The Federal Ministry of Education has released the guidelines for reopening of schools post-COVID-19.The publication stipulates a long set of rules to be observed before and when schools reopen. KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE reports on the document and whether schools can meet the requirements.
Last week’s news that Nigeria would not participate in the 2020 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) was disappointing for many school owners, teachers, pupils and their parents. The scheduling of the examination for August 4 to September 5, gave hope of schools resuming soon. But the suspension of Nigeria’s participation in the examination crushed such hope.
Nevertheless, the Federal Ministry of Education (FME), Abuja, on Monday launched a new set of guidelines for re-opening of schools. Though no resumption dates have been announced for schools, the guidelines may restore the hope that resumption may be a reality soon.
The new document titled: “Guidelines for schools and Learning Facilities Reopening after COVID-19 Pandemic Closures” was prepared by the FME in collaboration with the Education in Emergencies Working Group in Nigeria (EiEWGN), Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), UNICEF, Save the Children International, Plan International, Street Child, Terre des Hommes, and development partners, among others. It stipulates policies and actions to undertake to prepare schools for safe resumption, monitor activities while in session to prevent or limit risks of spreading the Coronavirus disease, and interventions that should be in place in case of infections, among others.
The 52-page document also includes an assessment form to gauge the readiness of schools by health and education quality assurance officers prior to resumption.
In the Foreward, Education Minister Mallam Adamu Adamu urged state ministries of education, schools, parents and learners to familiiarise themselves with the guidelines to learn expected behaviours when schools resume.
“The guidelines are a useful tool and resource for state governments, parents, and education providers as we plan for the safe reopening of schools and learning facilities. We know the scale of the challenge in addressing the deep-rooted issues in the education sector. However, we remain determined and committed to responding and supporting learners, families, administrators, and education personnel during this difficult time,” he wrote.
Before schools can resume, the publication lists seven questions that should be answered, including whether transmission was reducing; whether the country has peaked in terms of infections; level of compliance with NCDC guidelines by public; national capacity for COVID-19 testing; whether schools are ready to implement infection prevention and control measures; and how schools intend to monitor transportation to and from schools.
Against the backdrop of available statistics, many of the answers would be negative – indicating that schools may not be ready to resume. For instance, with the country at the community transmission stage of the infection, cases are on the increase. The number of infection grew from 30,249 to 33,153 between Thursday last week and Tuesday. It meant there were 2,904 new cases in six days – negating the first question.
Also, medical experts have lamented the low compliance to NCDC protocols on the use of facemasks, physical distancing, mass gatherings, and the like, negating the second question.
On whether testing is available, Nigeria is already behind its target of testing two million people by month end. As at Tuesday, the NCDC had tested only 183,309 people for COVID-19 out of a population of over 200 million.
In addition to the questions, the guidelines spell out consideration for staggered school attendance; physical distancing among learners; distance learning; provision of WASH facilities; daily de-contamination of school facilities; provision of fencing for schools; provision of Personal Protective Equipment for workers; regular temperature checks using infrared thermometers; provision of mini-isolation centres; and the establishment of a referral system from schools to health facilities for those who get infected, among a long list of other requirements.
Regarding boarding houses, the publication recommends a two-metre distance between bunks in the hostels – with only one pupil per bunk usually used by two. The hostels are also expected to be disinfected daily; and boarding pupils must be restricted from contact with outsiders.
The publication also stipulates pre-assessment of individual schools before they are allowed to reopen. The assessment forms, contained in the annex of the guidelines, would assess schools in the areas of readiness, compliance, and mitigation measures explanation. It notes that only schools with low or moderate risks in all areas assessed would be allowed to open; while those with high risks would remain closed. Those with high and moderate skills would be expected to take specific steps noted by the assessors to mitigate the risks.
The assessors to visit schools would comprise officials from the ministry of health, school health as well as education quality assurance officers.
Are schools ready for resumption? Proprietors, teachers react
Given the present realities, a school owner, who did not want to be named, said she was not sure schools would be ready to resume before October.
The proprietor whose school is in Surulere, Lagos, said: “Sincerely right now, I don’t think that anybody is really looking at resumption. The numbers are going higher. We know that children are asymptomatic. There are a lot of Nigerians that have underlying conditions but would never tell anybody. So, the health of the children is on one side; the health of the adults – generally the staff – is on another. Even if the children are fine, what about the teachers, the nannies, the security people; transportation for people going to school and back? What happens to boarding houses? Boarding, I don’t think they are ready at all.
“I think they probably need to focus a lot of resources on the Federal Government colleges. They need to have mini isolation centres where children suspected to have symptoms can be kept for up to 72 hours before they are moved. Sincerely speaking, I doubt whether there would be any resumption before October. People are even more worried now than at the beginning of the lockdown.”
On his part, National President, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Chief Yomi Otubela, said he could vouch for the level of preparedness of private schools to resume for pupils in terminal classes, especially at secondary school level.
Speaking at a virtual press conference on Monday, Otubela said members of NAPPS had been trained to care for the children in line with the protocols.
“I can vouch for our members that they have gone through safety measures in their schools. Safety of the children is better done in school because there are laid down rules to follow.
“We are talking of only transitional classes. With transitional classes, there would be enough space for social distancing. We are over 100 per cent ready for transitional classes to resume,” he said.
Otubela also said the government should mandate quality assurance officers to visit schools to ensure compliance once they resume.
While private schools are ready, public schools are known to be more deficient in terms of facilities. To ensure that both categories of schools can resume at the same time, Otubela urged the government to provide funds to ministries of education to provide facilities needed in public schools.
A teacher at Queen’s College, Lagos, Mr. K. Oladejo, said it was possible for pupils in transitional classes to resume at the college since they would have space to spread out.
“It is practicable. Almost all arms are not going to be in school. It will only be JSS3 and SS3 pupils so the whole facilities would be used by them. We have enough staff to attend to them,” he said.
He, however, said the government needed to play its role in providing necessary facilities for the school.
“If the government can provide what it put in the guidelines in place in the school, we can resume,” he said.
Only time would tell the level of compliance with the guidelines.
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