COVID-19: Coast not yet clear to reopen schools – FG tells states


ASUU opposes resumption, WHO harps on return to schools under safe conditions

The federal government has warned state governments against rushing to reopen schools saying the decline in the daily report of positive COVID-19 cases in Nigeria does not indicate that the country had flattened the curve of the pandemic.

Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and secretary to the government of the federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha issued the warning yesterday in Abuja at the 62nd joint national briefing of the taskforce.

He urged state governments making preparations for the reopening of schools to be guided by the experience of countries where opening of schools led to a rise in confirmed cases of the virus.

He listed the affected countries to include Germany, France, United States of America and the United Kingdom.

“While citizens wear facemasks properly, stay away from crowded places, avoid mass gatherings, maintain simple hygienic practices and as much as possible protect the elderly and most vulnerable to this pandemic.

“It is in the above context that the PTF appreciates the ongoing calls for re-opening of the education sector and indeed some sub-nationals are already making preparations for such.

“Whilst the PTF does not discourage making such preparations, we need to be guided by experiences from countries such as Germany, France, the United States, and the UK where the opening of schools in some cities led to an increase in confirmed cases and fatalities,” Mustapha said.

Mustapha also said the task force would be submitting the seventh Interim Report to President Muhammadu Buhari and would be guided by his directives on the next phase.

Mustapha said the decisions and approval would be transmitted at the national briefing on September 3, 2020.

Responding to a question on the possible reopening of schools, the minister of state for education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said the discussion was still ongoing.

“We have received feedbacks from all universities on their states of preparedness. These are being tabled before the PTF,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has warned the federal government against reopening tertiary institutions without taking concrete steps to curb the spread of COVID-19.

ASUU was reacting to the August 22 interview by the minister of state for education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba on the NTA where he stated that tertiary institutions shut in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic in March, would reopen “very soon.”

Zones of the union said social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols were practically impossible in public tertiary institutions, which were always overcrowded in the country.

They, therefore, warned that any attempt to reopen the institutions would not only be suicidal, but also worsen the spread of coronavirus.

The national vice president of the union, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, called on the federal government to upgrade the education sector, if it wants universities across the country to resume.

Osodeke said if government believes that the education sector is critical, it should meet the COVID-19 guidelines which it prepared for school reopening.

He maintained that a topnotch procedure was created at airports because the elite children needed to be kept safe while returning to schools abroad, whereas other Nigerian children were asked to go back to campuses which were not COVID-19 complaint.

“If government believes that the education sector is critical, they should try and meet those rules. They met them for the airports, you are aware. If you get to an airport before you board a plane, there is a procedure you will pass through because the airport is for the elite.  Their children are going back abroad for studies so the airports should be okay so that they can go back to school. Meanwhile, they want these children to go back to schools where there are no health facilities, no good accommodation; lecture theatres are so small for the students and you want them to go and have a high rate of infection.

“We expect the parents, students and our colleagues in the media to put it to the government that they have spent so much money on COVID-19 since it started, why can’t they spend money on the education sector and upgrade the facilities so that the children can go back to school? That is what we should be talking about.”

Osodeke said that he expected government to meet the rules it set for schools but was surprised at its refusal and the sudden call for resumption.

“It is not safe to return to school. The government set the rules for schools on what should happen before schools can reopen.  Has the government met the rules? No, they have not. Do we have enough space where the students can keep social distancing? A room that is going to contain two students, we have between 10 and 20 students, will they change that?  The lecture theatres too… Do they have improved medical facilities in case of an emergency. These are not there. We expect government to meet those rules before it thinks about reopening,” he said.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and European officials said yesterday that children in Europe and around the world must return to school under safe conditions during the pandemic.

The agency’s European regional office and representatives of its 53 member states held an online conference to discuss how to safeguard children as schools across the continent reopen after lock downs.

“The right to health and the right to education must go hand in hand,” said the co-host of the conference and Italian health minister, Roberto Speranza.

“The safe reopening of schools is the real priority for the coming weeks,” he added.

Speranza said in a joint statement with Hans Kluge, head of the WHO’s Copenhagen-based agency, that the pandemic had “created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries.”

Though children had “largely been spared from the direct health effects of the virus,” school closures had affected their “mental health and social development” and carried “the risk and impact of being in an abusive home environment.”

Children living in poor conditions and those with disabilities were especially hard-hit when schools were closed, the statement said.

Ensuring proper hand hygiene, physical distancing, using masks where appropriate and staying home if sick are among measures that could help reduce the risk of infection.

Online learning would also likely be necessary in future due to temporary school closures or to ensure physical distancing.


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