Safety Paramount in Reopening of Schools, UN Tells FG

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Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri

The United Nations (UN) has called on Nigeria to prioritise school safety and learners’ protection over any consideration in reopening of schools after a long closure that was caused by the spread of COVID-19 pandemic disease.

A statement by the UNs’ office in Nigeria said that safeguarding education from attack is urgently needed to restore confidence in schools as places of protection for children and teachers.

The statement, which was issued yesterday, noted that this is particularly pressing in light of COVID-19, which affected 46 million primary and secondary learners across Nigeria due to pandemic-related school closures.

A quote in the statement, which was attributed to the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Edward Kallon, said: “As state governments plan to reopen schools after prolonged closures, building a resilient education system to withstand future shocks should be included in pandemic response plans.”

Kallon noted that prioritising safety in schools for educators and learners is an indication of the government’s commitment to protecting investments in the education sector and a validation of Nigeria’s endorsement of the “Safe Schools Declaration.”

He said that while the world marks the first-ever International Day to Protect Education from Attack under the theme “Protect Education, Save a Generation” more than three million children in the conflict- affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe in North-east Nigeria are in need of education-in- emergency support.

Kallon said: “Education is essential to helping crisis-affected communities in the North-east rebuild and recover. Attacks on schools are a direct attack on future generations. I call on all parties to the conflict to take all necessary measures to protect education and give learners a chance to build a brighter future.”

The statement said that the UN vehemently condemned any and all attacks on education including abductions of school children, school-related gender-based violence, herders-farmers clashes, and repurposing of schools for use as isolation centres, IDP camps and markets or for military purposes.

Also, a comment ascribed to the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, said: “As the world fights to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, children and youth in conflict zones remain among the most vulnerable to its devastating impact. We must ensure our children have a safe and secure environment in which to learn the knowledge and skills they need for the future.”

Similarly, the UNESCO Director-General, Mr. Audrey Azoulay, said: “Schools must remain safe places, free of conflict and violence. Our collective futures as well as the achievements of all development goals depend on it. Safeguarding the right to education for all contributes to the achievement of sustainable development and nurtures the international community’s decades-long gains towards peace, economic prosperity, and social inclusion worldwide.’’

The UN also warned incessant attacks on schools and learners could reverse the gains on education investments made over the years by the government of Nigeria, multilateral and bilateral institutions as well as the private sector partners.

In her own remark, the UNICEF Executive Director, Ms. Henrietta Fore, said: “Attacks on schools are a violation of humanity and basic decency. We must not allow these senseless attacks to destroy the hopes and dreams of a generation of children. We must do all in our power to ensure those schools and the children and teachers within them are protected.

“As the world begins planning to re-open schools once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, we must ensure that schools remain safe places of learning, even in countries in conflict.”

With school reopening plans underway in many states, the UN called for increased funding, noting that it would go a long way in mitigating the effects of prolonged school closures on learners, especially vulnerable children, including girls and others living with disabilities. In the North-east Nigeria, education in emergency partners is appealing for $55 million to provide emergency education to 3.1(million) conflict-affected children this year.

The statement said: “So far this year, only $3.3 million, a mere 6 per cent of the total needed, has been received so far.

“The government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to build a resilient education system, invest in human capital and strengthen communities who act as first responders in the event of attacks on schools.

“To deliver for children in Nigeria, education must remain on top of the public agenda while government should boost efforts to translate its vision for education into real change for children, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners.”

The statement recalled that the protracted conflict in the North-east has had devastating impacts on education.

It said that 611 teachers were killed and 910 schools damaged or destroyed while more than 1,500 schools were forced to close and some 4.2 million children in the North-east are at risk of missing out on an education between 2009 and 2018, adding that hundreds of girls have been abducted, some even from their own schools, which were meant to be safe zones.