Almost seven months after the COVID-19-induced lockdown, schools across the states are beginning to open their doors to students. But school owners, parents, and teachers have expressed mixed feelings over the reopening as issues of salaries; school fees, infrastructure, and meeting safety guidelines take the centre stage.
In some states, the question of which academic session to run is still controversial, as the government is undecided on whether or not to commence a new session.
The Federal and State Governments had struggled for several months on how to safely reopen schools without putting teachers and students at the risk of contracting the virus.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had cautioned governments on ensuring full safety protocols before reopening schools, warning that 43 per cent of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing facilities with soap and water – a key condition for schools to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other safety measures stipulated by WHO include temperature checking thermometers, a COVID-19 infant facility, face masks, and adequate maintenance of social distancing.
Since schools resumed in states nationwide, owners and parents have been struggling to meet their financial obligations.
*We went borrowing to pay teachers during the lockdown, say Oyo school owners
IN Ibadan, Oyo State capital, most parents have not been able to pay their children’s tuition since schools resumed.
Most of the schools are also struggling to pay teachers who have been receiving stipends since schools were shut in March.
Proprietress of Tender Lift Schools, Bodija, Ibadan, Mrs Rosemary Odigbo, said she went borrowing during the lockdown to ensure that teachers were paid some stipends, saying she he could only afford half salaries, as most of the parents did not pay for the online classes introduced in the wake of the lockdown.
‘’Since resumption on September 21, it has been what I would call the “begging ministry,” she said. Parents have been begging, signing undertakings, bringing letters, and making phone calls. Some asked for the end of October, while others pleaded till the end of November. One said every Friday; he would be sending me something. This person has been owing over N300, 000, for the first and second terms of the last session due to the demise of her husband.”
On ability to pay teachers, Mrs Odigbo said the school had put in place a plan B, which entails using volunteer teachers because of the nature of the school.
“The school is primarily for underprivileged students; some are on scholarship while very few are paying school fees. The idea is that we use the money from those who pay to run the school,” she explained.
“Members of staff are expecting something this month, but we don’t have the financial muscle to pay. That is why we are trying to stretch parents who are yet to pay so that we can pay teachers from whatever we get from them,” she explained.
She was emphatic that students who fail to pay within a stipulated timeline would be prevented from entering and added that teachers’ needs are many as everyone else.
A parent, Mrs Bukola Roheem, who has two children in a private school in Ashi area of Ibadan, said: “We have paid part of the tuition because the school management would not allow any kid to enter the premises without payment.”
Mrs Damilola Adetunji, who said her business suffered a great deal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said the school gave her an ultimatum to pay the fees before the end of the week, or else, the school might send her child home.
Seunfunmi Dada, who works at a private firm in Ibadan, said there were no salaries during the lockdown, and so getting funds to pay fees at this time is difficult.
A university lecturer, Prof. Godson Ana, said the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had prevented members from getting their salaries; hence, he could not pay his children’s fees. Ana said he had to appeal to the school for more time to enable him to raise funds to pay.
In Rivers, govt undecided on term
THE Rivers State government approved the reopening of all secondary schools, vocational schools, universities, and other tertiary institutions in the state with effect from Monday, October 5.
The Commissioner for Education, Prof. Kaniye Ebeku, said the government was yet to approve the reopening of primary schools based on medical advice.
Ebeku explained that the government had also approved the setting up of a seven-man task force to monitor and enforce compliance with COVID-19 protocols in various schools.
The government’s ambivalence on whether it was proceeding with the third term or a fresh academic session has been a source of concern to parents and guardians in the state.
The education commissioner had hinted on a radio programme that the government would allow a time frame for the third term to be properly concluded before a new academic session commences.
When asked if parents would pay for the third term during which all public and private schools were closed, the commissioner reminded that the state government had banned the payment of fees in public schools.
He said: “I am aware that when classes were allowed to open, many private schools had asked parents to pay the full term fees, which is the third term fee. Now, there are issues; some parents have objected to it, but I can say for now, what seems to be settled is that Parents Teachers Association (PTA) and the private operators have settled, as it were, on this issue. So, we will not be giving any specific directive on the issue, because that issue seems to have been well settled.”
But, Mr Ifeanyi Albert, whose three children attend a private school in Port Harcourt, said he and other parents would resist any attempt to compel them to pay for a third term that never was.
Albert, who sells imported doors, explained that since the outbreak of the coronavirus, he had been unable to travel out to stock his shop. According to him, his inability to travel out in the past five months had adversely impacted his finance.
“It would be a grave injustice for the government to remain indifferent while private school owners exploit parents. Why talk about concluding the third term that never was? … This is unacceptable.”
On her part, Mrs Maryann Harry said the private school that her children attend had, shortly after introducing online classes, been trying to arm-twist parents to pay for third term fees.
Mrs Harry stated that at a time when a lot of parents may have lost their jobs and businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic, many citizens would expect the government to issue a circular prohibiting the collection of school fees for the duration of the lockdown.
A school owner, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian that her revenue projection for this year had been adversely affected and she desperately needs to collect fees to pay salaries for the teachers and other workers.
A secondary school teacher at Rumuigbo, a suburb of Port Harcourt, Miss Happiness Amadi, explained that she and other teachers in her school have had no other means of livelihood since schools were shut. According to her, she had been suffering from no money to cater for her family and herself.
“Life has been tough, I must admit. I have not been paid for five months; I have had to depend on relations who are also struggling to survive. I have had to spend most of the time during the lockdown in my village to assist my parents in farming. I had also engaged in the processing of garri to help my family earn money to stay afloat in these trying times. I cannot wait for the full resumption of schools to get my life back on track once again.”
A student, Ruthie Favvy Blink, thinks people should not be so excited that schools in Rivers State are planning to resume until the resumption date comes.
She said staying at home had totally affected most of them, especially those that could not afford to join the online classes due to challenges, such as poor electricity, increase in fuel price, and an inability to afford a smartphone or laptop.
Similarly, Mrs Chidiebere Ikechi Alioha said while she appreciates the government’s step to open up secondary to university institutions in the state, its refusal to open nursery and primary schools, alongside other levels of school systems, was an injustice to the system.
“This government has not been fair to private school owners and staff members. Our governor will do much better if you advise him well. Seven months without pay, but no palliative from the government, no sympathy as well to private school teachers, yet our tax is deducted from the source into government’s coffers,” she lamented.
Abia schools resume under stringent conditions
ABIA State primary and secondary schools have re-opened, specifically with conditions such as no general morning assemblies, long breaks, games, and sporting activities. Schools open from 8 am to I.40 pm.
At Ibeku High School, Umuahia, students and teachers’ attendance was impressive. Students were happy to resume, saying they were tired of staying at home. Teachers were also on hand supervising the cleaning of the premises.
The scenario was different at School Road Primary School, also in Umuahia, where pupils’ attendance was poor.
One of the teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the short notice prevented most of the students from resuming as parents were not given sufficient notice to prepare their children for resumption.
A parent, Mr John Eke, expressed concerns overpayment of school fees, cost of returning his children to both primary and secondary schools following several months of unpaid salaries, as well as increased fuel and electricity prices, which has increased transport fares.
The state government had announced that students in private schools would pay 30 per cent of third term school fees, and 30 per cent of the approved levies in public secondary schools.
Attendance was low at Treasure International School, Olokoro, about four kilometers away from the state capital.
A parent who spoke on school fees at the school urged the management not to collect fees for the period schools were on lockdown.
According to the timetable, primary and secondary schools resumed on September 28, to complete the third term of the 2019/2020 academic year, and start revision classes immediately for one week.
Third term examination commenced last Monday and would run till October 16, based on the topics covered in the first and second terms of the 2019/2020 academic year as well as the radio /TV classroom programmes.
After the third term examination, students would proceed on a break to allow the teachers to complete the promotional examination results.
According to the timetable by the government, the first term of the 2020/2021 academic session would run from October 26, 2020, till December 23, 2020, before a short break from December 24 to January 3, 2021.
From Monday, January 4, 2021, the first term will continue and end on January 21, 2021, with students expected to pay school fees in full.
The second term of the 2020/2021 academic session is expected to commence on Monday, February 1, 2021, and run for 12 weeks, ending on Thursday, April 22, while the third term would start on May 10 and end on August 5, 2021.
RESUMPTION of academic activities, both in public and private schools in Kano, may not be feasible anytime soon considering the reality and position of the government on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.Despite the clamour for reopening from stakeholders, the Kano State government said it was not in a hurry to reopen the schools.
While private school owners expressed readiness to comply with all COVID-19 guidelines, parents and teachers’ associations said the virus had come to stay and pleaded with the government to reopen the schools.
A proprietor, who pleaded anonymity, lamented the government’s silence on modalities for reopening of schools.
“We have been left in the dark. We don’t know where we are going when school would reopen, and which session. It is difficult for us because we cannot plan ahead. Many of us are bankrupt and our house rents have expired. We cannot pay salaries and parents are not ready to pay school fees. It is a terrible situation for us.”
Deputy vice president, Parents Teachers Association (PTA), Alhaji Sani Danhassan, said parents had suffered untold hardship due to the circumstances surrounding the continued closure of schools.
However, Commissioner for Education, Muhammad Sani Kiru, said the government is working hard to ensure the safety and security of children before the reopening of schools in the state.
The commissioner, in a telephone interview with The Guardian said a working committee had been set up to develop an academic calendar to guide the government in its decision to reopen schools.
“We are working on an academic calendar that would guide school activities. The government has set up a committee to plan for the new session. Already, it has released N20 million to all the 44 local government councils to rehabilitate dilapidated structures as well as construct new classrooms to address the issue of congestion,” Kiru stated.
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