By Uche Chris
On Monday January 18, 2021, public and private schools in Abuja and several states in the country opened their doors to students and pupils for indoor classes, even as the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on Covid-19, continues to insist on caution.
The situation is clearly not an easy one either way. After losing a whole term of education to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, there is understandably pressure on both parents and government to salvage the education of the children before their future is compromised.
Buttressing this is the fact that all over the world the challenge of opening schools in the midst of the pandemic has been a major knotty issue. Governments and parents have been torn between issues of life and safety, and the education of the children and the choice is hardly easy and simple. On his part, Nigeria’s Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, is on record as having consistently maintained that life must be put ahead of every other consideration in determining any response to the pandemic.
Since the beginning of the year, the infections and death rates have reached record levels that were even somewhat unimaginable during the first wave. Last week’s results showed that the national infection rate is now hovering between 15 percent and 20 percent of the test samples that were screened. These figures are even higher than those of some other countries where the infection rates are very high, which also may be traceable to their higher testing rate.
Figures released by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, indicate that the country reached a daily record infection rate of almost 2,000 cases on January 13, as total infection reached 110,387, and total deaths till date now put at 1435. Incidentally, the day of reopening schools recorded the second highest incidence of infections with 1617 cases and 14 deaths. Lagos continues to lead the pack with over 22,562 positive infections, followed by the FCT with 6385, Plateau 3724, Oyo, 3694, and Rivers with 2916, etc.
Although schools had reopened in October 2020, after the first wave of the pandemic, that relief was soon shattered following the new wave that makes the first wave pale in significance in terms of the rates of infections and deaths. It is the resurgence of the pandemic that had, most notably led to the postponement of schools’ reopening that had been scheduled for early in the New Year. More recently, public concern has been so high such that the federal government has now disclaimed its earlier seeming support for the reopening of schools on January 18 through Malam Adamu.
Also, it is equally to be noted that the PTF chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, has consistently warned of the danger in reopening schools too early to avoid a spike in the rate of infections given the contagious nature of the new variant.
Another flank of the matter is that given that we operate a federal system, the state governments may not be obligated to follow federal directives in the reopening of schools, but this is an emergency and the action of one tier of government may impact positively or otherwise on the rest of the country given the mobility of our population.
It is therefore inadvisable and hasty for some state governments to rush into the heady decision of reopening schools. We consider it to be an essentially unreasonable and uncaring action by those governments to put the lives of the young ones in danger on the altar of political and economic expediency. We understand that the education sector is a massive employer of labour, especially in the private sector, and the closure has severe effect on both teachers and proprietors, who were clearly without income for several months in 2020.
Understandably, schools in the private sector, differ from public schools, where people could stay at home and still earn a living. As hard as this condition may be for the staff and owners of schools, it is even worse to expose the children to danger, who may be primary carriers to infect their parents at home. The government cannot be asking its civil servants to stay at home, as is the case in Lagos currently, while at the same time, permitting schools to reopen. The immediate concern of everybody should be about the readiness of the government to cope with the possibility of a widespread infection given our glaring healthcare management inadequacies.
This is more so when several experts, especially members of the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, have been warning about the dangers ahead, and the need to apply caution in the handling of the problem to avoid it getting out of hand. Also the Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT, is on record as having threatened to withdraw their services to save their members from exposure. Several doctors have also reportedly died in the past few weeks from infections.
As things stand today, the infection management protocols are being flouted with impunity and this does not speak well of government’s seriousness in dealing with the situation. It is therefore, unjustifiable for government to embark on the present cause of action of permitting a reopening of schools, as if by so doing, the thinking is that the problem will go away just like that!