safe environment that poses little or no threat to their lives.
Therefore, it is commendable that the minister has rightly used his position to ask those states that have already announced reopening not to go ahead because it is not safe to do so. I think it is not safe. And, thankfully, governors of the 19 northern states have backed the minister in his decision.
Following in the footsteps of the minister, the Nigeria Centre for the Disease Control (NCDC) had earlier, warned against the reopening of schools, particularly in this wet season, which it said comes with an increase in flu-like diseases, as children run the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19.
The NCDC made this position known at a recent webinar hosted by PLAN International Nigeria’s country director, Hussaini Abdu, with the support from the European Union (EU). The theme of the programme was “Rethinking Education: Perspective and Challenges of Remote and Alternative Learning in COVID-19 Pandemic.”
NCDC’s head, risk communication, Dr. Yahaya Disu, said, with the nation’s weak health system as well as the very low risk perception of the COVID-19 pandemic, reopening schools now would further spread the coronavirus in the country.
Disu further said: “The risk perception by the public is still very low and it is because our population structure consists mostly of youths who may have the disease and not have symptoms.
“Schoolchildren are likely not going to comply and it could spread the disease among them, as a majority of our pupils go to school in vehicles and the transport sector is known to have poor record of compliance.”
Not too long ago, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, expressed his frustration over the rising cases of the coronavirus in the country, stressing that COVID-19 was actually expanding faster than our health system was able to handle it.
Though serious cases of coronavirus among children are rare, we must be concerned not only for the health of children but also for the health of other members of society, including teachers, custodians, food service workers, support staff, parents, etc. To this end, I believe contemplating the reopening of schools in whatever shape or form at this point would be an unwise decision when stakeholders in the nation’s education sector have not been able to provide the needed protective equipment to safeguard the health of students and their custodians.
Given the scary realities of COVID-19 in the country today, only an irresponsible government would want to compound existing problems when still grappling with the problems of shortage of equipment and the required funds to cater for the wellbeing and welfare of existing COVID-19 victims and the health workers managing the situation.
Rather than castigate Adamu for putting on hold schools’ reopening now, he has played the role of a patriotic Nigerian, a visionary education manager, and a committed and compassionate parent who, in the face of undue pressure from some stakeholders in education, still refused to have schools reopened at the expense of the health of our students.
We should not wait until one becomes a coronavirus victim fatality. It may be too late. Kindly, let us adhere strictly to protective measures and protocols as stipulated by the NCDC, and we do not have to wait until dead bodies litter the streets before we begin to comply with safety protocols.
A word, they say, is enough for the wise.
•Asubiojo is director, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, Wuse, Abuja, Nigeria;