The Committee on Basic Education and Services, House of Representatives says it has received with some concern the decision of the Federal Government to reopen schools on January 18, 2021.
The committee says it is particularly concerned that when the infection rates hovered around 500 and under, schools were closed but now that it hovers well above 1000 infections daily, schools are being reopened.
“Why are we rushing to reopen schools without adequate verifiable and sustainable arrangements to protect and secure our children,” it queried?
This was contained in a signed statement, Saturday, by the Chairman, Committee on Basic Education House of Representatives, Professor Julius O. Ihonvbere, OON.
Other part of the statement read:
The Committee fully appreciates the implications of continued school closure on the education sector and the larger economy and society. We also acknowledge that the pandemic would remain with us for a while and we must design ways to live with it.
Similarly, we acknowledge the argument that most young persons have not been as affected by Covid-19 and many are asymptomatic. Yet, it does not mean they have full immunity against the virus. We also know that they would be working and interacting with adult teachers, administrative workers and other persons that do not live within the institutions.
Aside Lagos and a couple of other states, Governments are unable to enforce Covid-19 protocols. People no longer wear facemasks or use sanitizers. Public enlightenment campaigns have more or less stopped. Merely saying they would adhere to the protocols is no guarantee. In the rural areas, the situation is worse.
Our position is that in spite of the very comprehensive protocols established by the Federal Ministry of Education, not up to 10 per cent of our educational institutions have implemented five per cent of the protocols. In most of our primary and secondary schools nationwide, adequate furniture, water and other sanitation and hygiene facilities do not exit. Many poor parents would require support with facemasks and sanitizers for their children. We have not heard of how this would be addressed.
We doubt that teachers, instructors and school managers have been adequately trained and prepared to handle Covid-19 safety protocols. We also know that adequate funds have not been provided to schools to cope with demands that accompany the new normal.
We would like to challenge the Federal Ministry of Education to first, independently monitor the extent of basic compliance with established protocols in all our schools and not just take words of state and local authorities as given. The lives of our children are worth much more than the interests and comfort of any politician or bureaucrat. It is only after a minimum 75% nationwide compliance that we can seriously talk about reopening schools.
Given that in primary and secondary schools in particular, there are no facilities for effective social distancing in the classrooms, part of the compliance requirements must be the introduction of morning and afternoon batches into the schools when they reopen to reduce overcrowding.
Special cleaning crews with sufficient sanitizers must be deployed to the classrooms before and after each stream. Hand washing before entering the classroom and use of sanitizer once seated must be made mandatory.
The school feeding programme should be suspended and converted to sealable snacks to be distributed once classes are over.
As a government that has committed to protecting the interests of the Nigerian people, it would be wrong to allow unprepared state governments, of which many did not take the pandemic too seriously anyway, to hoodwink or pressure it into this reopening game.
The Committee believes that if these and other critical steps are not taken, there should be a postponement by three months to enable the local and state governments put things in place adequately.
A word, they say, is enough for the wise.