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Editorial: COVID-19 and the educational sector

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Nigerian govt restores teaching of history in schools

Without doubt, COVID-19 has had a more devastating and global effect than anything before it. Unlike other pandemics, COVID-19 has led to the shutting down of the economy and social services across nations of the world with no exception, whether rich or poor, developed or not; the impact has been the same.
Although most other economic sectors, such as businesses, are reopening, the dilemma across the world now is the challenge of reopening schools which were abruptly closed down in the heat of the pandemic and the possible effect on children. The challenge is how to get children back to school without endangering them in particular and society in general and there is the glaring prospect that the children, especially those in terminal classes may lose a year of their academic calendar.
While the Nigerian government had earlier scheduled schools to reopen on August 16 especially for those in the terminal or graduating classes such as Primary Six, Junior Secondary, JS, 3, and the Senior Secondary, SS, 3, who are expected to write their West African School Certificate Examinations. However, a forth night ago, the minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, dashed that hope by suspending the reopening of schools indefinitely given the alarming infection rate of the virus.
Opinions on this matter are widely divided, but the options available to government are very few and limited. The debate is not entirely about right and wrong, or comparing apples and oranges; but the potential risk of the unknown, and choice between the short term and the long term. As already evident in most other countries that reopened too quickly, the potential effect of a second wave of more spread and the attendant consequences of possibly another total lockdown, is unimaginable and should be avoided.
Getting children back to school is perhaps, the most critical aspect of normalizing society, and indeed, the most important, alongside health, after the lockdown. Keeping children at home affects other aspects of the society and economy, because parents would have to devise other means of caring for them at home especially for the very young ones, that should have been kept with Daycare centres and nursery schools, to relieve the parents.
Moreover it is also being canvassed strongly especially for the graduating classes, that they could be easily managed in terms of numbers to resume and take their exams while waiting for the situation to ease. Also, there is the economics of the continued closure of schools: The educational sector involves both the public and private sectors, and while the government is funding the public schools and private schools are bearing the brunt of the closure, as they have to keep teachers, who are unutilized.
Another important argument is that government has no reason to open markets and businesses where protocols are hardly observed while still keeping schools which can be controlled and monitored locked. So the argument goes therefore, that there is no reason to continue the closure and deprive the children the opportunity to resume their education, and parents sequestered at home to care of them.
For this newspaper, the question is not one of rationality but expediency; not of right or wrong, but life and death. The truth is that whatever would endanger life and cause death or sickness should be avoided by erring on the side of caution; as the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine. Nobody knows who may die through infection of this virus. It is too risky to brave the virus and reopen schools given the low awareness and high level of doubt among the public, which has largely, influenced careless behaviour and fueled the spike being witnessed in recent times.
Unlike any other mode of infection which is person to person, infection through schools will involve not only students and teachers, who may be the primary agents to take it to different homes where the parents, grandparents and other children will also be exposed, but also has the prospect for mass infection as one child or teacher can very easily infect the whole class. Those making the point for reopening are only minded by short term and narrow reasons and considerations. Getting education and certificate is only important in the context of life; any dead or sick person has little need for education or degree.
Children will be children; it difficult enforcing protocols amongst adults, yet we expect our children to obey. That is asking too much of them. This problem could have been mitigated by online learning but the challenges are too many and the readiness is lacking. Also children who cannot self-learn run the risk of forgetting what they had previously been taught. There also the chance of some children falling into mischief, as the saying goes, an idle mind is the devil’s tool. But in spite all these attenuating circumstances and factors, there is strong wisdom in keeping the schools shut for the sake and safety of all of us.
Usually, the best decisions are not the easiest and most popular to take. Our problem as a nation has been the dereliction of taking hard decisions that may be unpopular but the best for the society and the list is long. The best decisions must look beyond the immediate conditions and focus on general good. It must also consider the experiences of history and others. Currently global experience shows that reopening too early has dangerous implication as the U.S. is finding out too late and with disastrous consequences.
Sadly, government has contributed in the public resistance to the fight against the virus, by its slow actions and lack of intervention palliatives to cushion the negative effects of the measures to curb the virus. The education sector is a large employer of labour outside the public sector; so there should be an intervention fund for the private schools to enable them sustain teachers who are now without income and means of livelihood. Also there should a Plan B for the reopening of schools and administering the exams to ensure that the children do not lose out. Nigeria should liaise with other WAEC countries to ensure that the decision is coordinated and applicable to all the countries to avoid disruptions in the exams system.

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