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School resumption and the COVID-19 curve

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Oluwatosin Ojebisi

SIR: Many teachers have had to grapple with the impact of the unprecedented Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which made schools all over the world shutdown activities and adopt the online form of learning. But, having realised that online learning comes with its challenges and may not be sustainable especially in communities that lack adequate infrastructure to support it, in addition to the short attention span of students/pupils during online learning, returning to the classroom now could be the only way to secure the future and salvage the education sector from total collapse.

After six-month of shutdown, the federal Government recently approved a phased reopening of schools. The National Coordinator of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu had said, “For educational institutions, which include day-care, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, educational institutions should begin the process of working towards potentially reopening within this phase.

“However, we strongly recommend that states conduct a risk assessment to ensure all schools are at a level of compliance and create a monitoring mechanism to assess, create and monitor this level of preparedness. Meanwhile, all day-cares and educational institutions are to remain closed to in-classes until this level of risk is assessed. And if there will be opening of schools, it must be staged and preferably carried out in phases to ensure that this does not pose a risk to the general public and in particular to vulnerable groups that might end up getting infected by students going back home.”

Of course, states have the prerogative to fix a suitable date for resumption. For instance, Lagos State government announced recently that tertiary institutions are to reopen September 14 while primary and secondary schools may reopen tentatively on September 21. Still, we are faced with a myriad of questions and concerns on the safety measures in place ahead of resumption. What are the plans to decongest populated schools? What testing protocols are in place for schools? How will cases of students with underlying health challenges be handled?

Amid these, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have urged governments in Africa to promote safe reopening of schools. They contend that prolonged closure may lead to poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood pregnancies, and overall challenges in mental development of the children. Both organisations also emphasized the need to provide quick solutions to handwashing in schools, such as a tap, bucket and soap because only 47% of schools have access to basic sanitation services.

Even though the Federal Ministry of Education has declared that it is mulling the transfer of students from some of its over-populated unity colleges to others with lesser students, there is only so much it can achieve if COVID-19 guidelines, safety protocols, necessary arrangements had not been made in schools ahead of resumption. These and more are the concerns of not only parents but also academic unions and associations.

Ultimately, as schools reopen, there is a need to create and ensure a safe and secure learning environment for both the teachers and students. It is also pertinent to develop a strategic health protocol within the school system to monitor and minimise the transmission rate of the virus as well as setting up a platform where students who may be experiencing trauma, anxiety or any mental health issue could seek and get help.

  • Oluwatosin Ojebisi, Lagos.

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