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Back to School: How COVID-19 safety protocol put pressure on pupils, parents

By Daniel Anazia, Tobi Awodipe, Ijeoma Thomas-Odia, Maria Diamond, Ogechi Eze, Adetayo Adeowo and Onyinye Ezeilo
17 October 2020   |   4:18 am
To many pupils and students across the country, nothing feels good like returning to the classrooms following the re-opening of schools by both the federal and state governments.

Back to School

‘Govt Must Rethink Schools’ New Closing Schedule To Accommodate Working Parents’
To many pupils and students across the country, nothing feels good like returning to the classrooms following the re-opening of schools by both the federal and state governments. Having spent about six months at home as part of the efforts to contain the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease, many of them were bored and were itching to return to school. A secondary school student in Imo State, Tochukwu Okechukwu, said this much in July when The Guardian did a special report on the different initiatives the states had introduced to ensure that pupils and students remained academically engaged for as long as the schools remained shut.

He said: “I and my friends are bored at home. We want to start learning. We do not read the way we used to when schools were in session. We are appealing to the government to either re-open schools or make us to start learning somewhere else so that our brains can remain open.”

Thus, in many states, pupils/students have been excited to be back to the classrooms. They are happy to re-unite with their friends and teachers in a learning environment.

However, it has come with huge burden on their parents due to the COVID-19 safety protocols that have been introduced to guide the operations of educational institutions for the time being.

For instance, in Lagos State, schools would be fully re-opened on Monday, October 19. But the scrapping of after school lesson programme that used to keep pupils/students in school till 4.00/5.00pm has been hurting many homes. Many parents who spoke with The Guardian stated that although they were happy that school would fully re-open on Monday, the regulation that mandates schools to close at 1.00pm has come with the challenge of how to cater for their children when they return from school and effectively cope with the demands of their jobs/businesses.

“I am a factory worker. I go to work in the morning and come back in the evening. I can’t be home when my children will come back from school by 1.00pm. What will they be doing at home?

“So the government should please help re-schedule the closing time for students to make it easier for parents who are working. If they stay in school till five or six for extra classes it will be better. I can’t leave work early else my money will be reduced. Meanwhile, prices of things have gone up and it is with the little I am earning that I still pay my children’s schools fees because I don’t have anybody to help me,” lamented Maryanne Akpan, a mother of four living in Ilasamaja area of the state.

A working mum, Mrs. Elizabeth Ejiofor said: “I believe it is just for a few more weeks and everything will normalise but on the other hand, what will they be teaching them from 9.00am to 1.00pm? The children are carrying out the right precaution to stay safe. The government should extend the time. It’s too short for learning coupled with their wide syllabus. My child in junior secondary has about 17 subjects to study. How do they intend to meet up with that volume? How much time do they have to teach them? Also, SSS3 should start with a new syllabus too. In no time their exam will start. I think the government should reconsider the time. I don’t understand the education system in Nigeria any more.”

Adeniyan Odutuga, a civil servant also said: “There are some parents who are both working class; they don’t come home until night. How will they cope? These children need someone who will be at home to monitor them. If they were to stay longer in school, the teachers might be able to monitor them well than to leave them alone at home where you don’t know what they might be doing.

“Nowadays most children can’t be left alone at home because there are so many immoral things going on, on the television and the internet. If you try leaving them alone, it might cause problem for them in the future.”

Faced with this challenge, many parents have developed new ways of taking care of their children when they close from school. This, however, comes with some costs.

Mr. Femi Oguntola, who resides in Mushin area of the state, said the new school period has forced him to get a private home tutor who keeps the children engaged until he or their mother returns from work.

This is also applicable to Mrs. Happiness Adeleke. “The challenge I am passing through as a result of the resumption is that the hours the kids now spend in school are so short that they have to come back early. This has made me to employ a caregiver who takes care of them till I come home. But we are coping with the system. It is better than having them completely at home,” she noted.

A businesswoman, Anthonia Duru, said she has shut down her business to cope with the situation. “My children are all in pre-school and my house help who is in her finals in secondary school has resumed. I was forced to stay at home with the children. It’s a good thing that crèches and pre-primary classes have been asked to resume from Monday but I think after school lessons should be considered. That will ease the discomfort many parents are experiencing now,” she said.

Mrs. Olufolake Akintayo, an assistant manager at the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, said she has been alternating school runs with her husband. “We do the school runs on shift basis since we work from home on alternate days.”

Another civil servant, Dr. Mojisola Aderonmu, said: “It was not a robust decision. It doesn’t take into cognisance working parents. Fortunately for me, my husband works for himself; so he can babysit and work from home sometimes. But there are times he has meetings and has to work away from home. Our neighbour who is pregnant and currently working from home helps us to babysit. On days we are both working away from home and our neighbour has to go for her antenatal appointment, we ask a second cousin to come and babysit while one of us closes early from work that day.”

Mrs. Titilope Ajoke, a mother of three, lamented that the government’s decision has been affecting her career.

“I have two kids in primary school and one in nursery school. It is not very convenient because of my work schedule. Even when I am working from home, I can’t concentrate, as I have to juggle work and online schooling. When I have to work from the office I am worried that my kids have closed from school earlier than usual and I have to start rushing to pick them up, drop them off at home alone without an adult to supervise them and still return to work.”

Mr. Emenike Agwu is an importer at Ladipo auto spare parts market. His wife also works in an advertising company that closes at 6.00pm, Monday to Friday. They have three children aged 10, eight and six years, respectively, who are enrolled in a private school in Ajao Estate.

He narrated their ordeals thus: “They now close at 1.00pm and it is becoming quite difficult to parent them and attend to their needs when they return from school. My wife and I would still be at work by that time. However, I take consolation in the fact that they are not exactly toddlers. Also, I don’t go to the market everyday; I ensure that I rush back home as soon as possible on the days I go to the market. You can imagine if I were doing a 9.00am to 5.00pm job. Who will these children return home to after school especially since their school is just five minutes away from home? Will I ask my wife to resign from work because some people sat down and drafted a ‘thoughtless’ policy? So, I don’t understand the logic behind the 1.00pm closing time that leaves children vulnerable at home while their parents are at work.”

For Mrs. Onyinyechi Okafor, a banker with two years and seven months old set of twin, the initial idea of “placing resumption of crèches on hold was unacceptable.”

She added: “It’s almost as though the government was saying if you are a mother of toddlers don’t bother working. But how is that going to work in a country as ours where those who work can barely survive let alone people who don’t work. How much is my husband earning that I would have to quit my job to stay at home with the kids? We have bills to pay — the hiked house rent, electricity tariff, fuel price, food items, toiletries, tuition for our six-year old son, etc. How will his meagre monthly salary be sufficient for the family if I have to stay at home with the kids? I earn a lot more than my husband, and many of our extended family members fall back on us. So, if I quit my job to stay home with the children, I might as well sign my family’s death warrant.”

When asked how she has been coping with the situation, she explained: “I had to resort to striking a payment deal with my landlady who has a provision store in our building to help me take care of the twin and my older son when the school bus drops him off at home. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, the boy closed at 3.00pm, stayed with his siblings at the crèche till 6.00pm when I did pick them and we all went home. But now I handover my babies to my landlady at 6.00am. My husband waits at home till 7.00am when the school bus picks our son before leaving for his office. Do I feel comfortable with leaving my children, especially the twin, with my landlady? Absolutely not! But I don’t have other workable options. I can’t ask my husband to quit his job to take care of the kids either. One, he wouldn’t even know how to handle the twin even if he were to manage with our older son. Two, it would bruise his ego to quit his job and stay home with the kids; it’s not in our culture for a man to stay home and raise children. Three, however small the money he earns, it is taking care of some of our needs too. Four, I love my husband and can’t have him undergo depression because not leaving home to work on a daily basis can be depressing for any responsible adult. Five, the man loves his job despite the small income; he works hard with the hope for promotion and a raise at some point. He got the job a year-ago after losing his former job sometime last year.

“So really, government should have a rethink on this school resumption deals because whether the children close at 1.00pm or not changes nothing. Closing school by 1.00pm doesn’t have any effect on the virus in any way whatsoever. Same way keeping crèches on lockdown didn’t change the situation. Everyone is aware of the virus and we are all taking precautions.

“They should understand that the parents of these children that close at 1.00pm would still be at work by that time. Who do they return to? They should also understand that keeping crèches on lockdown is a big challenge to working mums as no formal organisation closes at 1.00pm. So, where do they want the children to go to while their parents are still at work? Considering how other working mums are complaining, if they don’t go back to the drawing board on this issue, other challenges would arise from sending children home by 1.00pm without parental presence.”

However, some parents told The Guardian they were comfortable with the 1.00pm closing time.

Mrs. Bose Olanrewaju, a food vendor whose daughter attends Ajao Estate Grammar School said: “The 1.00pm school closing time works for me because my daughter helps me with my food business. Considering that I no longer have to pay the sales girl who used to help me, it is a perfect arrangement”.

Like parents, pupils/students also shared their experiences with The Guardian, with many of them confirming that their schools were strictly implementing the COVID-19 safety protocols.

“My school has a stern policy of no nose mask, no entry,” said Kayinsola Adebayo, an SSS1 student of Surulere Girl’s Secondary School.

Kayinsola further said the sitting arrangement in the classrooms has been changed in compliance with the COVID-19 safety protocols.

Moyinsola Bidemi, a JSS2 student of Bright Star Secondary School, also said: “We are no longer allowed to share seats as the school ensures that every student has his/her own seat. We maintain two metres space between ourselves on the assembly ground. Most importantly, my school distributes nose masks weekly to students to ensure we all have clean nose masks. But constant wearing of the nose mask is something I am still trying to get used to. Recently, a friend of mine almost collapsed due to the wearing of nose mask all through the day.”

A pupil in one of the private primary schools in Ago, Okota, said he was not happy that his school has not been holding gatherings such as morning assembly and sporting activities since they resumed.

“In addition, we are not allowed to celebrate our birthdays in school and it is quite painful. We are not even allowed to use the swing or engage in any kind of play when school closes. You just remain in your classroom and wait for your parents to come and pick you,” he said.

Parents and students in other states of the federation also spoke with The Guardian. Below are the reports:

We Spend More Time On School Matters Now, Say Enugu Parents
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
It has not been a pleasant experience for some parents in Enugu State since the resumption of primary and secondary schools in the state. The awful experiences range from pressure to pay the third term fees, provision of educational materials as well as meeting up with other hygiene protocols set out by the schools for their students.

The state government penultimate Thursday announced the resumption of primary and secondary schools in the state and released a timetable that must be adhered to in line with the safety protocols against the ravaging Coronavirus disease.

The revised timetable, signed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mrs Nwanneka Onah, had stated that there would be nine weeks of instructions and examinations to round off the third term of 2019-2020 academic year.

She added that schools would break for nine days, from November 27 and resume on Monday, December 7 for the 2020-2021 academic year.

“Any school, be it public, mission or private, found to be contravening the approved school calendar shall be appropriately sanctioned,” she warned.

Findings showed that many schools that have re-opened in the state, especially private schools, have been running two shifts that begin at 7.30am and end at 5.00pm even as school days have been extended to Saturday.

One of the schools, Spring of Life International Schools, divided the sections in a such a way that in the primary section, those in year one to three begin at 7.30am and end at 12 noon, while those in year four to five begin at 12.30 pm and end at 4.30pm.

For the secondary section, those in JSS1 begin at 7.30am and end at 1.30 pm, while those in JSS2 begin at 8.30am and end at 2.30pm from Monday to Wednesday. Those in SSS1-2 begin at 7.30am and end at 2.30 pm from Thursday to Saturday. There is no JSS3 and SSS3 presently. Those in the nursery section have not started in the state.

Parents are meant to collect their children immediately after school to avoid overcrowding. They must wear facemasks to have access into the school. They must also have a pack of hand/face tissue and must undergo temperature checks daily on entrance to the compound. Parents usually are made to stay behind to ensure that their children were cleared to enter the classrooms before leaving the school premises.

Speaking on her experiences in the last two weeks, a mother of three, Mrs Theresa Ugokwe, told The Guardian that she has been finding it difficult to cope with the demands of the present situation. According to her, she spends more time on school matters now than before. She, however, commended the improved level of hygiene in the schools.

She said: “Two of my children are in one school but in different classes. One begins her day’s classes at 7.30 am, the other at 8.30am. So I would have to bring them to school and wait until they are cleared. In some cases, I will have to wait until the last one goes into her class before I leave. It is tasking but that is part of the sacrifice to get them going. Before now, I drop them and go my way. But now, I will come at 1.30pm and wait till 2.30pm to enable me take them together to the house,” she said.

Asked how she has coped with school fees, she stated: “I didn’t know they will ask us to pay school fees after the money we paid for online lectures and the data we bought. To me, since we are still being ravaged by COVID-19, I thought they should have given us some discount or do continuous assessments that will see them move into a new class. As I speak with you, my children did not complete their second term examinations. What it means is that they will complete the second term exams and be taking classes for third term at the same time. It does not make sense to me at all but what can I do?”

Another parent, Mr Johnson Ugwu, said the pressure on him at the moment was how to meet up with the demands of the resumption, stressing that he had not recovered from the stress caused by the COVID-19.

“I have not been paid in the last four months. Coronavirus has affected my job. I work in a private university. My wife is a teacher. We were being paid until few months ago when management declared that resources were no longer enough. Now that the children are back to school, demands have increased and we need to meet up with it all. Looking at what they want from us, it is difficult but that is life for you”, he observed.

‘Safety Measures In Plateau Schools Satisfying’
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
The Plateau State government has fixed October 28, 2020, as the resumption day for all the schools in the state.

With the exit of the final year students, the same modalities put in place as regard the COVID-19 protocols would still apply.

When the exit classes resumed last August 4 nationwide as directed by the Federal Government for the purpose of writing their final examinations, the environment and classrooms of each school were de-contaminated. At that time, the large entrances were locked, leaving only small footpath gates open where students, staff and parents washed their hands before entering the school premises.

There was a teachers’ task force for COVID-19 that directed people to the appropriate places where they washed their hands and used hand sanitisers. Students and teachers were all screened for their temperature before gaining entry into any school. Bed spaces in the hostels were also reduced in line with COVID-19 protocols. To ensure safety of both staff and students, members of the Civil Defence Corps were stationed at the gates to ward off any untoward situations.

Chief Isaac Shobayo, who accompanied her daughter to one of the private schools, told The Guardian at that time that measures put in place to ensure the safety of the students were satisfying.

Imo Students, Parents Rejoice As Schools Re-Open
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
After several appeals from stakeholders in the education sector, the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, approved the re-opening of schools in the state from Monday, October 5.

Speaking with journalists recently after the weekly Executive Council meeting presided over by the governor, the Commissioner for Information, Declan Emelumba, said the council directed that pupils, students and school officials must obey all the COVID -19 safety protocols.

Many parents, pupils and students who spoke with The Guardian, expressed joy over the decision to reopen schools.

A parent, Uche Nwankwo, said: “I am happy to hear that at last, schools are going to reopen next week Monday. This is cheery. We hope that the safety protocols would be obeyed to avoid the spread of COVID-19.”

A student in one of the schools in Owerri, Joy Okoro, said she would be in her school on the resumption day.

Her words: “After about six months, I am happy and ready to resume schooling once again. I am appealing that that health protocols be observed.”