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Worries over school owners silence on level of preparedness

By Ujunwa Atueyi
25 June 2020   |   4:26 am
Going by the strategies recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for schools across the world to adapt before reopening for academic activities, one can conveniently say that Nigerian schools are unprepared.

Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba

Going by the strategies recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for schools across the world to adapt before reopening for academic activities, one can conveniently say that Nigerian schools are unprepared.

Recall that schools across the globe, including Nigeria shut their doors against students in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This was to help reduce the spread of the disease.

The pandemic brought about hasty implementation of virtual learning, home schooling and other online educational resources, which further exposed the pitiable condition of Information Technology (IT) infrastructure in most schools.

Since then, the world had witnessed a steady rise in the number of cases, which further stretched the duration of schools closure.

However, reports have it that in some countries where infection rates have dropped significantly, schools are starting to hold classes again, but they are taking a number of precautionary measures in doing so.

In Nigeria, the clamour to reopen school has intensified, but the Federal Government is still at a consulting stage; liaising with experts and key stakeholders on best safety practices.

The Guardian learnt that in some parts of the world where children have gone back to school having adjusted to a new reality, they are implementing the WHO’s recommendations.

The WHO issued a document, containing recommendations of what schools across the globe should do before considering reopening.

The health body, in the well-detailed document recommended that authorities should educate everyone in the school about COVID-19 prevention, which includes appropriate and frequent hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, mask use if mandated, symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if one feels sick.

It advised that schools should maintain a distance of at least one metre between everyone present; increase desk spacing, at least one metre between desks; stagger recesses/breaks and lunch breaks.

It said non-contact greetings should also be advised and updates regularly provided as the pandemic evolves. Schools are advised to create a schedule for frequent hand hygiene, especially for young children, and provide sufficient alcohol-based rub or soap and clean water at entrances and throughout the school.

They were asked to schedule regular cleaning of the school environment daily, including toilets, with water and soap/detergent and disinfectant. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, desks, toys, supplies, light switches, door frames, play equipment, teaching aids used by children, and covers of books.

Additionally, they are expected to assess what can be done to limit risk of exposure, or direct physical contact, in physical education classes, sports or other physical activities and play in playgrounds, wet areas and changing rooms.

Most especially, respiratory, hand hygiene and physical distancing measures in transportation such as school buses were emphasised. They were told to provide tips for students on safe commute to and from school, including those using public transport.

According to the organisation, only one child per seat and at least one metre apart in school buses, if possible. This may lead to a need to increase the number of school buses per school. If possible, windows of the bus should be kept opened while schools should provide sufficient medical masks for those who need it, such as school nurses and children with symptoms.

“If a child or school staff is sick, he/she should not come to school. So, they must enforce the policy of “staying at home if unwell” for students, teachers or school staff with symptoms. If possible, connect with local organisations to provide home care support and ensure communication between home and school. WHO recommends 70 per cent ethyl alcohol to disinfect small surface areas and equipment, or sodium hypochlorite 0.1 per cent for disinfecting surfaces.

“They should also waive the requirement for a doctor’s note to excuse absences when there is community transmission of COVID-19. Consider daily screening for body temperature, and history of fever or feeling feverish in the previous 24 hours, on entry into the building for all staff, students, and visitors to identify persons who are sick. Establish procedures for students or staff who have symptoms of COVID-19 or are feeling unwell in any way to be sent home or isolated from others.

“Boarding schools and other specialised institutions will need to extend these considerations to residential facilities, lecture halls, laboratories, and other learning facilities for the all-round benefit and safety of students and staff. Physical distancing and tele-schooling physical distancing at school is required,” the document read in parts.

The need to limit mixing of classes for school and after-school activities was also mentioned. For example, “students in a class will stay in one classroom throughout the day, while teachers move between classrooms; or classes could use different entrances, if available, or establish an order for each class to enter and leave the building /classroom.”

Expansion of high-school timetable, with some students and teachers attending in the morning, others in the afternoon, and others in the evening was also stated.

Authorities were also advised to consider increasing the number of teachers, if possible, to allow for fewer students per classroom (if space is available).

They should advise against crowding during school pick-up or day care, and if possible avoid pick up by older family or community members; discuss how to manage physical education and sports lessons; move lessons outdoors or ventilate rooms as much as possible; create awareness to ensure the students do not gather and socialise when leaving the school and in their free time, as most studies have used one metre as a benchmark for projection of respiratory droplets, among numerous other recommendations.

However, The Guardian reached out to a number of schools to ascertain their level of preparedness for resumption in line with WHO’s recommendations, but most of them declined comments and kept mum on the issue.

But the President, Association for Formidable Educational Development (AFED), Mr. Emmanuel Orji Kanu, who is also the proprietor, Rockford Schools, Ikorodu, said he is ready to receive students back to school.

He did not only claim that the school has been decontaminated, he also said the school is currently undergoing some facelift, “so we are ready and waiting for government to give order for reopening.

“We must tell ourselves the truth that for children from low-income household, no learning has been taking place as the luxury of technology is not in their family agenda. COVID-19 is real and hunger-20 is real. Hunger-20 may leave more dead than COVID-19.”

Insisting that his school is fully prepared for resumption, Kanu said he has provided an automatic water dispenser for hand washing; infrared thermometer; facemask production; while additional sanitary and sanitation knowledge have been inculcated.

“We have done all that we are expected to do; we are just waiting for the authorities to give orders for schools to be reopened. But this is taking too long,” he added.

Affirming that there is need to consistently abide by the advice of professionals when it comes to the issue of the pandemic, which has shown a high level devastating effect across the globe, Kanu pointed out that schools cannot remain closed forever.

“One of the reasons for sudden closure at the earliest stage was to study the nature and trends of this pandemic. Having understood the mode of transmission from one person to another, and what we should do to keep this possibly low or completely away, the best is the gradual easing or opening of the economy. The authorities must be considerate when it comes to the number of those working in the private school subsector. The life of those working in private schools subsector matters. No palliatives, no incentives, no response.

In Lagos alone the population of those working in private schools is three times the civil service workers, these groups have had no income since February 2020 till date.”

For the Proprietress, Brains Premier School, Lagos, Mrs Ezinne Onoh, preparations in line with the WHO’s guidelines are in top gear in her school, in so much that anytime government issues directive, they will commence academic activities.

She said the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic has taken well over eight weeks from the school calendar and still counting.

“Primary and secondary schools were supposed to have resumed for the third term of the 2019/2020 academic session, while tertiary institutions would either be completing semesters or starting new sessions.

“Although no dates have been announced for resumption, schools like ours have started preparing in anticipation to receive teachers and learners in a safe way. In line with the guidelines for reopening schools set by the Federal government, we have begun to put measures in place to safe guard our staff, children, parents and other stakeholders,” she said.

Listing some of these measures put in place so far, Onoh said, display of excellent hygiene life style; continuous in-depth sensitisation of our parents, children and staff about hygiene protocols; teaching possible ways the virus could spread, symptoms and what to do in case of emergency; and social distancing in class, the school premises and wherever there’s a crowd of persons.

She said: “Our children, due to our Montessori style of education are to a great extent independent and mindful of cleanliness and have cultivated the habit of keeping their hands to themselves. In addition, we have as a school put in place hand washing facilities, body temperature checkers, disinfectants at entry points, sanitizers in classes and in school buses.

“We have also maintained our social media platforms to continuously enlighten our parents and pupils on ways to stay safe and secure. So, our response on readiness is a resounding yes. We have plans to periodically do a thorough fumigation of the school environment. Admittance into the premises must be with the face mask or face shield and temperature check at the entrance gate. Our school sick bay with well-trained professional Medicare provider is available in case of any emergency.

She continued: “We shall ensure adequate spacing in our classrooms, suspend playground activities and hold class assemblies as against the general school assembly. We will continue to leverage on e-learning even when schools are allowed to resume. This will allow teachers reach their learners more without restrictions and moderations that will be imposed upon resumption of classes.”

If the government gives the go-ahead for schools to resume, are the private school owners faithfully ready to welcome their students back to school in line with WHO’s safety recommendations? Would public schools also abide by the health body’s guidelines?