By Cosmas Omegoh, Sola Ojo (Kaduna), Sylvanus Viashima (Jalingo), Rose Ejembi (Makurdi), Okey Sampson (Umuahia), and Priscilla Ediare (Ado-Ekiti)
Many had genuine COVID-19 fears and expressed their sentiments. But the Federal Government thought otherwise, remaining unfazed. It then went on to direct schools across the country to resume on January 18, 2021, amid a spike in the numbers of COVID-19 infections.
Many believed – and rightly so – that the schools would be potential breeding centres for COVID-19. And for that reason, some states are yet to resume for the second term.
States which bought into the Federal Government idea believed that COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere yet. Needless to fret over it. They assured that they would emplace COVID-19 protocols to check its possible spread in schools, while ensuring that teaching and learning progressed.
Now, it is nearly two weeks down the road after the schools have resumed. According to Sunday Sun investigations in some states, some schools are either being complacent or have altogether jettisoned COVID-19 protocols. In some states, everything is not going on as earlier planned, with the trend fueled by growing doubts and suspicion that COVID-19 is unreal.
Lagos State not leaving things to chance
Lagos State chairman of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Adedonyi Adesina said that everything was being done in the schools to ensure that both teaching and learning progressed without the fear of Coronavirus infection.
“We have been monitoring the situation very closely,” he told Sunday Sun.
“Right now, we don’t have full school resumption of all the classes. What we have in place is an alternate arrangement, which is working. By this, students in SS3 who are the ones going to write their school certificate soon are the ones only allowed to attend school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Students in SS2 come to school only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. SS1 students are allowed in school on Mondays and Wednesdays, ditto students in junior secondary school.”
He said that pupils in primary school are divided into two groups; the groups go to school on alternate days.
His words: “We divided them into what we call Achieve and Shine groups.
“Pupils in Achieve groups go to school for two and half days in a week – Mondays and Wednesdays – and do half a day on Friday. Those in Shine class attend school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and do half a day on Fridays.”
By this arrangement in primary schools, he noted that “if they are 50 pupils in a class, for instance, they are divided into two: 25 will fall under Achieve while the rest 25 will be in Shine group.”
He told our correspondent that compliance with the NPIs in schools were being strictly followed.
“We have to take that seriously because Lagos is the epicentre of the virus and the governor is serious about compliance with all the COVID-19 protocols.
“In our schools there is running water. We have washing materials. We have even involved the parents to get additional facemasks for their children aside from the ones given to them by the state government so that they will be alternating them weekly.”
A teacher who identified herself as Nike because she is not authorised to speak to the press talked about how the COVID-19 protocols work in her school.
“At the entrance gate, the students are tested with infrared thermometer to ensure that they have the right temperature.
“As regards sitting arrangement, because the number of students coming to school has now been reduced, there is a lot of space among them.
“Once the students enter the school premises they don their face masks, and wash their hands. We then give then alcohol-based sanitiser; we ensure that they meet the social distancing rule.”
At Okeafa Senior Secondary School in Isolo LGA, an SS2 student, Memunat Abimbola attested that “we go to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“On arrival, if you are not having or wearing your facemask, you will not be allowed entry. We then wash our hands before proceeding to our classes. We sit two meters apart in our classes.”
A JS3 student of Isolo High School told our correspondent that “we now go to school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“On arrival without facemask, you are denied entry into the school. We wash our hands; we no longer sit close to one another.”
Mr Adesina said that with strict compliance to the COVID-19 protocols “we have nothing to worry about. This the second week of resumption; we have not had any incident in any of our schools. Even during the first wave when our students were writing their school certificate examinations, we had no incidents. We had zero per cent infection.”
He praised the teachers in the state for their commitment and dedication, describing them as “change agents.”
“We have put a lot of enlightenment in place. That is under our purview. We educate the public and engage the parents too. Our teachers are giving day-to-day reports of compliance with COVID-19 protocols to the superior officers in their respective zones too. We are not leaving anything to chance.”
Partial compliance to COVID-19 protocols in Taraba schools
Despite the exponential rise in the number of COVID-19 cases across the country, a tour of some schools in Jalingo, the Taraba State capital showed partial compliance with the COVID-19 prevention protocols.
The situation is the same in various markets, worship centres and other public places.
At some of the facilities, water for hand washing and soap were available, but most people ignored using them.
While some persons are of the opinion that COVID-19 is a scam, some feel that there are more pressing issues to tackle rather than inconveniencing themselves in the name of protection against COVID-19.
However, at the Salihu Dogo Memorial School, Jalingo, Mr Usman Jalingo, the Vice Principal Administration, said that the school had put in place all the required measures to ensure that the students and teachers stayed safe. Students and teachers and indeed other visitors to the school all wore their face masks before they were allowed entry into the school.
However, our correspondent noticed that most of the students as well as some teachers had no face masks on. Even the notice at the entrance was being treated so lightly as parents walked in freely to bring their children without face masks.
At the St. Monica’s Nursery and Primary School, Jalingo, there was appreciable level of compliance as most of the students and nearly all the teachers wore their face masks and lined up to wash their hands at the main entrance before proceeding to their classes.
Our correspondent observed that while there was a reasonable level of compliance in private schools, most public schools remained complacent.
Some of the people who spoke to our correspondent do not believe that COVID-19 is real.
According to Miss Pachelis Laison, she only wears a face masks because it is obligatory for her to do so as a teacher in her school.
“To be honest with you, I wear this mask just because the management has made it mandatory for all of us to use it in school.
“I am not worried about COVID-19. Hunger is killing more people daily and the government is not doing anything about it. Malaria and typhoid fevers and other diseases are killing millions of Nigerians and you are telling me about Coronavirus. It is just their way of making money.”
Similarly, a Jalingo resident, Mr Danjuma Gungumi said that he had no reason to wear the mask or stress himself washing hands all day when he had nothing to eat.
“I don’t have to wear any mask. Do they want to deny us the opportunity of breathing even the free air that God gave to us? Lai, lai.
“If they are really concerned about our wellbeing, let them protect us from kidnappers, armed robbers, hunger and all the other problems that are really devastating humanity, and not some funny Coronavirus.”
Worried by the level of non-compliance, the Taraba State government recently made the wearing of face masks in public places compulsory. But to the extent the government would go in ensuring compliance remains to be seen.
Abia private schools let down their guard
In Abia State, public schools are yet to reopen for the continuation of the first term that will terminate in about a week’s time as a result of the strike embarked upon by teachers. However, private schools are in session.
At the resumption of schools in the state in mid-January, every school maintained the COVID-19 protocol as directed by the state government. Authorities of the various schools were so stringent in complying with the COVID-19 protocol such that pupils and students who did not go to school with their face masks and hand sanitisers were turned back.
However, as days rolled by, the zeal with which the protocol was initially observed began to diminish.
While some schools in the state are still strict in maintaining the COVID-19 protocol, others have lowered their guard.
In most of the schools in Aba, Umuahia and other towns in the state, pupils and students go to school daily without wearing any face masks.
In some of the schools visited, most pupils and students were seen without wearing the face masks or having any hand sanitisers as directed by the government.
Some of the head teachers of the affected schools blamed parents of their pupils and students for not getting them the necessary items.
“Some of the parents don’t believe that the pandemic is still here with us, and they no longer provide their wards and children with face masks and hand sanitisers.
“When we resumed school over two weeks ago, we were strict with the compliance of the COVID-19 protocol, but as days passed, we were no longer sending those who contravene the protocol home because of the inherent security challenges,” one of the school heads, who didn’t want his name mentioned, said.
When Sunday Sun visited DaniJoy School, Umuahia and Dorothy Schools in Aba, there were strict compliance with the pandemic protocol as pupils, students and even visitors were not allowed to cross the gates without wearing their face masks.
Some of the teachers said that they were maintaining not only government directives, but also seeking to protect their pupils and themselves from COVID-19 infection.
Ekiti schools, students complacent
Students and pupils in Ekiti State, according our correspondent, were complacent in observing the laid down COVID-19 protocols. Only a few of them were seen wearing their face masks.
When Sunday Sun visited some primary and secondary schools in Ado-Ekiti, some secondary students only a few were seen wearing their face masks; many had nothing on. A few of them who interacted with our correspondent said that they had been wearing their face masks for a long time, and had to remove them when they started feeling uncomfortable. Some wore theirs on their chins; some said theirs were either in their pockets or school bags.
It was also observed that most of the masks the pupils and students wore were very dirty and had not been washed for a long time.
School teachers said the reason most nursery pupils were not having any face masks on was because of their ages. Some of them said the pupils kept removing and misplacing them because they were not used to them.
A teacher in Ado Ekiti told our correspondent that in her school, they ensured that their students comply with the protocols right from the school gates down to their classrooms.
“Students without their face masks on are sent back home from the school gate; those not wearing them properly are told to do so,” she said.
The Coordinator, Ekiti State COVID-19 Task Force, Prof. Bolaji Aluko recalled: “We have a document, a check list sent to all institutions. It is a list of what each school must obey; part of that checklist is that every school has to have a designated COVID-19 Response Officer, who is in charge of COVID-19 compliance and an isolation centre.
“We are going to be doing some random test for teachers and students next week, to know the actual level of COVID incidence among them and to know which school we should focus more on.
“The Ministry of Education on regular basis, does random visitation to schools to ensure broad compliance.”
Quality compliance at Benue schools
Schools in Benue State have to a large extent, tried to comply with the COVID-19 protocols since resumption on January 18, 2021.
Some of the schools visited are St. Gabriel Secondary School, Government Secondary School, Government Model Secondary School, Rights Starts Academy as well as the Benue State University (BSU), among others.
It would be recalled that on the week of resumption, the state Commissioner for Education, Prof. Dennis Ityavyar, led other top officials of the ministry to monitor the level of compliance in schools.
In most schools, for instance, wearing of facemasks is a prerequisite for anyone – students, teachers and parents – for entry into the school premises.
It was also observed that in most schools across the state, water stations and liquid soap were strategically placed in locations within and outside their premises for the use of both students and visitors.
When Sunday Sun visited the Right Start Academy which also houses the Tower of Hope International Secondary School on Thursday, pupils were seen on queue taking their turns to wash their hands before they could go into their classes.
Head Teacher of the school, Mrs. Evelyn Ndulue said that the school had put all modalities in place to ensure safety for the children.
“Social distancing is compulsory among pupils in the four walls of the classrooms. Also, we have stopped conducting assembly and sports; pupils are only allowed to play within the classrooms during the break.
“We also, ensure that all children are supervised while washing their hands; they sanitise their hands too before classes begin, during the break, and after classes.
“Also, for the upper primary, use of facemask is compulsory; no parent or visitor is allowed to enter the school premises without wearing their facemask.
A teacher, Miss Stella Senewo, said that she ensures that her pupils sit meters apart, adding that any of them who presents any symptom of cold, cough, cattarh or fever is quickly identified and the parent invited to take him or her for immediate medical attention.
“I love all my pupils so, I make sure I take their wellbeing as a priority. I ensure that each of them washes his or her hands with soap under running water at least twice before school closes. Those who go to the toilet are also made to wash their hands too.
“In all, we promote good hygiene and do our best to protect ourselves and the children in our care.”
A parent who simply gave his name as Mr Tony Eche urged the government to keep monitoring the compliance of schools with the protocols.
He said that he ensures that none of his children leaves the house without wearing his or her facemasks, noting that he had also educated his wards on the need to stop embracing, shaking hands with or hugging their mates or anyone.
But a businessman who simply identified himself as Bonny categorically said that there is nothing like COVID-19, adding that all the noise about the pandemic is just a way for the government to further impoverish the poor.
On her part, a student of Benue State University who pleaded anonymity commended the institution for providing handwashing facilities in strategic points in the school, but appealed to the school authorities to ensure regular fumigation of the school premises.
She said: “To ensure social distancing at school, lectures ought to be staggered in such a way that not many students would cluster in one classroom at a time.”
Kaduna getting things together to halt COVID-19 spread
In Kaduna, our correspondent reports that the state government appears to have zero-tolerance for non-compliance with the major non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies against COVID-19 such as social distancing, use of thermometers, washing of hands and effective use of face masks in schools.
To show that its charity begins at home, there is hardly any government establishment where there is no provision of hand-wash basins with strict compliance to effective use of face masks.
He noted that some higher institutions have begun to resume with a promise to adhere strictly to the COVID-19 protocols as suggested by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the state taskforce team.
The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Kaduna Polytechnic, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and Kaduna State University (KASU) are about to reopen. However, both public and private elementary and secondary schools remain closed largely due to the spike in cases of COVID-19 in the state.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Phoebe Yayi, confirmed that the approval to reopen the tertiary institutions came after assessing the situation so as to ensure their level of preparedness, while urging their management teams to ensure compliance with all the guidelines and protocols put in place by the state government.
However, denial persists in several Kaduna communities which only a few individuals are complying with the COVID-19 protocols. While some do not believe in the existence of the virus all, others are attributing the virus to the elite and rich individuals in the society.