The federal government on Thursday, 14th January 2021 announced that all schools are expected to be reopened on January 18. School activities have been unstable since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country early last year.
Nevertheless, doubts still linger as the second wave of the pandemic records a spike in the number of cases. Also, there is low possibility of schools being equipped enough to ensure the maintenance of COVID-19 protocols.
The country presently is experiencing a second wave of the pandemic as the number of cases has surpassed 100,000. The Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) on Sunday recorded 1,444 new cases with 15 deaths.
This has led to the disapproval of the lower legislative chambers, The House of Representatives on the resumption date. The house counteracted the decision of the executive, stating that schools were closed when infection rates in the country were below 500, but with the cases tripled, schools were ordered to reopen.
Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, Chairman of, House Committee on Basic Education and Services disclosed that merely stating the protocol to be observed does not guarantee safety, especially in rural areas.
He further stated that apart from Lagos and few other states, the government has been unable to enforce Covid-19 protocols, coupled with poor facilities for effective social distancing in the classrooms. The house demanded further postponement of school resumption by 3 months until critical structures have been put in place by local and state governments.
Some newspaper reports also reveal that many schools in Abuja did not heed the COVID-19 protocols on the resumption of school activities. According to the report, some public schools in Kubwa, Bwari Area Council did not provide sanitizers and wash hand basins for students before they can enter the school premises. Also, some students were without face masks.
In South Africa, schools were allowed to reopen in June 2020 following the nine-week lockdown. Not long after, in July, schools were forced to close as 775 learning facilities recorded so many cases.
Ghana also recorded new cases after the schools reopened. On July 13, 155 cases were discovered in the Accra Girls Senior High School. A few other schools also reported COVID-19 cases.
‘What has the government done between the first wave of the COVID-19 and the second wave?’ Hon. Awaji-Inombek Abiante, member of the House Committee on Basic Education asked. He added that no data revealed that a high percentage of the schools can implement COVID-19 protocols.
The high number teacher to pupil ratio in the country would create some challenge in social distancing with the number exceeding the recommended levels. The pupil to teacher ratio in Nigeria is said to be at least 150:1 in 25% of schools in the country. Social distancing can only be achieved if there is a cut down on the number of students in each class. Probably they will attend school in batches. With this, teachers would be able to monitor student’s adherence to the guidelines.
The schools will also need to consider how to maintain the social distance even outside of class, especially during arrival and departure, mealtimes, recess, and class changes.
The US Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization identified two main components for social distancing. Keeping individuals at a safe distance from one another (3 to 6 feet) and reducing the number of people with whom an individual interacts face-to-face.
China, where the COVID-19 pandemic originated began the reopening of schools after two criteria were put in place. Schools could implement standard safety precautions and officials determined the risk to be low. The decision was from a decline in the number of infected people which is presently not the case in the country.
The absence of a coherent policy from the government and the absence of relief funds to assist struggling schools in ensuring compliance with covid-19 rules are serious risk to the resumption of school activities.
There are no measures yet that will ensure full implementation of the covid-19 guidelines hence the disapproval by the lower legislative chambers.
‘Why are we rushing to reopen schools without adequate verifiable and sustainable arrangements to protect and secure our children?’ the statement by the house partly reads.
‘Our position is that in spite of the very comprehensive protocols established by the Federal Ministry of Education, not up to 10 percent of our educational institutions have implemented the protocols. In most of our primary and secondary schools nationwide, adequate furniture, water, and other sanitation and hygiene facilities do not exist,’ it added.
Surveys across the country have revealed that most schools do not have the equipment needed for daily health screening of students and staff. Health and safety guidelines include temperature checks and reporting symptoms upon arrival, before entering the building. Health officials have advised at least two temperature checks daily.
The risk following the resumption of school activities is on the high side. Negligence in putting in place the required mitigation measures could further compound the rising cases in the country. The core task is to effectively coordinate all activities of resumption of schools in line with the guidelines. If this is not achieved, the nation might be heading towards a lurking disaster.