By Florence Ebebe
For some weeks now, school managers have been waiting for news of resumption. The lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic has taken about eight weeks from the school calendar. While primary and secondary schools would be resuming for the third term of the 2019/2020 academic session, tertiary institutions would either be completing semesters or starting new sessions.
Though no dates have been announced for resumption, schools have been told to start preparing to receive teachers and learners in a safe way.
Speaking at the 2020 Policy Meeting on Admissions to Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria on Tuesday, Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said all institutions must meet six conditions to resume.
They are: provision of hand-washing facilities; body temperature checks; body disinfectants at entry points to major facilities like gates, hostels, classes, offices; decontamination of premises; high level hygiene maintenance; and physical distancing compliance in classrooms and meeting spaces.
Are schools ready?
A community leader in Ihiagwa Autonomous Community of Imo State, Nze Nnamdi Chika, told The Nation that he was in doubt whether schools were ready to receive students.
“There are no adequate measures put in place to check students returning from epi-centres such as Lagos and Kano. There is congestion in the campus system, students living in the villages live three to four in a room. Our transport system is zero as far as social distancing is concerned,” he said.
He said claims by the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO) to have produced quality hand sanitizers and the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri to have invented solar and manual hand washing machines did not go beyond sample stage.
Speaking on the issue, the Public Relations Officer, Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Everest Nwosu, said the level of preparation was worrisome.
“I personally don’t think anybody is prepared to welcome the students,” he said.
He noted that about 30 per cent of their students, their parents live in Lagos, the epicentre of the virus. “Once the borders are opened these students will return from their base and there will be cross fertilisation of the virus,” he said.
He said applying WHO guidelines may not work.
“There is serious congestion in the campus system that will make social distancing very difficult. We have to consider the cost of hand sanitizers, soaps; how many students would be able to provide all these.”
Hoever, the Public Relations Officer of FUTO, Uche Nwalue, differed. She said the management had streamlined the number of students that would be in a lecture hall.
“We don’t have problem on how the school would contain the virus. No student will be allowed in the lecture hall without facemask.”
Association sensitises school owners
Last Thursday, the Association of International School Educators of Nigeria (AISEN) organised a webinar to sensitise school owners and managers about the issues they should consider before resumption.
Apart from the regular issues of physical distancing and staggered resumption, experts that spoke at the webinar highlighted other factors like age-range and health status of workers, dealing with children with disabilities; provision of information/educational/communication material; establishment of screening and monitoring process.
Professor of Medical Microbiology and Research Officer/expert in infection, prevention and control for the WHO Prof. Adebola Olayinka said schools should consider how meal-time would be managed; as well as means of transportation children and workers use to school.
She said: “You have to consider the social activities outside the classroom – meal time and sports – then children who use public transport to school, will they be exposed during the time of transportation before coming to school? Could this lead to infections and outbreak within the school? When you talk about school buses, how do you limit interactions between these children on the way to and from school?”
Prof. Olayinka also advised against the use of body disinfectant because of their harmful effects on the body.
Safety expert Mrs. Fayo Williams, shared her e-book containing a checklist for school owners to use in determining their readiness for resumption.
Mrs. Williams, who is a member of faculty at the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria, said schools should not only have protocols in place but have plan of actions for various scenarios and assign tasks to those expected to carry them out.
The e-book titled: “Post COVID-19: The practical checklist for resumption of schools in eased lockdown”, features a schedule that schools can fill to specify who takes care of various tasks – from who disburses funds for needed consumables to who places sanitizers in strategic places and ensure the facemask policy is followed.
Mrs. Williams also made a case for provision of PPE for works and preparation of an isolation area.
“If we are going to designate the sickbay as isolation centre, we will have to really train the nursing staff specially. I instruct in first aid and right now we are going to involve the use of PPE in giving first aid because the giver of first aid has to be protected and we need to prevent cross infection.
“Again, an isolation centre should be properly designated in a school so that if someone comes down with symptoms of COVID-19 such a person can be isolated immediately and there should be some kind of protocol to follow so that other people who might have been exposed can be quarantined,” she said.
Lagos State Education Commissioner, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo said at the meeting that the state was developing protocols for resumption which would be made public this week. However, she warned that no date has been set for schools to resume yet.
She also spoke of special considerations for boarding schools. She said resumption rules have to be unique to schools depending on their needs.
She said: “We have looked at boarding houses and what has come out of it is that every school is perculiar; and therefore, we have to accept that while there are general guidelines, there must be some perculiarities in every school. Boarding houses are very perculiar by their very nature and possibly we have to have another layer of rules for them.”
Proprietors getting ready
Speaking on her school’s level of preparation, one of the participants, Mrs. Ajibike Bakare, said preparation began even before her school, Juniper Hill School, Surulere, closed. She added that new items had been purchased for resumption.
“Prior to the closure of the physical premises, we had started informing our pupils about hygiene protocols. In all honesty, our pupils display superb hygiene and manners. Due to the Montessori foundation in practical life skills, they are very independent and mindful of cleanliness. We have also maintained our social media platforms to enlighten everyone about social distancing and hygiene protocols.
“In our school, ever before the lockdown, we constantly disinfect all surfaces with bleach solution, pinesol, lysol and esca. The children are accustomed to this. In anticipation of resumption, we have acquired more handwashing stations and social distancing directive labels etc to use whenever we eventually resume,” she said.
Proprietor of Charlie Marie School, Likosi, Sagamu, Evangelist Adekunbi Akin-Taylor, also said the school was ready for resumption.
“Charlie Marie is well prepared for resumption. We are lucky as we are not overpopulated so social distancing will not be a problem. We have erected wash basins with direct water supply and we will supply bar soap as they are more effective. They foam well. We are already producing face masks for all children and staff,” she said.
However, not all school owners think resumption is realistic in the nearest future.
Proprietor of De Joyland School, Yaba, said she does not think it is safe to resume.
“Resumption? With the present situation at hand? I do not see resumption being realistic right now. I don’t think it is logical and safe,” she said.