Many parents and teachers in Oyo State are in a dilemma over the decision of the state government to reopen schools on July 6, this year, amidst rising incidences of COVID-19 cases in the state and in the country. During the week, three Commissioners in the state and a number of medical experts tested positive for the virus.
Presently, Ibadan is not a city where many wear facemask or observe social distancing. Hustling and bustling in the major markets remain unchecked, as locals still believe that coronavirus “can infect only rich and powerful individuals who spend longer hours in air-conditioned rooms.”
The Minister of State for Education, Mr Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, had while speaking during the meeting of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, described the plan by the state government to re-open schools as insensitive.
“For you to decide to unleash this in the public in the face of the pandemic is to be insensitive. Nigeria has not gotten to optimal testing, so we cannot forecast where this epidemic is most positioned. The least we can do is to keep our children under lock and key until we are sure it’s safe.”
“When you say the education sector opens, you are opening transporters, food sellers, and the like. The country cannot afford it now,” he said. A widower and social worker in one of the private hospitals in Ibadan, Mr. Tade Oguntunsi, captured the mood of parents and teachers in the state.
He said: “I became a widower about four years ago. As a single father, I am struggling to cope with raising our four children and three of them are in a public secondary school in Mokola while the youngest is at a public primary school, also in the same area. We know the facility in all these schools; if my salary could cope with sending my children to private schools, I know good schools my children should attend.
“To me, it is suicidal to allow students to resume now. I won’t take that risk. I will rather take them to other states to continue their education. We know children will play and share things among themselves. Which other state in the Southwest is taking that risk? Why the hurry?”
For Mrs. Omotayo Mala-Adebayo, a mother and public affairs analyst, “to be sincere with you, my kids are going nowhere, except I am fully convinced that certain things are put in place for their safety. They have to be sure that two teachers will be available for each class, one teacher for monitoring and one for teaching. And do we have testing materials available? We need maximum prevention and protection in schools. These are the conditions that could make me release my children.”
Speaking in the same vein, Mrs. Busayo Oyewumi, said: “I can’t allow my children to go to school now. No proper provision has been made. Nobody knows what may happen on the way. It is not safe for them now because they use items like face masks together. Do the teachers have materials to test them? It is wrong at this period to let them go to school.”
Lady Ifeoma Patricia Amaechi-Obi, who is a mother of two, said:” I am a poor widow. I can’t allow my kids to go to any school. It is not safe to do so. Taking them to school now is not safe. They are too young, pliable and malleable. They are ignorant of what they do. Kids will definitely exchange facemasks. They don’t understand the implications. Even my kids exchange facemasks at home. My son even said we could pray not to catch COVID-19. Can you see how children think?
“Can the schools be decontaminated and disinfected before the resumption? How many schools can afford that? How potent would the materials for decontamination be? Can the schools meet the COVID-19 and Federal Government guidelines? How hygienic would other kids they would be mingling with in schools be? From the foregoing, we are not ready at all and it is not safe.”
Otunba Mojeed Olalere, who has two children in a private secondary school in the state, however, said he would allow his children to go to school because they needed to do their final examinations so that they can move to the next classes. “They need to regain the time they have wasted. They will abide by the guidelines of COVID-19. However, if my children are in primary school, I won’t allow them to go to school,” he said.
Also bothered about the decision of the state government to reopen schools were some teachers, who are expected to return to work on Monday, June 29. A teacher in one of the public primary schools in Ibadan, who pleaded anonymity, warned the state government not to play politics with the lives of innocent children who are supposed to be under the care of their parents during this pandemic.
The female teacher said: “We don’t know what the government wants to achieve with this decision. If all schools in the country, including universities with adults are closed, why should primary and secondary schools in Oyo State be in a hurry to reopen? I am sure the government took a wrong advise on this matter and it would be held responsible if any untoward spike happens in any school. We saw one firm in Ibadan with over 70 victims” .
A private school teacher, Mr. Ayodeji Ehinmola, said he was worried that the necessary things had not been put in place to guarantee the safety of school children.
“Teachers have not been given proper orientation. For me, I don’t think re-opening of schools is the next thing. Higher institutions should be reopened first,” he noted.
Another teacher who simply identified himself as Tope, said: “It is a kind of data collection to test run the real re-opening. As far as I am concerned I want to support the way the government wants to go about it.”
Speaking on the matter, the state chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), said their position on the safety of their members and pupils remains unchanged.
The state Chairman of the NUT, Mr. Tojuade Adedoyin, who spoke through Mr. Afolabi Oladele, said the union had demanded a safe working and learning environment for teachers and pupils from the government.
He said: Initially, when the government said the resumption should be June 29, it was based on the suggestion of NUT that there should be a test-run by the teachers. And the government listened to the suggestion made by the leadership of the union that they should test run the resumption by the teachers before the pupils would resume. That is what we have on ground now.
“The information received on the radio from the Commissioner for Education indicated that all schools will have all COVID-19 logistics and preventive items on ground and by extension, isolation centres. The private schools too would not be exempted and the government has set up a taskforce that will be monitoring everything that has been put in place.”
Reacting to the remarks by some parents that they would not release their children to return to school, the NUT Chairman said: “There is no way parents will be forced to release their children. All we are saying is that the lockdown should not be in perpetuity. But at the same time, safety should be paramount for everybody.”
Despite the concerns raised by parents and teachers, the Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Olasunkanmi Olaleye, said the state government would go ahead with the plan.
According to him, the government was ready to intervene in any school and salvage the situation should a teacher or pupil become symptomic. Last Wednesday, the federal Ministry of Education released the guidelines for the re-opening of schools following the announcement by the Oyo State government that all terminal classes, including Primary Six, Junior Secondary School Three (JSS3) and Senior Secondary School Three (SSS3) should resume on Monday, July 6.
The conditions were contained in a document, titled, “Guidelines for Schools and Learning Facilities Reopening after COVID-19 Pandemic Closure”, submitted to the National Assembly.
According to the document, each school is “required to create temporary isolation spaces and fully-equipped clinics before reopening.”They were also mandated to “ensure establishment of a school COVID-19 referral system including protocols and procedures to take if learners, teachers, administrators and other education personnel become unwell while in schools.”
Proprietors were also required to construct additional structures and employ more teachers to ensure that they accommodate their students by adhering to the two-metre spacing system in classrooms.
They were also asked to seek “grants to procure soaps and buckets, ensure regular safe water supply, ensure a constant supply of learning and instructional materials and pay salaries on time”.Investigations showed that the Oyo State government had not entirely met these conditions at the time of filing this report.