Nigeria: Lagos state to open schools despite health concerns
Nigeria's Lagos state continues the process of opening up after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with schools next on the list.
Last month, religious gatherings were allowed – although at limited capacity and with strict regulation. But for schools, things are a little dicey. For one, many teachers and professors do not feel the government has properly secured the situation and two, many parents are scared.
Six months after the Lagos state government announced a lockdown of all public gatherings in Lagos to slow down and control the spread of the coronavirus, the government has announced that schools in the state will be open as of 14 September.
While the dates are not set in stone, primary and secondary schools in the state will be open from 21 September and tertiary institutions as of 14 September.
The news of school reopening comes at a time that the Academic Staff Union of Universities in Nigeria is on strike. According to Professor Ade Adejumo, a regional coordinator of the university staff union, the Nigerian federal government has failed to honour a memorandum of agreement with the union and despite the lifted lockdown order, academic activities in the university will not happen.
According to the union, the government continuously fails to address issues of the revitalisation fund for public universities, arrears of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), the re-negotiation of the 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement and the rejection of the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS) instead opting for the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), saying it would curb corruption in the system.
Too early for school
But there are still fears that the government is reopening schools at a time when the public is not ready to deal with the pandemic. “Has the Nigerian government met the NCDC criteria on COVID-19 protocol in our institutions? Must we endanger the lives of our children for pecuniary gains? Should the primary issue on life and death be used on profit matters? COVID-19 is still very much with us,” Adejemo said at a news conference.
For its size and by comparison to other countries, Nigeria has recorded relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases. “Throwing schools open in the midst of [a] COVID-19 pandemic is an open invitation to a tragic explosion of the scourge on a scale never witnessed anywhere since its outbreak!” he continued.
Parents speak up
These sentiments are shared by Debola Adenekan, a Lagos-based mother of three boys. “We know how children are. We can’t expect any social distancing from them and because my uncle died from COVID, I can’t say this is a hoax and let my boys just go back to school.”
The lockdown order has already delayed the Nigerian academic timetable. Students expecting to get into the universities are unsure when they will be writing the university qualifying O-level exams and entrance exams. “We tried to have the boys take classes online, but the cost of data and erratic electricity made that a problem.” Adenekan told The Africa Report.
For Mrs. Buchi, her children underwent apprenticeship programmes during the lockdown and she does not entirely care for schools to open anymore. “My son met with a local mechanic and became his apprentice. He has a real aptitude for it. When it is time to go to the university, he will definitely excel in engineering.” she said. Her two other daughters became apprentices with a seamstress at the Ikeja area of Lagos.
Need for an institutional setting
But experts argue that formal education, particularly in a school setting with peers is an important part of development for students. Breaks or shocks brought on by the pandemic threaten students and in fact a generation.
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Blessing Tarfa, an Abuja-based Vice Principal fears that students might be set back in a way that will take time to repair. “Looking at the Nigerian situation, it is extremely difficult to guarantee that students were able to study at home by themselves or with their parents. There is a growing gap in their knowledge that will need to be fixed. We also sometimes forget that education is beyond class work, but also how well we are able to socialise students to relate with each other. That is a lot of work that might have gone to waste.”
A suggestion would be that students restart classes from the beginning and not try to continue where they left off. But, Nigerian students find themselves in a global battle with their peers from other countries who managed the pandemic and lockdown and have since returned to school.
For Adenekan, when schools reopen, they will need to teach students as quickly as possible so they can catch up with their global counterparts. “The quality of education is already not as great. They can’t afford to lose time too. The government and NCDC need to bring forward a back-to-school proposal that will limit the spread of the virus in students because time is leaving them behind.”