COVID-19: Securing the Future
Following the outbreak of the dreadful coronavirus disease (COVID-19), schools in Nigeria were not exempted from the rapid response by the Federal Government. On March 19th, 2020, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono ordered an immediate closure of tertiary institutions, secondary and primary schools, as part of measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Five months after the unprecedented closure of schools, the Federal Ministry of Education through a press statement signed by its Director for Press and Public Relations, Ben Goong announced that exit classes for Nigerian secondary schools were to resume on August 4th, 2020. The decision to reopen schools for exit classes was to enable the students have two weeks to prepare for the West African Examination Council (WAEC) examination which is scheduled to start on August 17th, 2020.
Meanwhile, the concerns raised by some parents span from the availability of test kits for students, provision of enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their children, access to water and hand sanitizer for those in rural areas, adequate monitoring and assessment, security for students in insecure states, mass failure of students due to inadequate preparation – as some schools are yet to resume – among others.
To quell the fears and concerns of parents, the Nigeria Academy of Education (NAE), has advised the Government to release adequate funds directly to schools, in order to provide the needed care for students. The President, Elizabeth Eke disclosed in a statement that the training of teachers and improvement of the learning environment should precede the resumption of classes.
‘Parents have the final responsibility to decide whether their children return to school or not, although with all the examinations scheduled, the temptation to follow the tide may be very strong. Those who decide to send their children to school should not be deterred from doing so over lack of funds. They should be enabled to follow through with their decision. School authorities and management should ensure that the guidelines are followed. Orientation for teachers and students, no matter how brief, is essential. Students and teachers are expected to be tested’ she said.
However, with over 1.5m candidates sitting for the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in 19,119 schools across the country, schools have been admonished to make adequate preparation ahead of the examinations. Patrick Areghan, head, national officer of the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) expressed that schools must provide face masks for invigilators as well as candidates and other necessary protocol should be observed.
With the six South-West states – Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti – having agreed to reopen schools for SS3 students to participate in the WASSCE, one would imagine that all measures have been put in place to ensure that there is a tactical approach to ensuring the safety of our future leaders. Meanwhile, a report by the media revealed that some schools in Oyo state have approached the COVID-19 guidelines with indifference as health facilities, good toilets, running water, among others, are still inaccessible.
According to the UN, the estimated number of students affected worldwide by the pandemic is over 1billion. Despite efforts to continue learning during the crisis, including through lessons delivered via radio, television and online, many are still not being reached. Now, there is a need to critically deliver the education sector from an impending collapse by implementing several sustainable strategies for continuity amid the pandemic. This can be achieved based on three fronts highlighted by the UN, which are – information, solidarity and action.
To deliver quality education for all children, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres said: ‘We need investment in digital literacy and infrastructure, an evolution towards learning how to learn, a rejuvenation of life-long learning and strengthened links between formal and non-formal education. And we need to draw on flexible delivery methods, digital technologies and modernized curricula while ensuring sustained support for teachers and communities.’
As we gradually transition into the next normal, there is a need to adapt to the emerging technological systems and solutions made available to the world. The education sector is not left out. Although some stakeholders have opined that the extended closure of schools will in no way affect students’ performance in the forthcoming examinations. Notwithstanding, there are lessons which other examinations body could glean from the current realities. Looking at the level of compliance by some schools, we need no soothsayer to tell us that there might be a fresh outbreak of the virus if a vaccine is not made available to Nigerians sooner rather than later.
Although the National Examinations Council (NECO), in a press statement signed by its Registrar/Chief Executive Officer, Professor Godswill Obioma, announced that the NECO SSCE will take place on Monday 5th October 2020 to Wednesday 18th November 2020. It is therefore pertinent to begin to explore ways of conducting examinations in Nigeria through the aid of technology without necessarily putting the lives of students at risk. The need to secure and preserve the future comes at no better time than now. The Government, private organisations and relevant stakeholders need to invest strategically in infrastructure, digital literacy and access to technological tools for students in both urban and rural communities.
Writer, Public Relations person