Reopening of schools amid COVID-19
Sir: There is no doubt that education is wealth and an educated nation is a wealthy nation. A responsible government must prioritize the development of the educational sector and ensures that her citizens acquire quality education. This will fast track rapid development, economic growth and technological advancement. Therefore, government at all times must provide the right enabling environment for quality teaching and learning. Since the index case of COVID-19 pandemic was reported in Nigeria on February 27, 2020, the country that hitherto witnessed beehive of commercial and academic activities assumed a logjam status.
Moreso, the compulsory stay at home government order and subsequent lockdown further crippled every facet of the economy. Though the lockdown was well intended proactive measure to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the economy further went parlous.
The educational sector was worse hit by the pandemic. Schools – Primary, secondary and tertiary institutions were abrupted, thus academic activities halted and school calendar altered. Additionally, the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic also compelled various examination bodies (WAEC and NECO) to postpone the Senior Secondary Examinations sine die. This indeed is a worrisome set back to our educational system.
However, in order to recover lost academic grounds and makeup for lost curriculum, various tertiary institutions adopted the e-learning methodology to keep lecturers and students engaged. In the same vein, primary and secondary management boards in collaboration with state ministries of education also put in place their own version of e-learning (Radio and Television) mechanisms to reach out to pupils and students. These measures were to makeup for lost grounds and engage students meaningfully during the lockdown. These laudable efforts by government and institutions were quite commendable.
Conversely, however, the students in rural areas with epileptic electricity supply or no electricity could not participate since electricity was required to access and participate in the e-learning initiative. Thus, the e-learning methodology was not all-embracing and falls short of been holistic.
As the Nation brace-up for total lifting of the lockdown, markets, shopping malls, motor parks etc will obviously experience upsurge of human congregation hence human to human contacts are inevitable. This may further spike the spread of the virus if people do not take responsibilities and do the needful.
Surprisingly and quite unfortunately, the average Nigerian on the street is yet to grapple with the reality of the novel coronavirus. One school of thought opined that the COVID-19 pandemic is not real and views government efforts to combating the disease as a smoke screen to enrich few political COVID-19 alarmists. The other school of thought is of the view that though the virus could be real but narrow it to be a “white man disease” of “big man sickness.” Despite government sensitisation efforts and warning about the lethal nature of the coronavirus, most people are still reluctant and adamant to adhere to government protocols and guidelines to curb the spread of the virus.
To this end, states and local governments should direct awareness to the rural areas. Traditional rulers, community leaders, churches and mosques leaders should as a matter of importance continuously enlighten and sensitise the rural populace on the reality of the coronavirus. In addition, the need to adhere to health protocol should be drummed into their heads. Such protocols are: regular hand washing under running water or use of hand sanitizers, wearing of face masks in public places, maintaining physical distancing of one meter apart among others.
As government plans reopening of schools amid COVID-19 pandemic, there is utmost need to be cautious and careful not to break the smoked fish while trying to bend it. This implies that stringent guidelines must be in situ before schools reopen so that effort toward combating the epidemic will not be jeopardised. It is instructive for the Presidential Task Force (PTF) and State Government Task Forces on COVID-19 in collaboration with stakeholders in the educational sector to brain storm and provide a workable, practicable and all-embracing guidelines and protocols before reopening schools.
To this end, an unwavering mechanism(s) should also be constituted to ensure compliance of such guidelines by all and sundry. And the time to do so is now.
Sunny Awazie wrote from Umuahia, Abia State.