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Reopening schools: Govt, operators need to be more responsible, responsive, says educationist, Oyinsan

AS federal government grants schools permission to resume academic activities, following eight months of Covid-19 induced shutdown, Nigerians have been asked to hold government accountable for the guidelines and resources that must be put in place to provide for safe reopening and reduce incidence of the coronavirus.

This call was made by the co-founder at Lekki Peninsula College (LPC)/Lekki Peninsula Affordable Schools (LPAS), Dr. Bunmi Oyinsan, during her interview on Arise Tv, on Monday, October 5.

Some of those things government must make available include provision of the right sanitary infrastructure to ensure children in public schools have water and soaps. These are the least government can do for pupils and students to wash their hands at regular intervals, among other safety precautions.

“The use of face masks… that is the least we must ensure are put in place. Even if it is the type they have to wash on a daily basis, we must make those materials available for them. We must also utilise available space in such a manner we are not risking the lives of the students,” she said.

Speaking on the need for some pre-reopening consultation among the tiers of government, Oyinsan said it should have started with the federal government liaising with state governments interacting more closely with the local governments, to plan better.

“Instead of a situation where some states are actually taking the things into their hands, to reopen schools before the FG gave its go-ahead for all schools to open. It shouldn’t have been so. There should have been more close interactions in planning because the rate of epidemiology, differ from place to place. There are some States that have very few cases of outbreak. There are States that have more. So, those States should have been encouraged to look at their environment and see when it would be right for them to reopen schools because a lot of things have to be put in place.

“It is the lives of our children that are at stake. What kind of readiness do you have at the community level, for instance, if you open schools in a place that looks like they have high incidence and there is a sudden outbreak, what is the preparedness of the health institution in that community to take care of the situation and what is the infrastructure on the ground for individual schools,” said Oyinsan.

In most cases, Oyinsan said, private schools don’t have issues, especially highbrow private schools, since many have the capacity to afford to have the kind of space they need to ensure social distancing among the children.

“But when we are talking about low cost schools, government-run schools, there has to be more concerted efforts to protect the lives of the children and the teachers. There needs to be constant education on a daily basis. These are kids! You tell them one thing in the morning, by mid-day they have forgotten. What are the things on ground to ensure social distancing sinks into their heads? Even the issues of mask, not all children can actually sit in the classroom for a long period of time with the mask on. Yet, it is important for them to be protected. So, depending on the age, the class, there are a number of things that need to be put in place,” Oyinsan insisted.

The proprietor said that Ebola had prepared Nigerians for the incidence of Covid-19 as some of Ebola safety guidelines share similar protocols with the coronavirus pandemic.
“At the school level itself… I keep saying that as bad as Ebola was, it prepared us, in a way, for Covid-19 and there are lessons we learnt from the Ebola outbreak that we can also use. During the Ebola pandemic, in Lagos State, I know that at the entrance level of school, they had this touchless thermometer device to gauge temperature of children and anybody coming in into the schools premises and then some type of sanitation system by the school gate to see that hands are washed, including the classrooms. Even where there were no sanitisers as such, soap and water were used. So, that means running water and taps must be fixed at strategic places in the schools. A lot of these things must be in place if we are serious about opening schools, keeping schools opened and keeping the epidemic low,“ she admonished.

Conceding the possibilities of these conditions not being met and the telling consequence it may have on income and gender gaps, the educationist said she has little or no confidence in the gaps being bridged.

“I have very little confidence that children of the Have and those of the Haves-not may be bridged. If anything, this situation has broadened that gap. I also know that not all the children would be able to come back; either because their parents lost their jobs, or they had to move from their houses when rents were not paid and some have had to move from Lagos and so forth. Of course, like the highbrow schools, we have also had to explore remote forms of relaying lessons. Very few of our children have electricity, let alone internet access among others, lamented Oyinsan.

In order to minimise in-person interaction, schools had resorted to online classes to avoid children contracting the virus during school hours, Oyinsan said there are psychological limitations to such initiative.

”Television or zoom classes cannot replace the kind of interactive relationship you need between a teacher and learners. I guess people just have to be creative,” she said.
Relating her experience, the educationist maintained that creativity is what is demanded of managers of the nation’s educational institutions. Speaking about some of the measures, her school had to devise to adhere to the Covid-19 safety guidelines, she said her school had to adopt weekly roaster schedule.

“As we have resumed with a lot of our students not turning up, what we have put on ground is a rotational kind of schedule. Some people come to school Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for one week, while others will come the other week, following in the same order. Just so we are able to spread the children wide enough to observe the social distancing and keep them safe. People just have to be creative with kind of resources available to them,” she enlightened.

In the wake of the outbreak of the coronavirus, the federal government had ordered the shutdown of schools nationwide in March 2020 in a bid to contain the spread of the Covid-19 disease. Even though the Federal Government started easing numerous coronavirus-enforced restrictions from May, with officials feeling reluctant about reopening schools, this did not stop many state governments from approving resumption for private and state-owned institutions in September, appearing to force the Federal Government’s hand. This prompted the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu to announce full reopening of all schools, during a press conference on Friday, October 2, to resume academic activities.

According to the minister, unity schools in the country are to resume on October 12, while states and private schools are allowed to determine their own modalities of reopening.

He appealed to school administrators to adhere to the guidelines for the reopening of schools announced by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.

As at Monday October 6, 2020, over 59,345 Nigerians have been infected with the virus; 1,113 lost to the pandemic; 50,768 have recovered. It is doubtful this number will abate, despite the Covid-19 safety measures being directed by the federal government, as schools reopen across the country.

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