School resumption: So much ground to cover

IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI and ADEOLA OTEMADE report that as more states across the country reopen their educational institutions, some of them having cancelled the third term of the last session, the regular system is going through some changes even as efforts are being made to ensure that everyone is safe.

After about six months of stemming the tide of the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Government, confident that it was safe, decided to announce the reopening of Unity schools across the country with effect from October 12.

According to the Minister of Education, AdamuAdamu, who made the announcement recently, “The decision was reached after exhaustive discussions with education stakeholders in the public and private sectors as well as international and development partners. All state and private schools are to work out their modalities to reopen their schools. All Unity schools (Federal Government colleges) should open by October 12. I’m glad to report that there has not been any single case of COVID-19 in all Unity schools. No single fatality among the students.”

Days after Adamu’s disclosure, the Lagos State government approved the reopening of its schools with effect from October 19. The state’s Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folashade Adefisayo, who made the announcement in a statement enjoined school owners and managers of all private schools to ensure that they are cleared by the Office of Education Quality Assurance before physical resumption.

She said, “The physical resumption which is for the 2020/2021 academic session will now include pupils in pre-primary, i.e. daycare, kindergarten and nursery schools.All public and private schools are strongly advised to put safety first by adhering to the COVID-19 safety protocols and hygiene guidelines as instructed by the state government through the Ministry of Education.

“The Office of Education Quality Assurance will continue to monitor and evaluate schools’ preparedness. The necessary resumption protocols must be adhered to and cleared “satisfactory” by the OEQA.”

Since then, across the country, more states have reopened their schools from the primary to the tertiary level, while emphasizing the observance of COVID-19 fundamentals to prevent any form of resurgence of the virus. Basically, virtually all the states in the South-West have resumed academic activities, including those in the South-South, while most states in the core North are yet to decide their resumption dates.

From Lagos to Benue, Kwara, Kogi, Oyo, Ogun, Osun and Delta states among others, governments continue to stress the need for personal and collective responsibilities to make the schools and institutions safe for all students in order not to lose the gains already made in the fight against the virus.

This has resulted in the new normal in which changes have been made to how academic activities are being carried out. For example, the number of students sitting together has reduced just as in some cases the number of hours for classes haschanged with two sessions running per day.

Though academic activities in Lagos has resumed in mostly private schools for about a month now, full resumption of students in all classes is expected on Monday, 19 October. Though activities have been running on normal schedule, the state government has however advised that where the population of students are large, the concerned authorities should see to how they could segment the students into different groups to maintain social distancing.

The director of one of the private schools in Oyo State who spoke to Sunday Tribune, Jimoh-Francis Omolara of E-Tutors College, Ibadan, said schooling hasn’t been the same since the resumption as most parents are still wary of letting their wards return to school despite the efforts the committee of private schools and their state counterparts has put in place.

“Resumption has been very demandingdue to the coronavirus pandemic. The challenges we have been facing is that some parents are still very sceptical, but we have put so many things in places like the infrared thermometer and hand sanitisers at our entrance. We have fewer than 50 pupils, so we are able to easily practise social distancing.

“As for the syllabus, we intend covering it all but we might not be able to cover it all, but I am sure of 90 percent coverage. The teachers have also been on their toes in the sense that while the children were home, they were engaged via the school online platform,” he explained.

Another school proprietor who identified herself simplyas Mrs Dada of St. Andrews Basic School, Omi Adio, Ibadan, acknowledged thatthere were challenges butthey could be handled. The problem, she said, is that of running two streams of classes daily.

“The children from Primary 1 to 3 are supposed to resume school between the hours of 8am and 11am, while the afternoon session holds between 12pm and 3pm. But the problem is that parents usually send their children in the morning; thosecoming for the morning and the afternoon shifts, everyone one of them. Those that are meant to resume in the afternoon will come to school in the morning, so we have to be sending them back home.

“Some children who belong to the first stream in the morning sometimes have to wait for their elder brothers and sisters who are in the afternoon stream so they could go home together probably because their parents are not at home. It’s been a little bit difficult trying to follow the new method.

“The syllabus on the other hand is something that we can’t guarantee we would cover. Our teachers are competent enough, but the work is too cumbersome. The children have been at home for about six months now; they didn’t have their third term at all. So we have to introduce the teaching method of ‘from the known to the unknown,’ which means we have to do a little bit of revision with them before introducing the new syllabus to them.”

Mr Adejare Abodunrin, the principal of United Christian Secondary School, Ibadan,had a different experience. According to him, there are no challenges in his school as the students and their parents have been cooperating with the school authorities.

“It was only on the first day we had a little bit of confusion as almost everyone resumed that day. But subsequently they have adjusted to the given instruction about the shift. The junior classes attend the morning shift, while the senior classes attend the afternoon shift,” he said.

A parent who wished to be identified simply as Madam Bisi lamented bitterly that it has not been easy for her as her two children attend different shifts which hold at different times and durations.

“I first of all take the little one to school early in the morning then go back by 11am to pick him up, and when it is 12noon I will take the older one to school and go and pick her up by 3pm. Initially I had someone helping me, but now that is not happening anymore. The new method is stressful,” she lamented.

Another parent, who pleaded anonymity, also lamented bitterly that “For some of us working mothers, are we going to leave our workplace to be visiting schools to pick upour children? Unfortunately, the school proprietors won’t allow them stay because they have to follow the instructions given to them by the government. Government should just have a re-think about the whole thing and devise an easier method.”

If everyone is on the same page in Oyo State, it is a slightly different story in Benue State where,though government had directed schools to resume for 2020/21 academic session on Monday September, 21, 2020, some others, especially private schools,had decided to postpone their resumption date to Monday, September, 28, 2020 to give parents enough time to prepare.

Despite the state Commissioner for Education, Professor Dennis Ityavtyar’s directive that schools with large population of students should operate morning and afternoon sessions, Government Girls Secondary School and LGEA Primary School, both located around Kwarafa Quarters, Makurdi, operate a single session daily and also adhere strictly to the COVID-19 protocol.

Many parents were initially in a fix due to the directive that all schoolchildren were to come with face shields, including face masks on resumption, but apprehension has finally dissolved as days rolled into weeks after the resumption.

Parents spoken to by Sunday Tribune also express worries that the loss of the third term and having to close the new term by December 18, according to the new academic calendar, may not allow for full coverage of the syllabus.

A parent who simply identified himself as Mr Adams said: “We are happy that our children are going back to school after six months due to the coronavirus pandemic. I think the Federal Ministry of Education has some work to do by looking into the coverage of the syllabus and also make some adjustments.”

If other states are experiencing the new normal, so it is in Kwara State, as academic activities in primary and secondary schools resumed on Monday, October 5, 2020, preceded by a stakeholders’ meeting which focused on modalities and strategic process to be put in placefor reopening.

The state Commissioner for Tertiary Education, Science and Technology, Hajiya Sa’adatu Modibbo Kawu, at the meeting stressed that, “for us, it’s safety first.” She added that state-owned institutions were visited to ascertain their level of preparedness.

When Sunday Tribune visited some schools after the resumption date, it was observed that pupils were only allowed into their schools after being tested with thermometers for their temperature while hand washing bowls, soaps and hand sanitisers were provided at strategic places.

Social distancing is also being obeyed in the sitting arrangements in some of the schools visited with two students sitting together as against three before.

As more states, especially those in the North are yet to reopen their schools, it remains to be seen if harmony would be achieved before the end of the current session to put those in the exiting classes on the same page to compete effectively in doing well in the 2021 West African Secondary School Certificate Examination.

 

Additional stories by Biola Azeez and Johnson Babajide

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