The need for caution was central in the reactions of various stakeholders towards the decision of the Oyo State government to order the reopening of schools for students in Primary six, JSS3 and SSS3 from June 29.

While some stakeholders identified that the state was being put at risk of further spread, especially when COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the state, others wondered what plans the state government and schools management had on ground to ensure that COVID-19 protocols were adhered to.

In warning that the decision to reopen schools may be premature, they wondered how students will be restricted from touching or playing with one another, whether the health of teachers will be ascertained, how classes will be rearranged to comply with social distancing, how teachers will keep up with increasing the number of classes, how regularly students and staff will be provided with hand sanitiser or asked to wash their hands.

Tribune Online reports that the state government had, on Monday, handed down the order for resumption of classes for students in ‘critical’ classes citing the need to ensure that the concerned students are well-prepared for the public examinations ahead them.

Speaking on the directive to reopen schools, Professor Francis Egbokhare of the department of Linguistics, University of Ibadan, said the decision should have been delayed further while mass testing should be prioritised.

Noting that testing done, so far, was not representative of the population of the state, he warned that the state may be in for a health crisis with expected interaction between students and teachers in schools.

Except the state government had information that the public did not have, Egbokhare said it was illogical that a reopening of schools and religious houses was ordered at a time when the cases in the state were rising.

“If we have waited this long, there is no harm waiting a bit longer. The truth is that the figures are rising. We have no provisions for doing massive testing.

“We do not know exactly the figures of people who are probably dying of complications of diseases; we do not know exactly what is killing those people. Whatever statistics we have is not representative.

“If you look at the population of people in Oyo State vis-à-vis those who have been tested, we really know that what we have on the ground can still get bigger.

“The governor has so far managed by balancing the economic realities with the demands of restrictions. But we can wait until there is a reasonable guarantee that this pandemic isn’t going to lead to a disaster in a place like Oyo State.

“Do they have the statistics of the health conditions of the teachers who will be going to the classrooms? You know that after a certain age of 50 years, you either are taking care of one underlying disease or the other. We know that one out of every four Nigerian male has high blood pressure. Also, diabetes has become endemic in our society.

“So, how do you deal with this kind of situations where teachers stand in front of the students interact with young people, who are carriers and don’t know, and we end up having a health crisis for people of a particular age. So, we have to be careful.

“But, it is possible that the government has information that we don’t have. If the cases are going up, and not that they are cooking up the data, then, it doesn’t look logical asking people to open,” Egbokhare said.

For safe reopening, chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Oyo State chapter, Mr Samson Adedoyin said it was incumbent on the state government to provide washing hand points, sanitisers and facemasks for students and staff.

While noting that the state government did not meet with the NUT before announcing the decision, Adedoyin said the union will not hesitate to meet with the state Commissioner for Education to understanding government’s plans for reopening.

“Though the government is yet to make contact with NUT formally, we will go and meet government.

“We need the government to make provisions for pupils, students in schools to ensure that the virus does not spread.

“Government should provide face masks, washing hand bowls, sanitizers then we will be able to maintain distancing based on NCDC guidelines.

“Government should make provisions considering schools in rural areas where most of these parents may not be able to make provisions. We have decided to engage the Ministry of Education and see what is on the ground.

“Moreover, the state Commissioner for Education is a member of the COVID-19 task force.

“All things being equal, we should have been contacted before announcing the decision, but even if we are not contacted, we will now move to them and seek an audience with the state Commissioner for Education who is part of that committee that took that decision.

“We will meet the government to know what plans it has. The government and committee that met must have had a certain plan before announcing that students should go back. We are monitoring the situation for now,” Adedoyin said.

A teacher, Yetunde Olumuyiwa described as improper and hasty the decision of the state government to reopen schools amid rising cases of coronavirus in the state.

She wondered how the state government intended to keep schools safe, stop children from interacting with another, and ensure that teachers themselves are ascertained safe before interacting with students.

“I don’t think it is proper to reopen schools at this time. Coronavirus cases are rising and there seems to be no end to the scourge. How do we tell kids not to play or interact with one another? How safe are the teachers? How do we determine that the school is safe? Public schools are absolutely the worst.

“With children thronging schools and little administrative staff, how do we determine the best way to keep those ones safe? I don’t think the rush is necessary,” Olumuyiwa said.

On his part, chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Ibadan branch, Dr Oluwole Akintayo, averred that it will be difficult to manage “vulnerable” children when they report to schools.

Making reference to some countries who had rescinded their decision to reopen schools, he warned that the state may be at risk of a spike in cases when schools reopen.

Akintayo wondered why the haste to reopen schools noting that even if terminal examinations are held, the classes they intended to graduate to were still occupied.

“Government should act on the basis of scientific information available to it. From what we have on the ground, I think the action to reopen schools is premature. I think it is not right to expose the vulnerable people to the scourge of coronavirus.

“You open schools for Primary 6, JSS3 and SS3. For SS3, WAEC has not decided what to do so why do we want to expose those children who are vulnerable.

“England, for example, has decided to use the Continuous Assessment to determine those to proceed. If you ask children, who are naturally playful, to report to schools, there is no way they can abide by those protocols. That is why we need to be cautious.

“Isreal opened their own schools and there was a spike. We must prioritise things. Life is more important than education. For primary 6, even if they are graduated to JSS1, have those in JSS1 vacated the class?

“The best interest of the child should determine action to be taken. The tertiary institutions are not open, and these are adults. But you have children in primary, secondary schools, that are vulnerable, play, mingle, some will bring infection from their houses, some will take infection to their houses,” Akintayo said.

Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), in the state, Mr Bayo Titilola-Sodo said the NLC was set to engage the government on modalities for reopening.

Also speaking, Director of the Education Advancement Centre (EAC), Pastor Muyiwa Bamgbose said he believed that the state governor, Seyi Makinde was being guided by facts in his decision to order reopening of schools.

He, however, called for caution, noting that the state government must properly analyse the progression of cases in the state.

He also gave instances of schools who ordered that schools be opened and shut them again, noting that the state should not hesitate to suspend reopening of schools should the cases continue to rise.

“We are stakeholders and I believe the government must have facts that we may not have.

“Ordinarily, one will say that there should be caution to protect the lives of children and teachers, and by extension, their families.

“But, we know that the governor of Oyo state is a serious-minded governor. We believe they must have facts that we don’t have.

“Caution is important because we have discussed with people in other countries and some have opened their schools and shut them again.

“We are depending on the soundness of the decision of the state government.

“We need to look at the rates of the rising. If the rate of rising is dropping, it means we have passed the peak.

Even if the figures are dropping, unless they have information superior to what we have, we should be careful,” Bamgbose said.

Chairman, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr Akin Sodipo, wondered why the state government relaxed the lockdown when the number of cases in the state was not a downward trend.

According to Sodipo, the state was sitting on a keg of gunpowder except it ensured strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols in schools.

Among poses raised by Sodipo included how the state government intended to monitor the students, whether students will be coming to school in shifts so as to adhere to social distancing in classes, whether the state government will be providing sanitisers, washing hand points in schools.

“I am not in 100 percent of the systematic reopening of schools and worship centres in Oyo State. We all know that there is an increase in the incidence of this pandemic.

“Usually people wait for the table to be flattened out, then when it is on the downward trend, then you systematically release the lockdown.

“I am sure that the task force has more insight than some of us do, moreover there are doctors and professionals there.

“The problem is how do you monitor these kids. How do you limit number of students in each class? If there were 30 students in a class, you have to reduce to 15 students to abide with social distancing. So, will the schools build more classes? Will they send some kids away?

“Are they going to start running shifts? If they are going to run shifts, are they going to employ new set of teachers?

“I think these are things that the state government will have discussed with proprietors of schools. Also, how do you monitor the such that after leaving class, they do not have physical interaction.

“The government will not tell us anything and I believe that they have looked into that and discussed with proprietors of schools.

“I guess they have discussed with the proprietors and have given these guidelines. If not, we might be sitting on a keg of gunpowder.

“There is nothing as good as making a law, but the better thing is to enforce it. If they can enforce social distancing in classes, monitor these kids during break time or they won’t have break time.

“Even if they sanitise on entry to school, kids play a lot so sanitization must be continuous within the class, like giving students sanitizer at particular intervals. Have you put in place measures before you unlock?” Sodipo queried.

A parent, Mrs Oyebola Adesola said though she was glad at the reopening of schools, what was more paramount was for government to monitor schools for compliance to COVID-19 rules.

“I am okay with the reopening of schools provided the basic guidelines are adhered to.

“If the schools can make provisions for sanitizers, washing of hands, social distancing but I am not sure these are on ground.

“But if there is a way the schools can go around it, life can go on.

“COVID-19 is never going to go away completely and we have to devise ways of living around it. Each parent should also sensitise their wards.

“Government should ensure that schools comply with guidelines, especially private schools,” Oyebola said.

Chairman, Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), Emmanuel Alayande College of Education, Oyo, Segun Oyewunmi, also said the order for reopening of schools was in order as ong as the state government is able to provide sanitizers, washing hand points and facemasks.

He said the experience in primary and secondary schools will serve as a test case before tertiary institutions will be expected to be reopened in the state.

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