People are afraid of schools re-opening because schools represent the last built environment that still serves to remind us that COVID-19 is still real and amongst us. But as the virus lingers and the gap between knowledge acquired by the children of the haves and the have-nots continues to widen, a government that really cares will make it a priority to get the kids learning again in the safest possible way.
There have been arguments and counter-arguments over the proposal by the Oyo State Government to have the three final year classes, Primary 6, JSS 3 and SSS 3, return to school on July 6, 2020. Some people do not understand the rush as they believe it would be sending mixed signals to the citizenry. If indeed the COVID-19 numbers are increasing, then the state should be shutting down not opening up. As oxymoronic as it may sound, for many nations on earth, the new strategy is opening up even amid the pandemic.
The reasons for this are not far-fetched. As has been repeatedly shown, many countries cannot sustain a prolonged closure of the economy. Nigeria, in particular, is too poor to sustain a lockdown for even two weeks. We all saw what happened when the Federal Government declared a lockdown and a curfew. Even till this day, where there is a supposed “inter-state lockdown” people are still travelling across the nation, only they are spending more doing so. One would be forgiven to think the lockdown is targeted at the poor.
Even now, the children of the rich have continued to enjoy their education. At first, the Federal Government and Lagos State made a feeble attempt at stopping private schools from running online courses, threatening them with sanctions. But private schools eventually won that battle as several are running different versions of online courses. We would have expected that instead of threatening school owners, the authorities should have worked out modalities for continued education, especially for children of the poor.
Let’s face it. Life may not be returning to normal anytime soon. Even the most conservative estimates put the possibility of getting and distributing vaccines that will help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 at mid-2021. Normalcy may begin to return in 2022. If schools remain close until vaccines can reach us, our children would have collectively lost at least one year of education. Certainly, that is not ideal.
Persons who oppose the re-opening of schools counter by saying that it is the living that will get an education. But that is a weak argument. One of the reasons people are not taking COVID-19 serious is that the death rates in Nigeria and indeed Oyo State are extremely low. It does not feel like a pandemic because people are getting ill, some without showing any signs of illness, and getting well, supposedly without any treatment. The more significant number of people are getting better while a few may die.
An even more persuasive argument for the re-opening of schools is the economic impact school closures are having on a segment of society. Aside from the apparent private school teachers and school owners who cannot earn right now, we have others who offer ancillary services to schools also suffering economically. For example, printers who produce notebooks for schools; food vendors who sell food to students; book stores and other traders who rely on students to buy are not earning at this time.
So, a deep dive into the hesitancy of stakeholders to subscribe to the gradual re-opening of schools points to the fact that there are more sentimental than practical reasons for it. People are afraid of schools re-opening because schools represent the last built environment that still serves to remind us that COVID-19 is still real and amongst us. But as the virus lingers and the gap between knowledge acquired by the children of the haves and the have-nots continues to widen, a government that cares will make it a priority to get the kids learning again in the safest possible way.
We give kudos to the Oyo State Government for the Training of Trainers (ToT) programme for school owners and administrators in both public and private schools. Also, they have extended the date of resumption by one week to allow these administrators to train the staff and test run their facilities and readiness for resumption. Since it is only three classes that will be returning, for now, the entire school will be available for these classes to ensure proper social distancing.
In South Africa, some classes of students returned to school on June 8, 2020. According to the Basic Education Minister, Angie Mostshekga, there have been 98% overall class attendance. The protocol put in place is to close down and decontaminate a school once a case is identified and have students go back to school two or three days later. She said most schools did not have more than one case “which indicates that infections are not spreading in schools.”
Oyo Affairs agrees with the Oyo State Governments decision to re-open schools gradually, but it is our editorial stand that the re-opening should happen after July 15, 2020. Our reasons for this recommendation are to ensure that the schools and teachers are adequately prepared for resumption.
For instance, we strongly recommend that teachers and students with underlying health conditions stay at home. Such health conditions include diabetes, severe hypertension, severe obesity, chronic lung problems and other related ailments.
Since there might be several teachers who fall under this category, we further recommend that the Oyo State uses another week to sort out the issue of teacher availability. How many teachers will be available to take classes immediately, after persons who have underlying health issues have been excluded?
Afterwards, another week can then be used to complete teacher recruitment and training of the staff that will take these classes. Also, the state government may consider giving a Hazard Allowance to teachers who would be exposing themselves to higher risks by coming to school to teach at this time.
The fact remains that as has been pointed out by experts, COVID-19 will be with us for a while. We cannot wait for a “peak” in transmission before students return to school because we may never know when there will or if it has already peaked. But we can wait for a drop in the averages if testing continues as aggressively as it is going now.
Presently, Oyo State is recording higher COVID-19 cases (the average was 52 cases/day between June 14 and June 21 and 63 cases/day between June 21 and 28). We know Oyo State is testing more, having opened up testing in more local governments and increased sensitisation in market places, motor parks, social media, radio and television.
Let us also state that we are not expecting a smooth sail should the government move re-opening by another two weeks. Infections will happen in schools, those who object to the idea will call for immediate closures of all schools, but the protocol being followed in other organisations should apply. A school that records a confirmed case will be closed; contact tracing will be done and decontaminated carried out, after which students may return to school. The plan should be to keep infection rates as low as possible. The Own Your Action #OYA initiative, which has also started across the state is a great step in this direction.
As basic as that statement is, it encapsulates what leadership is and differentiates between leaders from followers. This is why leaders stand in front of the line and speak for their people. When a leader inspires trust and confidence, the majority of the people follow their lead. While leaders often have to listen to their followers and read their body language, sometimes, a leader has to show why he was chosen to lead. He has to make the tough decisions that others are either too afraid or too emotionally charged, to make. For his reason, Oyo Affairs understands Governor Seyi Makinde’s decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic so far.
We want to believe, however, that as a listening Governor, His Excellency and his cabinet and the COVID-19 Task Force will give the re-opening of schools further serious thought and consideration, and pay even more attention to the science, data and logic. He has moved it one week forward; he can move it another two weeks ahead. It is better safe than sorry.