Dates have been fixed for resumption of schools in Lagos State. However, KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE reports on challenges authorities need to address in public schools before they can safely reopen.
With COVID-19 cases reducing, states are beginning to talk about re-opening schools to more classes.
Lagos was first to announce resumption of schools last weekend. The Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, directed all tertiary institutions to re-open on September 14.
He also gave September 21, as resumption date for primary and secondary schools – though he added that the date could change depending on feasibility.
However, being the most-populous state in Nigeria with about 26 million people and the epicentre of the Coronavirus Disease (18,119 cases as at September 1), reopening schools fully in the commercial capital of the country is no easy task. This is particularly so for public schools which have large population of learners.
To maintain social distancing, Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Lanre Faghohun, said the institution would phase its resumption and hold online classes where the population is large.
Speaking in a radio interview on Monday, Fagbohun said final year students would be the ones resuming September 14, while others come in three months later.
He said: “We are starting with the 400, 500 and 600-Level students. And that will run for about two months, and the two months will be intensive with them – starting the lectures around 9 o clock in the morning and closing at 3 o clock for those of them that live off campus. And then the moment we are through with the final year group, we will go on to the 300 and 200-Level students.
“And the way we intend to do it for the 300 and 200-Level: on Mondays and Wednesdays, 300-Level students will be on campus. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, 200-Level students will be on campus. We will be able to maintain social distance because we have done an audit of our facilities; we know what each class will take. We know the number of students that will be coming in for 200 and 300 Levels, so that, at the end of the day, we are able to protect the lives of our students and our staff and protect them from the pandemic. “
Understanding that general courses (GNS) attract large number of students, Fagbohun said such classes would be restricted to online.
He said already, over 60 per cent of students were participating in the school’s e-learning programme, which would be repeated when in-class sessions resume – but not for GNS courses.
“After Senate has taken a decision…we will now go ahead and have face-to-face interaction with our students for a period of time, which will be more or less teaching the backlog of what we have online and then tutorials because 50 -65 per cent of students are already a part of it, it will not be a totally new thing to that class when we start face-to-face. And the face-to-face we will have is hybrid. For very large classes, we will still continue to deploy our online platforms. But for smaller classes, we will have face-to-face. Like the GNS is a very large class, it will still be online,” he said.
At Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), the Public Relations Officer, Mr. Olanrewaju Kuye, also said not all students would resume in 11 days’ time. He said seats in all classes in the institution had been marked to ensure seating is COVID-19 compliant.
“All the students cannot come in at the same time. What we are planning to do is that ND2 and HND II can be on campus on Monday and Tuesday. When some groups are in school, some others will not be in school. I can get you the details; we are about to do the meeting.
“In all our classrooms, we have labelled our seats showing social distance – three per desk of six so only three people will now sit there,” he said.
As per e-learning, he also said lecturers had been posting modules on the institution’s e-learning portal.
“We have been posting modules online. After posting modules, the lecturers will engage them class by class, department by department. Some lecturers use WhatsApp, others have their department online,” he said.
At primary and secondary levels, large population of learners is also a serious concern. At a recent training, some teachers complained of large classes up to 150 in a class. One English teacher said: “I have up to 150 pupils in my JSS2 class.”
A local government supervisor in Ikorodu, said the Local Government Education Authority has 16 primary schools with a population of over 16,800 pupils.
Two other teachers from Badagry also said they had up to 3,000a and 4,000 pupils attending their schools.
“There are over 3,000 in my school. I have 180 pupils in Primary Six in one school alone. We are the ones training their children (from Benin Republic). They cross the border to attend our schools,” said an administrator of a public school who did not want to be named.
She said there was need for more schools and classrooms to accommodate the teeming population.
Apart from population issues, Mr. Neye Solomon, a volunteer monitor of public schools, lamented that school furniture may be inadequate as many have been destroyed by miscreants who used schools as their playground during the lockdown.
He said some five schools in his area of Agege suffered such ill fate and wondered how the pupils would be able to maintain social distance without adequate furniture when they resume.
He said: “During the last monitoring we went for, we found that most of the benches and chairs of the students, these miscreants that got access through low fences packed all the chairs out – may be for football matches – but they are totally broken. I was surprised when they said they want to resume. At least I can mention four or five schools that similar things happened. And we are talking of social distancing? What do you expect the students to use when they get to school?”
Solomon listed Akilo Primary School, Ogba, Agege, and Oyewole Primary School, Mulero, Agege as some of the affected schools. He lamented that people hired to secure the schools were usually too old to do so.
While praising efforts by the Lagos State Government to ensure schools keep to the COVID-19 protocol, Mrs. Olufunso Owasanoye, the Executive Director, Human Development Initiative (HDI), a civil society organisation, which partners with the government on capacity building and monitoring of Universal Basic Education (UBE) projects, called for more investment in infrastructure.
She said: “I will give kudos to Lagos State because they are really trying their best and putting in all efforts. Like you get to schools and you see banners about face masks, to be compliant with this COVID-19. We can see for this SS3 examination there was social distancing.
“But in this situation where a teacher said there are 150 in a class, there is no space, I am still thinking how they are going to manage that situation. They are putting all measures in place on how to manage the situation. I know to bridge that gap is not something that will happen soon but I am sure they will do something about it. In some schools, once JSS3 and SS3 are not in school, there will be space and they can spread some of the children.”
Responding to questions about how the state would manage population on resumption, the Chairman, Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Mr. Wahab Alawiye-King, told The Nation that resumption would be staggered.
“We are doing everything humanly possible to make sure they maintain distance. And the governor said the resumption is not cast in stone. Resumption is on the 21st but we have to follow some processes. There are standard operating processes we must follow to ensure that we are able to resume.
“And like we have said, it is going to be a staggered resumption. So definitely the upper primary will come in first then we will stagger the remaining classes. So the committee is meeting today (Tuesday) to finalise and fine-tune most of the recommendations that were put up by a sub-committee. The decision will be out today and the governor would announce that,” he said.
Alawiye-King also said the government was aware that some public schools were burgled and would address the issue.
“There was kind of increase in burglary in some of the schools and the government is on top of it. We are monitoring and trying to correct that. We are collaborating with other security agencies like the LNLC, the safety commission. They took advantage of the absence of the people in the school and that is how they got access to the schools,” he said.