Stakeholders in the education sector, yesterday, told the Federal Government that they are in support of reopening of schools, if all necessary safety measures and facilities are in place to stem the spread of COVID-19.
They include the Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT, National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, and even the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
The stakeholders were also reacting to the advisory of the the United Nations Education Fund, UNICEF, which said Tuesday that the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic will impact negatively on the development, safety and well-being of children globally, noting that schools are not drivers of the viral disease.
This is even as renowned lawyer and founder of Afe Babalola University, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, yesterday described the continued closure of schools as unjust.
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin, Professor Lilian Salami, who apparently down-played the fears of stakeholders about schools reopening, said yesterday that students are threatening to beat up lecturers over continued closure of universities, assuring that management of varsities are ready to resume academic activities in a safe and secure manner, as prescribed by the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19.
The Federal Government had set Monday, January 18 as resumption date for schools in the country, though the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu had said the date was not sacrosanct.
UNICEF had warned that the effects of closing schools for another year will be felt for generations to come, maintaining that despite overwhelming evidence that schools are not drivers of the pandemic, steps had been taken to ensure that they remained shut.
“In the case of lock-downs, schools must be among the first to reopen once authorities start lifting restrictions.
“Catch-up classes should be prioritised to ensure that children who have been unable to learn remotely are not left behind.
“If children are faced with another year of school closures, the effects will be felt for generations to come,” UNICEF warned.
The UN agency noted that the number of out-of-school children is set to rise by 24 million to a level not yet seen in years and to a level it has fought so hard to overcome.
Meanwhile, the stakeholders, who spoke with our correspondent, also noted that the call by the United Nations Children’s Fund that schools should not be closed further because of the negative effects it would have on the society at large was based on the proviso that all necessary facilities to ensure the safety of teachers, students and others were put in place.
The National President of ASUU, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, said his union is not opposed to reopening schools but noted that the needful should be done by the government.
“Did UNICEF say schools should reopen without putting the necessary safety measures in place? We have had some situations in the country where a large number of school children tested positive to the disease. The younger ones are even stronger and have immunity that is stronger than the elderly.
“We have seen professors die like chickens. We must say this: That we are not opposed to the reopening of schools but the needful must be done. Let the government implement safety guidelines they rolled out last July.
“In the guidelines, they said all stakeholders must assess the situation in each school and agree that everything is okay before such schools are reopened. The prescription they have made will not be implemented by angels or some people from Mars. They must provide the enabling environment and that is what we need,” he said.
The National Secretary of the NUT, Dr Mike Ene, and the National Treasurer, Comrade Segun Raheem, noted that UNICEF had been contributing greatly to the welfare of children worldwide and would not want any government to do anything to jeopardise their welfare.
Ene said though it is inimical to keep students at home perpetually, only those who are alive could strategise.
“If we know what we can do to get the children back to school without putting their lives and those of others in danger, no problem. Public places like markets and others are opened. We can open the schools but with modifications. We can also apply more measures than the ones we have on ground now.
“Research has shown that crimes like rape were on the increase during the lock-down, but if students are engaged positively, there will be no issues. Interestingly, we are gradually getting used to the safety protocols. My small child knows the importance of face-mask, sanitiser, and other safety measures,” Ene said.
Raheem said education drives the economy of any nation, but added that anything that could spread the virus should be put at bay.
“My take on the matter is that we know large gatherings help spread the disease and schools are large gatherings; we must not only be safety conscious but must provide necessary facilities and adhere to all protocols. Do we have all these in place?” he asked.
NANS frowns at continued shutdown of schools
Similarly, the South-West Zonal Coordinator of NANS, Comrade Kappo Samuel Olawale, said as long as some schools in the country are in session and had been able to cope with the pandemic with no cases reported, schools should reopen.
“It is clear that we do not have the technology to administer virtual learning as it is being done in developed nations, but this should not mean a pause to the education of Nigerian children. We are learned adults and will adhere to all safety protocols. We are confident that our members will not breach any protocol meant to protect them,” he said.
Olawale also called on the authorities to provide the facilities needed for the safety of all stakeholders.
Parents want children back in schools
The National President of NAPTAN, Haruna Danjuma, in his reaction, said his association and parents at large are weary of students staying at home.
He,however, promised that like his association did during the outbreak of Ebola some years back when it helped in the provision of safety facilities, it will do so again.
“There is no need for this confusion. All other public places are opened. My fear is that government is shying away from the provision of facilities for safe reopening of schools. Parents, students are ready to comply with all protocols, let the government do its own part,” he stated.
Closure of varsities unconstitutional, disastrous— Afe Babalola
Lending his voice to the need to reopen schools, yesterday, legal luminary and founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, ABUAD, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, described as unconstitutional the mass closure of Nigerian universities by the Federal Government due to the second wave of COVID- 19 pandemic .
Babalola, who spoke in Ado-Ekiti at a press conference about attempts by the Federal Government to defer resumption of universities earlier slated for January 18, said such action will turn out to be counter-productive and disastrous to the education sector, especially closing down of private schools without prior consultation.
Expressing opposition to mass closure of universities, Babalola said:
“I am of the firm view that mass closure of schools is unconstitutional, disastrous and counter productive.
“It is certainly unjust to the parents, teachers, students and proprietors of schools and also violates the rule of natural justice.”
Babalola disclosed that the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention had taken all these into consideration when it officially recommended that universities should be accorded preferential treatment under COVID-19 in terms of operations.
“The USCDC said universities are different in terms of size , geographical location, structure and in their abilities to take measure that will guarantee minimum risk to students and teachers in their schools, which in turn will ensure undistrupted and on-campus learning for students.
“On the contrary, universities which do not possess these facilities are within high risk category.
“I hereby strongly advise that the Federal Government should stop mass closure of schools. All schools, particularly the private universities that have the required world-class health facilities and have complied with Presidential Task Force regulations which will enable them to implement low to medium risk measures ought not and should not be shut down,” he said.
He insisted that his 11 years old university had been having a smooth and uninterrupted academic calendar before abrupt disruption by COVID-19, thereby stalling operations of the university, in spite of the world class facilities it parades to prevent the spread of the lethal disease.
The legal luminary added: “The Federal Government should know that schools in Ekiti are safer than that located in the heart of Lagos. We must consider the geographical location. Any worker here who goes to Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt goes for special test and seven days isolation. This underscores the level.of our preparedness.”
He urged the Federal Government to emulate foreign countries by paying the salaries of lecturers in private universities, which were shut down because of COVID-19.
Babalola reminded Federal Government that should the low-risk private universities remain shut down to wait for high-risk one will make the ivory towers remain comatose for long .
On whether he will approach the court to challenge the closure of private universities, Babalola said:
“I am not going to court because we have not exhausted the option of negotiation and local remedy. I am a friend of the FG and I know that the Attorney-General of the Federation will look into it”.
On how his university had been affected, Babalola explained: “We can’t even quantify our losses. We have been following international standard, which was September to July academic session before this global problem.
“We have done seven convocations in ten years . We used to pay salaries on the 24th of the month and nobody has been sacked, despite this suspension of work. But this has affected our purse. How can we be paying for services not rendered? This is unfair.
Students threaten to beat up lecturers, says UNIBEN VC
In a similar development, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin, Professor Lilian Salami, said yesterday that students are already threatening to beat up lecturers over continued closure of universities, saying the school management is ready to resume academic activities in a safe and secure manner.
Salami, who noted that varsity managements had adhered to the directives of the National Universities Commission, NUC, and PTF to put measures in place to stem spread of the virus, said her university management would enforce strict compliance with COVID-19 protocols to protect students and members of staff from being exposed to coronavirus infections.
The vice-chancellor, who spoke while featuring onNTA Good Morning Nigeria breakfast show yesterday, said some students have started issuing threats to beat up lecturers should the closure of public universities persists.
Salami said: “I want to say categorically that vice-chancellors are responsible persons, having gone through the furnace. We will not in any way want to expose our staff and our students to any danger.
“Having said that, public-funded universities are far from what they ought to be. We have said this over and over that there is poor funding, infrastructure are down and decayed. The ratio of staff to students is quite large, such that for proper learning to take place, we have to address these issues.
“We know that these issues exist but how long are we going to wait until these issues are taken care of? These should not continue to be used as reasons schools should not reopen. We will make do with what we have now available. For instance, we know that residential students are about 10 to 15 per cent of total students’ population. We will as much as possible enforce compliance and that is all we can do.
“Yes, they (students) are very restless; yes, they will want to go and visit friends but we will try as much as possible – and I think all Vice-Chancellors will do that – to protect our students and our staff so that we don’t unduly expose them to COVID-19. But to think that if all of these are not taken care of, we will not reopen, I can assure you that in the next ten years, the kids will all be home.
“We know all these deficiencies and we will continue to adjust and renovate the structures on campus. It is a gradual thing, there is no magic about it.’’
“On a lighter note, I have heard some students say, look, if you don’t open, we will beat up the Vice-Chancellors and start beating up the lecturers. Maybe other vice-chancellors can take up the beatings but I can assure you that Professor Salami is too fragile to be beaten.”
The vice-chancellor further said that UNIBEN has started the production of automated handwashing equipment, hand sanitisers and other materials crucial in dealing with the pandemic.
Students of public universities have been at home since March 2020 when the Academic Staff Union of Universities began a nine-month-long strike over certain demands. The union, however, conditionally suspended the industrial action on December 24, 2020, after a lot of foot-dragging by lecturers and the Federal Government.
However, when students were hopeful of returning to classrooms, the country entered the second wave of the pandemic while the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 subsequently ordered schools to remain closed till January 18, 2021 to contain the spike in COVID-19 infections in Nigeria.
But ASUU has insisted that it is not safe for lecturers and students to return to classrooms as it cannot guarantee social distancing in crowded classes and congested hostels.
Vanguard News Nigeria