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‘Government conditions for reopening not beyond reach of private schools’

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Chief Yomi Otubela is the President, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) in Nigeria. He spoke with AYOYINKA JEGEDE on the continued closure of schools as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 and how it has been affecting the private schools owners and teachers.

How are your members coping in the midst of the closure of schools for so long?
It has been a challenging period for proprietors of private schools all over the country, most especially when this challenge has never been envisaged. The shutting of schools came a surprise. We never also knew that the close down will take this long because we had rated the virus at the same level with that of Ebola virus, thinking that within a few weeks normalcy will return. But this did not happen. As I am speaking with you, there is no resumption date in sight and this is making the situation worrisome. I must say that a good number of proprietors have been unable to meet the overhead costs of the schools especially the staff salaries. We have been living from the little savings we had. Some also look for menial or temporary jobs to do.

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Why are you pushing for re-opening of schools? Is the Federal Government’s promise to pay three months salaries of your staff not enough to cushion the effects of the shut down?
The issue of reopening of schools goes beyond payment of salaries; that is just an aspect. We should look at the children that are exposed to different social vices as a result of the shut down. The safest place for children is the school environment because of the availability of enough adults who can take care of them. Even those little kids that are still in early childhood education, a good number of parents prefer to leave them in the crèche or day-care instead of living them with nannies at home who at times go out of expectations and maltreat the children. That is one reason schools should reopen.

Also, many of these parents are working mothers who do not have reliable house-helps to keep their children with. Some of them are frontline workers; some of them go to their offices and don’t return home until evenings. They also need a safe and more secured environment to put their kids.

Apart from that, those teenagers also need to be under the guidance of educators who will keep them busy and engage them with academic works between the hours of eight in the morning and three in the evening. These will take the children away from idleness.

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Then, we also have children who are ready for examinations. The whole world will not wait for Nigeria. If the government decides that our students will not write their terminal examinations this year, other countries will write and that could demoralise our children. One of the reasons we push for schools reopening is basically for transitional classes – SSS3 students, JSS 3 students and Primary Six pupils – to finish their terminal exams and move on in life just like their counterparts in other developed countries are already leveraging on the internet to move on in life. It goes beyond payment of salaries; it is also about the future of our children.

As I speak with you, Oyo State has reopened schools and it has been very safe and hitch-free. This confirms that the children can be kept within the school environment with observance of all the protocols.

Are private schools ready to meet the government’s conditions for reopening of schools?
There is none of the conditions that are not within the reach of private schools. We could talk about the wash hand basin, infrared thermometer, physical distancing, wearing of face masks, the use of hand sanitisers and may be some billboards and posters in conspicuous places to further enlighten the people on what to do and what not to do. All these protocols are within our reach and affordable.

An average private school should be able to get at least two pieces of the infrared thermometer that goes between the range of N17,000 to N20,000. An average private school should be able to establish isolation centres. An average private school have existing water facilities; most of the classrooms in are not over crowded because there are fewer children as these are fees paying schools. There is virtually nothing in that protocol that is not within the reach of government-approved private schools.

What are the proofs?
We have a form that was designed by the Federal Ministry of Education that was circulated on their website on the readiness of schools. This form is a self-assessment form to show the readiness of the schools. Our members have filled this form in compliance with government’s safety protocols and that is our proof that we are ready.

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