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‘Our teachers have started hawking facemasks due to hardship’

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Amusa Olawale Mohammed is the Lagos State president of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS). In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, he laments the sufferings of private school teachers following the continued lockdown of schools.

How have you and members of your association been coping without any income in the last couple of months?
It hasn’t been very easy I must confess. As we all know, the lockdown was effected towards the end of the second term and many schools were yet to collect full school fees from parents and since then, nothing has been forthcoming from any quarter. Many schools paid March salary and about 50 per cent paid half salary for April while some schools are still paying about 25 per cent to their staff while some are not paying anything at all. We know teacher’s salary isn’t that much to begin with, so you can imagine what the situation is now.

As to how some of our members have been coping, the proactive ones have been doing one or two things to feed their family. Some of our teachers have started selling facemasks and shields and some other items inside traffic on the streets of Lagos. Some are being engaged by parents as lesson teachers. But as we know, not all parents can afford this. A lot of schools started online schooling then, but it is not so successful as a lot of parents defaulted on payment.

The Federal Government recently announced that it was going to pay the salaries of teachers…
(Cuts in) The money is not free money; it is a loan and we haven’t received any directive on how it would be disbursed. However, we know how this country is and while we are hopeful, we know anything can happen. The loans would be given to schools at one digit interest and moratorium, which they would repay after a specified period of time. This is what we were told; the palliatives would come through loans and not grants.

Our national president has written letters to the Federal Government in this regard and this is why the education sector is being included in the N2.3 trillion stimulus package being given to certain businesses in the economic sector but we are yet to hear or get anything. Out of the N50 billion palliative loans given to SMEs earlier, very few school proprietors benefitted. The highest amount any school in Lagos got was N1.8 million. These are schools with monthly overheads of N12 million and above.

Why are proprietors pushing for re-opening of schools when the FG has offered to pay teachers?
Despite what you are reading in the media, we haven’t seen anything yet so we need to push for resumption. Most private schools don’t have over-populated classrooms so we can practice social distancing very well. Most of the challenges we are envisaging, we wouldn’t experience them. School fees are our only source of income and we have many people that are working for us and looking up to us. We provide jobs to thousands of Nigerians, so it is not a bad idea to push for schools to re-open so that academic activities can resume fully.

More importantly, students have been at home for too long and this can affect them negatively and it would be very difficult for us to close this gap when schools eventually resume. Online teaching can never be compared to physical face-to-face teaching. We want schools to reopen so that school owners can take care of things. Banks are running after many proprietors now because they have defaulted loans. Because of the present situation, banks have stopped giving loans to school owners because they don’t know when schools will reopen and they don’t want to tie their money down. So it’s a catch-22 situation for many of us.

Some people have argued that it would be difficult for children to practice social distancing and use their facemasks throughout the day. What do you say to this?
Personally, I believe it is more dangerous to keep them at home because without sounding boastful, we give them more attention at school than they receive at home. Most parents leave their children at home and go out to work. Do you know what they are doing when you are out of the house? The children are now playing football on the streets while some have joined bad gangs and cults.
These are some of the reasons we are urging the government to allow schools to reopen.

We understand the issues very well: the young ones would use facemasks and shields and wouldn’t be allowed to take them off. Our classrooms are not congested so the students can practice social distancing. We have instructed our members not to bring children together for things like assembly, inter-house sports, debate, sporting or leisure activities of any kind and so on. When they come to school, they learn and go back home.

Before any school is approved, they must have a health room with a qualified nurse to run it. Every school must also be attached to a private hospital close to them so they can use it in case of any eventuality. Every school must have isolation rooms; use infrared thermometres on every student before they come in, wash hand basins with soap and running water as well as sanitisers for every student. We believe with this, we are good to go. We cannot close the schools forever because of this virus. We are resolved to do the best we can with the situation we have found ourselves in now.


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