Schools’ Resumption: Ensuring the Safety of Nigerian Varsities Amidst Covid-19

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With the directive by the federal government that schools across the country, should resume despite the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic which has led to an increase in the number of cases, the management of some universities explained to Funmi Ogundare the efforts they have taken to prevent the spread of the virus among students and staff

Penultimate week, the Federal Government gave a directive that schools across the country should reopen. The decision was taken at a meeting that had governors, commissioners and other stakeholders, where a consensus was reached.

Despite the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic which has led to an increase in the number of cases, the federal government had directed the management of individual federal government-owned tertiary institutions to resume academic activities while putting in place safety protocols and guidelines laid down by the Presidential Task Force (PTF).

The Spokesperson of the Ministry of Education, Mr. Ben Goong, in a statement said protocols such as compulsory wearing of facemasks by all students, teachers and workers in all schools , must be put in place, adding that there must be temperature checks and provision of hand washing facilities at strategic locations in all the schools.

According to him, “Ensuring constant supply of water and sanitisers, enforcement of maintenance of social distancing and suspension of large gatherings such as assembly and visiting days, avoiding overcrowding , including limitations in class sizes and hostel occupancy.”

The ministry also stressed the need for functional health clinics with facilities for isolation and transportation of suspected cases to medical facilities, and that there must be adherence to all other non-pharmaceutical protocols, restrictions and containment measures as may be prescribed/approved by the Presidential Task Force(PTF) from time to time.
Consequent upon the directive, the senate of some tertiary institutions including private universities held meetings to deliberate on plans for its resumption for the 2019/2020 academic session, and some even set up Coronavirus prevention committees.

For instance, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, will be resuming academic activities on February 8, 2021, which was suspended due to the strike embarked on by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. Its senate has also approved the cancellation of 2020/2021 academic session.

The final year students in the faculty of Phamarcy, clinical students in the College of Health Sciences and year four students in the Faculty of Agriculture are expected to come into residence, while other students are to attend their classes virtually.

The Registrar of the University, Mrs. Margaret Omosule in a statement made available to THISDAY, said the approved resumption is subject to periodic review in line with the realities and trend of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said the Senate of the university was emphatic on the need for both staff and students to strictly adhere to the Covid-19 protocols to prevent the transmission of community transmission.

According to her, “Staff, students and other members of the university community, must adhere strictly to the recommendations of the Covid-19 committee set up by the university administration on resumption and on-line consideration through regular washing of hands with soap and running water, use of hand sanitiser, compulsory wearing of facemasks and social distancing.”

As part of the recommendations from a virtual meeting of the postgraduate college board of the university held on January 12, to deliberate on resumption implications for postgraduate students, the board took an informed decision that all postgraduate students, both newly admitted and returning, be allowed to come into campus once the university reopens .

According to the board, these students not only take lectures, but some have practical sessions and interact weekly or every fortnight with staff and other students in the department and faculty for pre-field and post-field seminars as well as oral examinations, among others.

“The board is aware that students, both undergraduate and postgraduate cannot stay off their programmes indefinitely. It is also aware that for students to physically resume, anti-COVID 19 pandemic measures must be put in place for both sets of students and all staff as stipulated by the federal government.

“Cognizant of the fact that students have two options; physical and/or virtual resumption; the board is mindful of the challenges that go with each of the options at a time like this. The board strongly believes that their limited number can be conveniently accommodated without any hazard once adequate measures are put in place to safeguard their lives from threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On its own part, the University of Lagos, Akoka, approved the commencement of academic activities for the completion of the first semester of 2019/2020 academic session for both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes virtually from January 25 through the institution’s Learning Management System (Lagonline).

The Registrar of the University, Mr. Azeez Oladejo said in a release, that due to the second wave of Coronavirus, all lectures, continuous assessment and examinations for the first semester shall be held virtually (both synchronous and assychronous) as students cannot be accommodated on campus at this time. “The first semester examination shall commence on Monday March 15, 2021 and end April 1, 2012.The 2019/2020 second semester shall commence virtually in a blended mode on April 12, 2021 and end on August 14, 2021, ” he said.

Resumption of academic activities will be at no cost to the students, as Azeez appealed to parents and guardians to provide appropriate support to enable their wards participate optimally, in the online classes .

” Parents/guardians as well as students are hereby informed that the university of Lagos shall bear the full cost of data of all students through a specialised toll free data arrangement during the three-week examination period.”

The management, however enjoined students who are yet to complete their 2019/2020 first semester course registrations online, to seize the window period provided to complete their registrations.

The decision by the institution to commence virtual classes, THISDAY gathered, may be connected to the fact that some of its top officials, recently, tested positive and even died as a result of the virus.

The Head the Media unit of the university, Mrs. Olufadeke Akinleye confirmed to THISDAY that the reason why students cannot be accomodated in campus hostels, is to reduce risk of Covid-19 spread, adding that all lectures have been migrated because of its large classes and the impossibility of enforcing social distancing in the existing lecture halls, in line with best practices in higher education worldwide.

“The current protocols in place are as dictated by the PTF on Covid-19 viz ensuring social distancing at campus events, migrating classes and meetings to virtual platforms, making water soap and sanitiser available at all campus locations and insisting masks be worn at all times and places on campus, ” she stressed.

The Head of the Public Relations, The University of Ilorin, Mr. Kunle Akogun told THISDAY that the the institution was fully ready to welcome all its students back on campus for the resumption of academic activities, having lost more than 10 months of academic activities to the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic.

In observing all Covid-19 prevention protocols, the university has put in place a number of measures which include; adoption of virtual learning by which lectures would be delivered and taken online . Akogun said this started on January 11 and it has been going on smoothly and will continue even after physical resumption of classes.

As the need to resume physical classes becomes imperative, he noted that Unilorin has adopted a phased system that would ensure that the return of students to campus , would be staggered into four phases; return of students with outstanding first semester examinations on January 25, and would return home after their examinations, final year and postgraduate students coming into campus on February 1; 100 level students coming into campus by February 15, while March 1, will witness all other students coming into campus.

According to Akogun, this is to ensure that the institution do not have a huge concentration of students on campus at any given time.

He said the management has provided hand washing facilities in all students’ areas, such as lecture theatres, examination halls, and places commonly frequented by staff and students, adding that the Coronavirus prevention committee has provided hand sanitisers at each handwash points.

” Each student should have at least five changeable facemasks and pocket sanitisers. Enforcement of the no-squatting policy in the university hostels will be strictly pursued to ensure the physical distancing policy of Covid-19 prevention.”

While appealing to the government to provide resources for the expansion of the existing infrastructural facilities, especially classrooms and lecture theatres to make physical distancing possible while physical classes are going on, Akogun said the university management will continue to support its health services to ensure the safe handling of emergency cases.

Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State also adopted a staggered resumption for physical and online classes. It opened its doors for students on January 17 in batches: A and B. While batch A were expected to resumed from January 17 to 28, batch B will be resuming from March 21 to 25.

Batch A, according to the resumption guidelines made available to THISDAY by the Director, Communications and Maketing, Dr. Joshua Suleiman, for fresh and returning students, consisted of newly admitted 100 level students, 200 level direct entry and conversion students, students studying education-related courses and foundation students, 300 level returning students (except those on SIWES posting), as well as all 400 to 600 level clinical medical students. Batch B consists of 200 and 400 level students .

Fresh students were required to come with their Covid-19 safety kits and alcohol-based sanitisers) on resumption. Aside that, they were all required to undergo Covid-19 screening at the cost of N25,000 borne by the students at the university’s Amphitheatre on resumption while returning students will be required to do a rapid diagnostic test at no cost to the students and parents, but at a cost to the university

According to Suleiman, “the result of the test takes about 20 minutes. If the result of the student is okay, the student proceed straight to the hall of residence. Any student with positive result from antibody testing will go through standard Covid-19 screening (PCR) at the university’s medical facilities.”

He noted that such a student, will be isolated in the designated halls (Bethel Splendour for males and Ogden for females) pending the outcome of the PCR testing, adding that the cost of the PCR will be borne by the students.

Asked what Covid-19 protocols have been put in place by the management of the institution to ensure safety of staff and students, he said, “there is an approved standard isolation centre where anyone who tests positive is isolated, monitored and properly and adequately catered for.”

The director said different entry and exit points in and out of the campus where temperatures of people are checked with infrared thermometer have been created, adding that they have also placed handwashing and sanitising facilities all over the campus for all to use.

Aside enforcement of social distancing, there is also constant communication about the need for everyone to help halt the transmission of Coronavirus by strictly adhering to the approved health safety protocols.

Such communication Suleiman affirm, comes through different platforms; the university’s weekly newsletter, emails from HR department, official correspondence from the vice chancellor to the university community, campus outdoor advertising medium and through word -of-mouth communication.