There is still much to worry about

After five months of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the gates of many schools were flung open last week to students in final year to write their West African School Certificate examination (WASCE). Following a virtual Federal Executive Council session, the federal government announced August 4 as resumption date for schools while the West African Examination Council announced August 17 through September 5, for the examinations. The exams, earlier scheduled for April, were postponed in order to curtail the spread of Covid-19 pandemic.

However, while many are worried about the “hasty” reopening, considering the number of infections recorded daily, others are excited about the development. Prof. Oyesoji Aremu of the Department of Guidance and Counselling, University of Ibadan, said the move was relieving to many parents, students and other stakeholders. “The decision would also enable the exit classes, especially for students in Senior Secondary III to take and conclude their secondary education with a view to entering higher institutions of learning,” he said. Similarly, an educationist, Prof. Clement Kolawole said the development showed that the government was aware that it could manage the process in a way “that COVID-19 will not ground the education system completely.”

Indeed, available evidence suggests that Covid-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children. But the social, emotional, health and academic impact of long school closure on children could be overwhelming. Extended school closure is reportedly harmful to the child as it can lead to learning loss. Reopening the schools will create room to invest in the education of the child and by extension, the future of the country.

In agreeing to partially open the schools for the final students last week, the federal government drew up stringent guidelines that will, to a reasonable extent, prevent the spread of the highly infectious disease. These include the fumigation of all school premises – public or private, adequate spacing of desks to minimise contacts between and among students, provision of soap and running water for hand washing, hand sanitisers in addition to thermometers to check the body temperature of staff and students.

While some schools adhered to the measures to lower the risk of exposure to Covid-19, others were virtually unprepared. In many public schools across the country, the level of compliance is still very low. In many schools in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, for instance, the turnout of students was high and the level of compliance was reasonable as Covid-19 safety and health protocols were largely observed. The Minister of State for Education, Mr Chukwuemeka Nwajuiba, who monitored the resumption in Abuja was impressed. “I was at Federal Government College, Apo and can tell you that the students are fully aware of what they need to do to keep safe.”

However, that is not the case in many other schools. At the Junior Secondary School, Wuse Zone 2, for instance, the entire environment was unkempt and overgrown with weeds; there was no temperature screening; students moved around without face masks while the water basin provided was empty. A similar level of unpreparedness was evident at the Maitama Model School, where students huddled together in idle talks. All the Covid-19 health protocols were observed in the breach.

It is therefore trite to say that many schools in the rural areas would be in a more precarious state. Besides, some states are yet to open their schools, meaning that such students will have less than a week to prepare for the exams. In Edo State, for instance, schools opened on August 10 to enable operators of schools to complete the modalities for a safe school re-opening. As things stand across the country today, there is still much to worry about.