It was a Wednesday afternoon at Government Girls’ Day Secondary School Pakata, Ilorin; the atmosphere was calmer than usual. Afolabi Zeenat, an SS3 student of the school, sat on a wooden desk in her class with her leg crossed as she engaged in a conversation with a colleague whom she had not seen in a while. It was the first day of resumption for students in exit classes in Kwara State. They were both brimming with excitement, not noticing that their English language teacher had leaned on one of the window frames, waiting for other students who had gone out to get their face masks before he could dive into the business of the day.
Zeenat, who told CAMPUS REPORTER academic activities commenced immediately, said she was excited to resume.
“I am so excited to resume today because staying at home doesn’t help. It was really boring at home for most of us. If not for the fact that some of us are finalists, most students would have forgotten what they were being taught in school before the lockdown. Just today, we have had Mathematics and Biology class. In fact, our English teacher just left the class because other students went out to get their face masks.”
Over four months ago, the federal government of Nigeria ordered the closure of schools to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease across the country. But, in a bid to prepare students in exit classes for their terminal examinations, schools were told to reopen to Junior and Secondary School three (JSS 3 & SS3) students. As a result of this, Kwara State Government announced the resumption of schools in the state, following the distribution of 65,000 face masks and sanitisers across schools in its territory.
Unlike some parts of the country, only SS 3 students resumed on Wednesday in the state, as the state commissioner for education, Bisola Ahmed, disclosed that other exit students will be told their date of resumption ahead of their own examinations.
Like Zeenat, Abdulmumin Shukurat, another student of GGDSS, Pakata, could not contain her joy when she heard academic activities would resume. By now, Shukurat had hoped she would be in any tertiary institution of her choice, but the outbreak of the pandemic which necessitated the closure of schools across the country soon eclipsed her dream.
“We are so happy to resume because most of us have prepared for this exam and we are all happy to resume. If not because of coronavirus, we would not be in school by now, we would have graduated by now. We are so happy that the government allows us to resume because if the government did not reopen now, it may ruin our educational system because most of us couldn’t find any lessons to enrol in.
She, therefore, urged the federal government to reopen schools for other classes. “We want the government to allow our younger ones to resume as well because it has really affected them. Most of them would not read until they are forced. If not because we know what’s right for us and the fact that we have a final exam to write which made some of us read at home, it would have shared a similar fate with them.”
When CAMPUS REPORTER correspondents visited some schools in the state, many of them showed compliance with COVID-19 safety measures such as social distancing, provision of handwashing basins and the mandatory use of face masks. The face masks were distributed according to the registered students for the terminal exams and a 100ml hand sanitiser per school.
However, this reporter observed that none of the schools visited was fumigated, overgrown grasses littered the school premises and infrared thermometers were not provided to check the temperature of the students.
The Principal of Barakat Community Secondary School, Ilorin, Kuranga Babatunde, while speaking with this reporter welcomed the reopening of the school after the long unavoidable break. Kuranga, however, noted that the protective materials were insufficient to adequately prepare the school in the fight against the virus.
He, later, told this reporter the school is making frantic efforts to make other protective equipment available for students of the school.
“It is a welcome development that schools are reopened for them. In fact, about 67 out of 106 students that registered for their SSCE in the school have resumed.
“We were given face masks by the state government which, earlier this morning, have been distributed to the students. There is also a hand sanitiser for each [student] as well as a handwashing basin for them to frequently wash their hands. For now, we are using soap because this one cannot last for long. Equally, I have sent someone to get us an infrared thermometer so that we can check the students’ temperatures. We should have gotten it yesterday, but we were reviewing the prices before I go for the one I can afford.”
When asked if the protective materials were provided by the government, the principal said: “The hand washing bowl is provided by the school, not the state government. What the government gave us were just the facemasks and a hand sanitiser. The face masks are sufficient, we were given based on the number of registered students. We would need to buy more hand sanitisers.”
When this reporter visited Government Day Secondary School (GDSS), Alore, the atmosphere was similar; the school premises was covered in overgrown grasses, and there was no infrared thermometer to check the temperature of students, but the students were still happy to return to class.
The NCDC, in its guidelines for school reopening, advised that schools provide and adequately equip dispensaries and clinics. It also provides that the government should ensure that school clinics are ready to attend to sick people. But the directives only exist on paper in Kwara State, as most schools in the state barely have an adequately equipped first aid box.
An SS3 student of the school who identified himself as Ajetunmobi Kehinde told this reporter he was excited to be back in school. Ajetunmobi, who explained they were oriented by the school on safety measures against COVID-19, said the state government should urgently provide protective materials that are central to stifling the transmission of the virus.
“I am very happy to resume because most of us were just staying at home idly. We were told to observe social distancing, and at the gate of the school, there is soap to wash our hands so that we can be protected.
“However, we’ll be glad if infrared thermometers could be provided to the school and mini school clinic which would serve the students…if there [are] any cases of the virus so others won’t be affected. There is no toilet for us as we mostly also go to the bush to poo.”
Additionally, Government High School, Ilorin, has no school clinic to attend to the health of the students. A teacher in the school said: “The school doesn’t have a school clinic, we only have a first aid box. We are not medical personnel and we don’t have any. If a student got injured or sick now, we just have a first aid box which we will just give him/her paracetamol or things like that from it.”
At Mount Carmel College, the students had not been given any protective materials when this reporter visited on Thursday–a day after the resumption. The principal of the school, however, refused to speak with this reporter. But in her office, this reporter observed a hand sanitiser–the type given to other schools visited by this reporter–standing alone on her office desk.
This reporter was also turned down by the principal of Government Day Secondary School, Adeta. But hand washing basins were placed in the school as students were seen cutting grasses that have almost taken over the classrooms.
Beyond Face Masks and 100ml Hand Sanitisers, Teachers Express Worry
To ensure safety when schools and learning facilities finally reopen, the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, as part of the guidelines for the reopening of schools, enjoined school owners to put a mechanism that protects learners, teachers, administrators, parents, and all other stakeholders while providing high-quality education in place.
Earlier, the National President of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Dr Nasir Idris, also expressed worries over the safety of teachers across the country while speaking with The Guardian Newspaper. The teachers said they feared that the measures put in place by federal and state governments were not enough to keep staff and children safe.
The president, therefore, warned that the union would not hesitate to instruct its members to put down their tools if the government failed to provide measures in compliance with the recommendations of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
“If the government refuses to put COVID-19 protocols in place, we will have no other option but to meet with our members and withdraw our services because the pandemic is increasing day by day. We will take stock state by state and ensure that in any place they have not provided the COVID-19 protocols, we will withdraw our service.”
But the worries of the teachers were finally laid bare as many who spoke with this reporter in the state decried the slow space of distribution of protective materials by the state government, stating that the state government did not consider their plight.
Ishola Taiwo, a teacher at Barakat Community Secondary School, expressed displeasure at the ‘preparation’ the state government claimed it had put in place before reopening schools.
“The government has been claiming to be trying for these students, but I’m very sorry to say, the environment is not safe enough for us all, the government is only considering the economic implication of it.
“They said infrared thermometers will be distributed, but they only mandated principals to get an infrared thermometer. Where do they expect the principal of a school that has been closed for four and a half months to get an infrared thermometer, and this thermometer will cost nothing less than N28,000. Where are we expecting the principal to get this money?
“As for the teachers, the government doesn’t make any provision for us, the government should find a means of encouraging the teachers, we also have our families if anything happens to the students, we teachers will be among the first contacts, we will take it to our various homes and most of us are living with extended family, what are we going to do?” he asked.
Ishola furthered that schools should have a mini health centre to care for the students in case of an emergency as he urged the state government to provide these protective materials before students of JSS 3 resumes.
“According to the memorandum that they signed, they said each school should provide mini health centres, presently the only health worker that we have here is on study leave. If anything happens then many of us here are not safe, whether we are trained or not, we will not be looking at the patient on the ground, somebody has to come to his or her rescue, what will be the fate of that person.
“If the government is really ready to assist, they should make provisions for an isolation centre in each school and also there should be a direct emergency line that we will contact if anything happens.
“What the government has done is insufficient because they distributed the face masks and hand sanitisers, although it is not enough. We were given 116 instead of 118 that registered for WAEC, and the face mask is only meant for students, teachers are not included. I would like to implore the government to provide for us more facemasks, hand sanitisers and thermometers. Also pertaining to the school environment, it’s uncalled for because the government doesn’t provide the measure concerning the COVID-19,” his colleague who simply identified himself as Ibrahim chipped in.
Meanwhile, Maloma Janet, another teacher at Government High School, Ilorin, said the school provided the handwashing basin to complement the efforts of the state government, but stated that the infrared thermometer is yet to be provided.
She stated: “The government needs to do more in the provision of water as many schools in the state could barely boast of adequate water supply to practise frequent handwashing habit which is one of the safety measures against the spread of the virus.”
She, therefore, urged the state government to provide more hand sanitisers to schools to further help against the spread of the virus while stocking schools’ medical facilities.
“Apart from giving more sanitisers to school, the state government should ensure schools’ medical facilities are adequately stocked. In those days even when there was nothing like COVID-19, there used to be a clinic in every school and we had medical personnel employed by the state government, I think this COVID-19 should also remind the government to revamp the education sectors.”
Another teacher in the state, who pleaded anonymity, advanced that though mass awareness about the pandemic has already prepared the teachers against the virus, protective materials should also be given to teachers across the state to protect them while carrying out their duties.
“We have resumed and if you go to all the classes, we have separated the students so that they can maintain social distancing and practice other safety measures.
As teachers, we are already accustomed to the system even before we resumed. The students were given their own yesterday but they have not given us any protective material. As of now, we are still expecting that they would do, anytime soon because the safety of teachers is as important as the students’.
Our Preparation Is In Phases
When contacted, the Chief Press Secretary to the State governor And Spokesman of the State COVID-19 Taskforce, Rafiu Ajakaye, said the protective materials sent to public schools across the state are meant for both teachers and the students, noting that the materials are for a start as the government will continue to support them until the curve of the virus is flattened.
But when asked if the 100 ML hand sanitiser is meant to be used by both the teachers and the students, Ajakaye parried the question to highlight how the state government has continued to prioritise teachers in the state.
“Our approach is resource-based and it has been very effective. We commit so many resources to educate the people about the pandemic as well as giving personal protective equipment like sanitisers and face masks to schools, especially public schools. This does not discriminate between students and teachers. We never said the sanitisers or the face masks are meant for just students.
“In fact, Kwara State is one of the few states that have so far distributed face masks or sanitisers to schools. But beyond that, we have partnered with schools on various safety measures. At the beginning of this pandemic, before the schools were shut down, we put in place handwashing facilities in several schools across the state, especially public schools. We encouraged schools and other institutions to put in place safety measures. When we distributed palliatives, we gave to private schools in the state while our teachers continue to get their own salaries as and when due. We are in the process of giving bailouts to private schools to help their teachers.
“To be sure, the face masks and sanitisers already distributed are for teachers and students. Also, the government had earlier provided handwashing facilities across many schools in the state. So, the question of protecting the students and exposing the teachers does not arise at all.”
Additional reporting from Nurudeen Akewushola.
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