Job Osazuwa and Olamide Babatunde
Many parents, owners of private primary and secondary schools and other concerned Nigerians are not happy with the Lagos State government over its directive that schools in the state should reopen for some pupils in graduating classes from August 3.
It is one piece of news that has since unsettled many families who have children in the affected classes. The announcement, if implemented, would apparently come with diverse disruptions on every activity. School owners, parents and students will have to readjust their daily routines with a lot of sacrifices.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had, on July 3, directed students in transitional classes, who have mandatory public exams ahead of them, to resume for revision classes and examination. He reminded all education establishments to follow established public health guidelines and protocols for reopening the schools for the categories of students in SSS 3 and TECH 3.
Following the stipulated safety measures, on the part of school owners, is not a difficult task as gathered by the reporters. The hurdles with the proposed decision, which come with twist and turns that require sacrifices from all parties involved, is what raises concern.
Unarguably, the decision came with mixed reactions. The private school owners are lamenting that they are left to work on modalities in overcoming the perceived obstacles that the new arrangement will usher in.
Reacting to the development, a parent of a JSS3 student at Kings’ College, Lagos, Mrs. Abimbola Oyeniyi, said she was not in support of the government’s decision allowing only day students to resume while leaving those in the boarding school to find a solution for themselves.
She believed that government did not consult widely, especially seeking the opinions of all stakeholders in the education sector before arriving at the conclusion.
Her words: “If some boarders cannot resume, then what will be their fate? What is the use of allowing only a set of students to resume then stress their teachers to repeat the topics when the boarders would resume at a later date? I don’t know how they will achieve the best results under this condition. I believe that resumption should only be allowed when the coast is clear for all students to be in school. We should not rush our future leaders into danger.
“What is it that boarders are risking that day students are not? I believe that their journey to school alone is a risk and, therefore, putting boarders at risk, and not the other way around.”
So, what should the solution be? She replied: “Government should allow all students to resume with protective equipment (if the government has to allow the resumption). It should encourage the students to adhere strictly to precautionary measures and ensure that schools have the facilities needed to maintain social distancing.”
The proprietor of Wolcrest Preparatory School and College, Mr. Lawal Ibrahim, also shared his thoughts: “I don’t think it’s safe for schools to resume at this period, considering that there is no curative medication or vaccine in place. Figures are rising daily, while people of the state are not practising social distancing.”
Ibrahim noted that, if the directive by government must be complied with, he would prepare his school for resumption even as he insisted that boarders should not be left out.
“I intend making a mini isolation centre by a corner in my school for immediate evacuation of any staff or student with common symptoms, while a call will be put through to the appropriate health authorities for further help,” he said.
He urged government to seek local medical practitioners that could find a cure and possibly a vaccine that could tackle COVID-19 so that life could return to normal.
Another parent of a pupil at Queens’ College, Lagos, Mr. Adewale Sanyaolu, was also worried about the Lagos State government’s directive. He opined that the position was not well-thought-out.
His words: “It is going to be extremely inconvenient for many of us and totally impossible for hundreds of others. For instance, on a very bad day, it takes me two hours to get to Ikeja from my house at Fagba. This is a journey that is about 15 minutes, not to talk of going to as far as Yaba, where my daughter’s school is located. If her classes are to commence around 9am, when do we leave home? Do I abandon my work or will her mother leave her work to take the child to school? At the moment, we don’t really know what to do when school resumes.
“Going back after school, there is usually traffic everywhere. When will the student settle down to read her books for the next day’s exams? This will not be convenient for anybody. Yet, we can’t leave her alone to face the everyday journey, considering the security risk and all that.
“We (parents) are considering the option of putting resources together to secure hotels close to the school. Also, the school can discuss with the management of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Yaba College of Technology, to use their hostel facilities due to their proximity to Queen’s College.
“It is really complicated because some parents and their children live as far as Abuja, Sokoto or Port Harcourt. Some even live outside Nigeria. Many of these parents don’t know anywhere or anyone in Lagos. What they have been doing is to drop their children on resumption day and pick them on the day of vacation as well. It is real confusion.
“I expected the government to have carried out tests on all the students as they arrive on the college premises. Then, afterwards, there should be instructions that no parent would visit the students. I see this step as a lazy approach to solving the problem on ground.”
Pastor Ayodele Adelusi, proprietor of Phidel Group of Schools, Isheri Olofin, Lagos, said he was also not comfortable with the government arrangement,
He said in as much as he understood the commitment of the Lagos State government concerning the pandemic, he objected to resumption without the boarders.
In a telephone interview with the newspaper, he said government’s directives on school resumption were not properly considered.
In his view, since schools were not restricted to admitting students from within their immediate localities, parents from anywhere in Nigeria or beyond could register their children in any school of their choice within the country.
He corroborated Sanyaolu and Oyeniyi’s argument that it might be more risky for students to commute from home to school every day. His argument was that, while commuting with other members of society, particularly in public transport, the students might contract the virus. He added that, since the students’ activities would not be monitored while outside the school premises, it would be akin to endangering everyone’s life during the period.
Insisting that boarding school was better than day school during this period, Adelusi said, with boarders, there would be control measures to monitor each student, adding that the school would regularly observe the health condition of pupils.
His words: “Because of the few students that will occupy bed space this period, schools that have the facilities will be able to manage this pandemic situation because the number of students in a room will be drastically reduced. We are only talking of SSS 3 and maybe JSS that are involved. Rather than allow students to ride in public buses, which will make them vulnerable to the virus, keeping them in a spacious and monitored environment is better.
“In my school, we have students from Europe, USA and other parts of the world. Government is supposed to have this kind of awareness. I think government was not thinking of private schools while making this policy.
“Many private schools already have what government is looking for. For instance, in my school, we have four students in a room in our boarding facility. The boarders are about 300 in all the classes. We only have about 80 in SSS 3 and JSS 3. That means we can afford to accommodate one student in a room and curtail them. We already have a sickbay. I think it is the public schools that need to be equipped with the required safety measures.
“You can imagine students that have not come to school for four months, and you just want them to come and write examination; there will be mass failure. I am of the opinion that they should be allowed some time to finish their syllabus and revision, which will warrant class activities on Saturdays and even Sundays that can only be achieved by being together.”
Maintaining an optimistic approach to the situation is the proprietress of Excel Gift Schools, Mrs. Catherine Clement-Kayode. She said there was no cause for alarm in allowing boarders to resume school.
“Even as day students, it is not ideal because they would commute to and fro. They should be checked before entering and, once they are safe, they should get back to their hostels where they would be safer. Since it is just for transitional classes, they can be spread through all classes. All students should be made full boarding students.
“We are prepared to welcome back students. We are taking the necessary precautions as expected to receive the students back in a safe environment. We have got thermometers, and hand washing equipment. There are face masks that will be provided by the school, which we expect the students to wear from home when coming to school. The learners will be spread across classes and the teachers are to have minimal physical contact with them as much as possible.”
On her part, Mrs. Aminat Akintola, who has her youngest child in a boarding facility, is not in a hurry to release her ward.
“Who is going to monitor the children in the boarding school? You can’t trust some hostel facilities and their environment. Parents can’t easily look after their wards from the house. Exactly how they will take care of the students at this crucial period is very important. I would rather have my child under my care where I can monitor them. Even if the boarders are allowed to go back, I may not release my child for safety reasons, except we are being reassured of their safety. Even at that, you cannot trust others the way you would trust yourself.
“Moreover, government has not got its act together because most of the public schools have large populations of students. One class may have about 100 students. How do they intend to control such population? Even when the hand washing equipment, sanitizers and face masks are provided, what about the classroom interaction?
“They also need to carry private school owners along. It’s not just talking about public schools and their safety. I would say they should go on with the online classes. They may even take their exams online like the way computer-based tests for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination are done. Students who do not have access to Internet facilities can go to a cyber cafe with minimal crowds, where they can even write exams in batches. This is better than exposing them to the hazards of getting infected. Prevention is better than cure and, in this case, there is no cure yet.”
Commissioner for education in Lagos, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo, neither answered nor returned several telephone calls from the reporters. Text messages sent to her line seeking clarifications on the government’s directive were also not replied.
But the commissioner for information, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho, in a terse response to the reporters’ enquiries, noted: “It was based on experts’ advice.”
Meanwhile the Federal Government that had earlier announced the reopening of schools for certain categories of students has now shelved the plan.
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 had late last month informed the nation that schools would reopen to enable pupils in graduating classes to prepare and write their examinations. But speaking after the Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, July 8, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, said students in federal schools would not be resuming, neither would they be participating in this year’s West African Senior School Certificate Examinations scheduled for between August 4 and September 5.
Adamu urged state governments that had announced school resumption plans to suspend resumption, insisting that the West Africa Examinations Council would not determine the resumption date of schools for Nigeria.