COVID-19 and Risk Of School Reopening

The proposed partial reopening of schools is generating mixed feelings. It is because it is delicate. It is risky. The consequences, according to medical experts, may be fatal. It may spell doom.

By Emmanuel Oladesu

Students are excited. They miss school-colleagues, teachers, libraries, laboratories and social events. Academic life is static and many of them complain about boredom at home. Some may be depressed. Others are tired of lack of freedom for mischief.

Parents are cautious. It is because  life is so precious that it cannot be purchased. There is conflict between the pursuit of certificate and preservation of life. Which is more paramount?

But, to private school owners, school reopening is long overdue. Children cannot stay at home for ever, they argue, stressing that the end of Covid 19 cannot be predicted.

After hectic deliberations, the federal and state governments have now agreed that public and private secondary schools should reopen on August 17. The lifting of the ban on schooling is strategically restricted. Not all students will return to school. Elementary pupils are not included. The schools will only accomodate Senior Secondary Students (SS3) to write their West African School Certificate examinations.

Although the education commissioners have agreed to open schools, they are silent on the level of preparation that should warrant reopening in Covid period. How far can the new policy on  school reopening be implemented?

According to the guidelines, all returning students should wear mouth and nose masks. School authorities should provide washing facilities and hand sanitizers. Water should be provided. Students are to observe social distancing. Play, the hallmark of adolescence, is forestalled. No social congregation during break time. No extra-curricular activity. It is schooling amid justifiable apprehension.

How can compliance with anti-Covid 19 protocols be enforced and monitored? Adults are not even complying with the protocols. They are not good role models for youths and children. Indisputably, the envisaged level of compliance by the restless teenagers may be more difficult to attain.

Besides, the proposed two week revision ahead of the public examination is grossly inadequate, particularly for science students who must prepare for practicals. Having stayed at home since March without interactions with teachers, libraries and laboratories, how can failure be averted in the examination? Is the time for revision sufficient?

Remarkably, the proposed reopening is contrary to the professional advise offered by the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), the umbrella body for doctors who are at the centre of the Covid battle. Their expertise advice provides an opportunity for choice between life and disease. The NMA has emphasised that only the living can write exams. Since is feared that the country may move from the stage of community spread to micro-school transmission, the association  also patriotically counselled that prevention is always better than cure.

The body maintained that those agitating for school reopening will later turn around to blame the government for its dire consequences.

Why the government is in a hurry to open schools at a time the Covid figures are still rising beats imagination.  According to statistics, the number of patients in hospitals and isolation centres is still rising. More than 40, 000 Nigerians have been affected. They also suffer physical and psychological pains.  Many eminent persons, including governors, commissioners and top aides, have contacted the virus. Scores have died of the pestilence.

Fears are rife that many carriers are still spreading the dreaded virus in communities. The testing level is low and only few, relative to the general population, is captured.

The lifting of inter-state border closure may have also contributed to the spread across states. It is curious that many ignorant people still doubt the existence of the virus, despite startling revelations about the havoc it has wrecked.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 16 million cases have been recorded across the globe. Throughout the world, there is no prospect of an end to the calamity. Some countries that had relaxed restrictions are paying dearly for their mistakes.

Countries like Israel, South Africa South Korea and China, which hurriedly reopened school had retraced their steps as the rate of school transmission increased geometrically. In some parts of the world, students have died of Covid, thereby multiplying the agonies of families and governments.

If there is an outbreak in schools, which will amount to an emergency within an emergency, can the weak Nigeria health sector cope with the situation? The consequences are better imagined.

What also is the Covid status of teachers who will interact with students? What about students who may have contacted it in the community, but still asymptomatic? Or what if students contact it in school and go home to infect aged parents with underlying ailments?

Also, how would the students move to and fro schools? How safe is the public transport system? Since boarding house will not operate, what will be the fate of boarding students who live far from school?

Can any parent be at rest at home after allowing his child to face the risk of going to school at this difficult time?

It appears that government only decided to dance to the tune of impatient private school owners who are driven by profit motive.

Although private school proprietors are playing great roles in national educational development, it may also be true that they are locked in a battle of survival. Many of the private schools need maintenance. Their proprietors need money to pay teachers and non-teaching staff. The school compound needs maintenance.The survival of the private schools depends on expensive fees paid by students. The periodic and regular payment have been blocked by compulsory school closure and indefinite holiday.

The argument of private school owners also amounted to fallacies. It has been argued that schols will only reopen for students in the exit class for a limited time frame not exceeding three hours daily. What effective teaching-learning process can be accomplished by students who offer nine subjects 15 hours per week?

It has been said that reopening for SS3 students only meant that only few students will be accommodated. How few, particularly in highly congested public schools where the SS arm has up to six classrooms with an average of 80 students in each class? Therefore, the  rationalisation that the affected pupils will only have limited interaction is false.

Schools nationwide only have barely three weeks to make preparations to provide measures to prevent spread and the guidelines by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid 19. The time frame for compliance is short and inadequate, judging by the peculiar snail-like speed of response to matters of importance across sectors.

In whose interest is school reopening that may impose another avoidable challenge of school transmission? Should Covid go to school?

[The Nation]

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