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Kano: Between reopening public schools and COVID-19 threats

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The recent pronouncement on the promise of reopening public schools in Kano State was a huge source of relief to the hearts of hundreds of anxious young stars who have been yearning for a return to normal life.
   
Although the announcement was long expected, the Federal government’s risk-prevention measures against COVID-19 on reopening of schools nationwide have further elicited frustration and uncertainty.
 
There is no gainsaying that four months’ idleness did not only inflict unprecedented setbacks on students’ academic progress, but reports indicated that hundreds were exposed to vicissitudes of life on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In The Beginning
FIVE months ago, when the government shut down schools nationwide, it was obvious the deadly COVID-19 pandemic would affect the souls of the future generation.
 
The bourgeoning ugly reality was to dawn fully on everyone as businesses, markets, places of worship were closed, while all means of transportation were restricted and virtually all means of livelihood crippled. The fear of COVID-19 pandemic, then, became the beginning of wisdom.   
   
Kano State confirmed its index case of COVID-19 on April 11, 2020, about five weeks after Lagos broke the record of presenting the first case in Nigeria. The 75-year-old index case, a former diplomat and indigene of Kano tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after his return from visits to Lagos, Abuja and Kaduna states.
 
As at the time of his visit, those three cities had recorded their index cases and still counting, which was why the suspicion was that he must have contracted the virus. The situation became worrisome as further investigation revealed the first active case might have spread the infection among innocent family members and community as he was found to have attended marriage ceremonies, congregational prayers and other communal activities before he eventually fell ill and diagnosed of COVID-19.

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Prior to partial reopening of schools nationwide (for students in the final year of junior and senior secondary schools), the presidential task force committee on COVID-19 had issued guidelines and preconditions that states must fulfill before opening up the schools. The general preventive safety measures included conduct of risk assessment with a view to understanding the gaps in the system that can increase the risk of transmission.
 
They were also expected to make recommendations on how they intend to address the gaps, safety and hygiene in all stages and phases of the school reopening process, which promote behaviors that reduce spread, such as school commutes (to and from school traveling), safe distancing, frequent hand washing, use of facemasks.
   
Other conditions that were developed and displayed at schools, included simple context specific reference protocols on day-to-day actions to be operated in each school, risk mitigation strategies for the schools’ use for other purposes, such as distance learning centre, temporary shelters for isolation, quarantine and treatment of suspected cases. 
 
Penultimate week, the Kano State Ministry of Education, announced measures already put in place as preventive safety measures and protocols in line with the standard guidelines conditioned by Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC) to minimize possible transmission of the virus in schools.
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For instance, the government disclosed that the state Ministry of Environment has fumigated all 538-examination centres, where the Senior Secondary School students are presently sitting for their final year examination.
 
Furthermore, the Education Ministry also announced the distribution of free facemasks and hand sanitizers to all the 27, 454 registered candidates both in public and private schools. Besides, government said infrared thermometers were also supplied to the centre to obtain candidates’ temperature before they are allowed access to exam halls. 
   
Although stakeholders expressed concerns over the level of preparedness of the schools to accommodate large student population, they however believed the partial reopening of schools, notwithstanding the persistent transmission of COVID, has afforded the final year students the opportunity to join their counterparts across the country to sit for WAEC.

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Fears, Challenges Persist
PARENTS have been harbouring apprehension about the safety of their wards. Part of the fears include absence of compliance to preventive safety protocols and measures recommended by the PTF among students outside school hours and discountenance of social distancing of the larger society, which could easily transmit to schools.
   
Peculiar emphases are also laid on the existing state of infrastructure at public primary and secondary schools in the state. There is also the ugly sight of congestion in classes due to population density in virtually all public schools. Lack of adequate potable water supply and latrine for public convenience are also among issues of serious concern.
 
Next to those is the near absence of public health facilities in schools and other related challenges, which have constituted mind-boggling threats in this era of COVID-19 in Kano. If not against the above listed, the reopening of schools in the state is rather tailored towards exposing innocent students to more life threatening challenges.

Turning The Tide
KANO State boasts of 6, 852 public primary schools and 1,413 secondary schools, according to statistics obtained from relevant agencies. The present administration of Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje says it is embarking on provision of critical infrastructural projects in the education sector.

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During the launch of free and compulsory education system, Governor Ganduje pledged to renovate 264 blocks of classrooms and construct hundreds of new blocks to cater for the estimated increase in enrolment.

But, the situation still remains the same. For instance, concerned minds are worried how spread of COVID could be avoided in schools like Gobirawa primary along Katsina road where more than 100 pupils receive lessons. Similar conditions are noticeable at Dakata primary school, Dakata and Kawaji secondary school, Kawaji both in Nassarawa local government as well as Paniso primary at Ungogo where limited class rooms are making it difficult for functional teaching and learning to take place. The recent heavy downpour in Kano also wreaks havoc on several public schools. The state emergency relief agency revealed that property worth millions of naira was destroyed including blocks and roofs of public schools.   
 
Reacting to the development, a civil society activist in Kano, Ibrahim Maryam urged the state government to do more in the areas of infrastructure before full reopening of schools to mitigate further spread of COVID-19 among students.

“ You see, there are two things involved, there is a difference between opening schools and preparing schools with all the preventive measures of COVID-19 in place. Government can just open schools for children to return while little is in place to mitigate the spread of the virus especially in the public schools. For me, private schools will not be problematic. Fine, the government has fumigated the schools, cutting off the grasses at least to conduct WAEC, but what preparation is in place for the larger student’s population?

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“There is no Personal Preventive Equipments (PPE) for teachers and students, What about the infrastructure, when you visit some of the classes in public schools, there is no roof on them, and how would they decongest the crowded classroom? Government must take cognizance of all these issues before resumption proper.

“How would you talk about social distancing when children are congested in class rooms. Children are sitting on the floor and under the trees, are there any plans to expand our classes. I have not seen any preparation on ground regarding all these. Go to Kaura Goje school, go to Dakata primary school, Tudun wada, come to Giginyu primary, Jawabi Islamiyya,  you will see all these schools within the city.”

Another activist, Ibrahim Waiya advocated sensitization for teachers especially on how to manage preventive protocols in school environments. Waiya clamoured for a shifting method of schooling in Kano to reduce congestion in classes. 

According to him, “I believe special funds should be provided to the state ministry of education for procurement of necessary facilities, like sanitizers, PPE, facemasks for every child. Government should also conduct training on protocols for teachers to keep them abreast of the protective measures on COVID-19. Another challenge is adopting the social distancing protocols because our classes are congested already.

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“It is a serious challenge and I believe the government must work out a solution to reduce congestion in classes. With a situation where you find about 150 to 200 pupils in a class, how do you expect social distancing to be maintained? In alternative, we hope the government should adopt shifting classes by morning and afternoon because I don’t see how new structures will be constructed within the space of limited time.

An educationist, Dr Abubakar Sadeeq advised on injection of new teaching methodology to conform to post-COVID-19 system. He warned against attempted compromise of Federal government guidelines to avoid the daring consequences. “From reports filtering daily, there is guarantee COVID-19 will not end any time soon meaning, we may be living with the virus for some time while we bear with the protocols. Now, procedures put in place by the Federal government must strictly adhere to curtail spread.

“Teachers need to be educated on teaching methodology and paradigm shifts in teaching patterns. Government should not even allow students to resume without assuring the fresh orientation of their own teachers. Students as well need to be briefed on behavioral change,” Dr. Abubakar submitted.

Ganduje had recently expressed concern on persisted disregard and refusal of residents to observe the COVID-19 protocols despite warning that the virus was still very much in transmission. The Governor’s worries are coming a few weeks after he declared that Kano was on the verge of winning the war against the deadly virus.

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“ What is most disturbing is the manner tens of thousands of people in the state are treating the issue of observing the COVID-19 protocols with disdain. It is said to note that people are almost paying lip service to the observance of social distancing, use of facemask, hand sanitizing particularly in public places like Mosques, Churches, markets and banks. You will even find those selling the facemask not using the mask”. Ganduje laments.

As at the last update issued by state technical response coordinator, Dr. Tijani Hussain, 43,545 samples were so far collected since 11th April, 2020 when the index case was recorded, of which 42,184 suspects realized and 39,809 results confirmed positive.

According to him, 1,334 patients recovered 54 deaths while 289 are presently receiving treatment both at the isolation centre and home management.

At the peak period of the outbreak when Kano ranked second highest in the country with steady progression of about 64 positive cases per day, Dr. Tijani declared that position of Kano now dropped to number eight among 36 states and FCT with less burden of the pandemic over 18 states.

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