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Controversy over schools reopening amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Fears as FG considers schools’ reopening

As the clamour for reopening by private school owners deepens, parents have queried the drive behind such outcry. Citing the recent occurrence in Isreali schools, parents advised the government not to give in to such pressure, UJUNWA ATUEYI reports.

Some private school owners are pressurising the Federal Government to reopen schools amid the coronavirus uncertainties, but parents feel there is more to their yearnings than meet the eye.

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This is even as experts have continued to caution and re-emphasise that COVID-19 battle is not yet over. Moreso, global reports on the pandemic still show an increase in the number of cases as well as deaths.

But the argument of some of these proprietors is that if the government is gradually easing the lockdown by reopening markets and some other social activities, it should also consider the gradual opening of learning institutions.

Besides, they also said schools need to resume in order to reduce the risk of children losing key parts of their education and going into petty crimes due to idleness.

They also reminded that continued closure of schools is already causing a major interruption in students’ learning process and assessments.

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While education managers in Nigeria are clamouring for resumption, reports have it that Israeli schools, which hurriedly resumed academic activities amid COVIID-19, have again been shut indefinitely after several pupils and teachers tested positive to the virus.

According to reports, three weeks after the country reopened doors to all of its schools, more and more are closing again following a rise in coronavirus cases among pupils and teachers.

“With 347 pupils and teachers testing positive to the virus, 127 schools did not reopen on Sunday, the beginning of the workweek in Israel. The number of pupils and staff in-home quarantine grew from slightly more than 16,000 to almost 17,500 in little more than 12 hours. Most of the new cases are from Jerusalem, particularly from one high school, the Hebrew Gymnasium, where, as of Sunday, 148 pupils and staff have tested positive.”

As a result, the country’s education minister, Yoav Galant cautioned that any school where a confirmed case of COVID-19 is established must switch to distance learning.

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“Israel was quick to impose a stringent lockdown in mid-March, resulting in a relatively mild outbreak of the pandemic in the small Middle Eastern country.
But it was also quick to lift the lockdown. Schools were reopened on May 17, 2020, followed by hotels, swimming pools and restaurants some 10 days later.

The health ministry further revealed that 297 people have died from the virus since its outbreak, necessitating the shut down of some schools after reopening.

The education ministry also reported that 2,000 pupils and staff members were placed on isolation bringing the total number of people under quarantine in connection to schools to 6,831 as at last week.

If a country like Israel, which is believed to be more forward-thinking and sophisticated in terms of infrastructure, could have such challenge, what would be the fate of Nigeria that is still grappling with insufficient health and hygiene measures to keep teachers and pupils safe?

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The call for schools’ reopening has raised different posers-how prepared are Nigerian schools to welcome its teeming students back to schools (private, public and low-income)? How prepared are the teachers? What is the available vaccine for the cure of the virus in Nigeria? Are there isolation centres specifically designed for pupils and students? Would pupils be made to wear facemasks? How many would they be in a classroom? How long will they wear the masks? Who will monitor compliance? The questions are endless, no doubt.

The Guardian sought the views of some parents to ascertain their readiness for schools’ resumption, interestingly; the majority of them felt proprietors are racing against time for selfish reasons.

They described the argument presented by school owners as a danger posing as harmless, insisting that students’ well-being and safety supersede every other interest.

They cautioned those clamouring for schools reopening to pay deeper attention to the behaviour of the virus and its attendant risks, saying they are losing sight of the big picture.

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A parent, Mrs. Mercy Arua accused school owners of being selfish saying the incessant calls for reopening was not out of love for the children but for their selfish interests.

“They are simply after money. This is a pandemic case; I believe some school owners are aware of public health. Health is wealth and should be prioritised at all times. Majority of them clamouring for resumption does not have any safety measure or preventive strategy.

“Whatever be the case, my children will wait at home until the environment is safer and saner. Look at the Israel case, they hurriedly reopened schools and after three weeks, thousands of pupils and students tested positive to the virus. I will advise the government to arrest school owners and stakeholders who are pushing them to reopen schools.”

For Gabriel Omale, “The life of my children is paramount over and above any other consideration. If there is real and present danger such as posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, my first action is to undertake every measure to safeguard their health and well-being, including suspension of school.

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In the event that the government succumbs to the pressure of interest groups, I will be quite circumspect about any such directive when the reality on the ground does not support it.”

Counseling government to put in place efficient containment measures and wait for the tide to subside before reopening of schools, Omale challenged school proprietors not to put their material interest above the well-being of the society.

But, Mrs. Maryann Aikore appeared indifferent, as she expressed doubt over the true narrative of COVID-19 in Nigeria.

“My opinion is that the government should open up and tell us the reality of COVID-19. Is it really on the increase because I don’t believe the reports? If it is true, it means it is not ideal for primary and nursery school pupils to resume. A lot of things are at stake in terms of wearing facemasks and observing physical distancing… not only that, they cannot handle masks; they cannot also wear it for a long time, unlike adults who adjusts it time after time to get fresh air. This might make learning unachievable.

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“Children will still touch surfaces and rub their eyes mouth and nose, unlike adults who can control themselves especially when they have the impulse to rub or scratch their eyes. In conclusion, if the spread of coronavirus is still on the increase, children should remain at home, except our government is lying to the public on the actual figures of COVID-19 cases.”

Aikore is not the only person doubting the true figures of the pandemic, as Mrs. Edith Anyanwu also shared her views.

“My take is that the masses should be told the whole truth about this whole saga so we can protect ourselves properly. In some quarters, it is believed that COVID-19 is nothing but a ploy for politicians to embezzle our fund, while some believe it is real. I watched a clip where someone said that watermelon tested positive to coronavirus…very laughable. We should be told what is really going on.

“I would not want the government to reopen schools if they are not sure this pandemic has been fought to a standstill. But if they decide to do, as a teacher, I have no choice other than to go because I have no other source of eking out a living and by so doing, I can’t live my kids at home either. Though unhappy and scared, I will protect them the much I can and send them to school.”

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Anyanwu further appealed to the government to desist from being selfish and put in measures capable of combating the scourge.

“We should not endanger our kids in the name of educating them. School owners should also be patient because if measures are not properly taken, mass death will be recorded and all efforts would be futile.”

Corroborating Anyanwu’s view, Mrs. Eucharia Ikpor, said with the daily increase in the number of cases, government, school management and other stakeholders should patiently wait before reopening schools.

Questioning the safety measures schools have put in place, Ikpor said there is need for the health sector to come up with a vaccine and ensure it is available; government needs to ensure a clean and ventilated environment with adequate facilities like what is obtained in China schools in the interest of teachers and students, and there is also need for proper orientation for all.

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Should government direct schools to reopen due to pressures? Mrs. Ikpor said, “I will not allow my children to go to school for now. Most of our schools are overcrowded. Government has not put measures in place and the health sector and agencies made to carry out awareness and orientation campaign like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) are just waking up, probably due to lack of fund. I will advice all parties to wait until the environment is safe for our children.”

Mrs. Añuli Udobi also wondered why school owners are clamouring for school resumption.

“For me, it is a bit confusing because we are talking about our own children here. We should be more worried about their educational needs, not the school owners. Safety is paramount; therefore, every other thing is secondary. So, honestly, I will advise schools to hold on for now until we are convinced that COVID-19 no longer exist in our country. So many countries that are better than us, in terms of infrastructure and medical advancement have not resumed academic activities, why are we rushing to send the kids back to school, knowing all the risks? She queried.

Another parent and Director, Inclusive Education and Individualised Education Plan Centre (IEIEPC), Mr. Oyeyinka Oluwawumi, said, “There is need to ensure that a drug or vaccine that had been tested and proven to cure COVID-19 is available before reopening of schools. The truth is that children cannot maintain social distancing based on their nature.”

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Oluwawumi who said he will not allow his children to go back to school under the current condition in the country advised the government to engage in more research that can produce a cure for coronavirus.

He also urged schools to improve on the online methods of teaching until the government finds a solution to the virus, rather than pressurising the government to authorise resumption of schools.

Although the minister of state for education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba has said that government is considering adopting a two-shift system and allowing those who will write examinations to return earlier than others, while Lagos State government claimed it is in consultation with the Federal Government concerning the reopening of schools, the big questions are whether the country has find a cure for COVID-19 and what are the feasible safety measures put in place for Nigerian students?

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