Feature: School Resumption and Flattening the COVID-19 Curve

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by Dorcas Omotayo

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Teachers all over the world had to grapple with the impact of the unprecedented Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), since schools were shutdown, the only way of remaining relevant was to adopt the online teaching and learning. However, having realized that online learning comes with its challenges and may not be sustainable, especially in communities that lack adequate Information and Communications Technology infrastructure. This is coupled with the fact that the attention span of students/pupils is very short 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, this was made known by the National Coordinator of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu. According to him, “For educational institutions, which include daycare centres, primary, secondary schools and tertiary institutions; educational institutions should begin the process of working towards potentially reopening within this phase.

“However, we strongly recommend that states should 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 daycare centres and educational institutions are to remain closed to classroom teaching until this level of risk is assessed. And if there will be opening of schools, it must be staggered 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.”

Nonetheless, states have the prerogative to fix a suitable date for resumption, for instance, Lagos State Government announced recently that tertiary institutions are to reopen 14th September while Primary and Secondary schools may reopen tentatively on 21st September. Still, we are faced with a myriad of questions and concerns like, what are the safety measures in place ahead of resumption? How will the school management handle anxiety and ensure both students and teachers are productive? What are the plans to decongest populated schools? What are the testing protocols for schools? How will cases of students with underlying health challenges be handled? Among other rhetorical questions.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s COVID-19 curve is far from flattening as we have recorded 54,743 cases and counting. But, sadly, some people believe that the curve is flattened as a result of several measures implemented by the government such as wearing face mask, observing social distancing and adhering to the nationwide curfew. In actual fact, the reduction in new COVID-19 infections being witnessed is as a result of the decline in the number of samples collected across the states. This was stated in August by the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, during a briefing in Abuja.

Amidst these, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have urged government in Africa to promote safe reopening of schools as prolonged closure may lead to poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, childhood pregnancies, and overall challenges in mental development of children due to reduced interaction related to school closures. Both organisations also emphasized the need to provide quick solutions to hand washing in schools, such as a tap, bucket and soap because only 47% of schools have access to basic sanitation services in sub-Saharan Africa according to a WHO and UNICEF report assessing progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in schools between 2000 and 2019.

It is therefore noteworthy that some schools have failed in observing the COVID-19 guidelines; this includes many public schools across the country with a low level of compliance when they reopened for the West African School Certificate examination (WASCE). 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 minimize 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.

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