Our worries over schools reopening

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AFTER months of uncertainties, schools in many states of the Federation are re-opening to enable final year students in secondary schools prepare for the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations, WASSCE.

The Federal Government, after initial objections, agreed to plans by the regional exam body, the West African Examinations Council, WAEC, to hold the examinations for final year students.

We had cautioned against these, albeit restricted, reopening plans because the current situation of the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted school closures worldwide, has continued to rise not only across the world but also in the sub-region.

In Nigeria, confirmed cases passed the 40,000 mark last week despite our persistent poor testing capacity. Mercifully, we also have appreciable number of recoveries (18,203) and relatively low death figures (860).

We are yet to reach the plateau of infections. Though a number of candidate vaccines have given reason for optimism, we may not witness large-scale vaccinations until early to mid-2021.

The situation calls for total restraint in the reopening of all centres of large human crowding such as schools, centres of worship, clubs and stadia.

It is wrong to posit that if the markets and airports could be reopened so could schools and worship centres.

Business has to reopen to prevent “hunger virus” which is deadlier than COVID-19. While we admit that schools and places of worship are also means of livelihood for millions of people, we still believe that the government should provide furlough palliatives, especially for the private school stakeholders till such a time that vaccines will be available for everybody.

We believe in the wise counsel of Ali Baba CEO, Jack Ma, that surviving the pandemic should be the primary objective for everyone right now. It is only those who survive that will go on and earn school certificates.

There are several proven cases in many parts of the world that reopening schools, worship centres and others have typically reignited waves of infections.

Nigeria’s case will not be different. It may make nonsense of the efforts of those who have kept strictly to the COVID-19 protocols due to their vulnerabilities. Our children stand the risk of becoming unwitting vectors of COVID-19.

With most schools in Nigeria lacking running water and facilities for safe distancing, we wonder how even the teachers will be able to control interactions among our excitable children to minimise infection spread.

This reopening for the sake of exams will only fray the structural fabric of our educational system in the middle and disturb the uniform flow of transitions from one class to the other.

Even after the School Certificate exams, we must still tackle the imperative of supporting our private sector educators until the wholesale reopening of schools.

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