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School resumption: Updates, risks and safety measures for parents and their wards

  • Effect of the COVID-19 virus on education 

    Ever since the outbreak of Covid-19 from China, it has been affecting the world economy and financial institutions. A couple of weeks after the outbreak, Covid-19 started affecting the educational systems worldwide. It led to the partial or total closure of colleges, universities, and schools. This didn't exclude Africa, as it made most African governments temporarily close educational institutions to contain the virus's spread.

    A total of 1.725 billion learners, as of May 24th, 2020, were affected by the school closure due to coronavirus worldwide. From the UNICEF database, up to 153 countries are currently on total lockdown, and 24 are closing down parts of their countries. Among these 153 countries are African countries, including Nigeria. Schools in 10 countries are currently open. Schools will remain closed in Nigeria until further evaluation. This was confirmed on Thursday 21st, 2020, by the Covid-19 Presidential Task Force (PTF). 

    Effect of Covid-19 on primary education

    Primary education (also known as elementary education) is the formal education given to children between the ages of 4 and 7 years. This education includes kindergarten, which is the first time a child will be attending school to receive a formal education. However, there will be up to 67% loss of literacy ability in a child that is prevented from receiving formal education at this stage of life. Covid-19 will, therefore, have a substantial negative impact on such children.

    Effect of Covid-19 on secondary education 

    Many examination bodies in Nigeria and Africa have cancelled their examinations until further notice due to Covid-19. These examination bodies in Nigeria include the West African Examination Council (WAEC), National Examination Council (NECO), and Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB). All these bodies are regulation exams into and out of the secondary schools in Nigeria. However, since they have cancelled their examinations until further notice, students taking these exams this year will have to wait, and their education will be delayed. On the other hand, the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) has suspended its Career-related and Diploma Programme examinations that were supposed to hold between April 30th and May 22nd, 2020. This immediate suspension is affecting more than 200,000 students globally.

    Effect of Covid-19 on tertiary (higher) education

    Tertiary education refers to the optional educational levels after the completion of high school or secondary school. In addition to undergraduate and postgraduate education, tertiary education also includes vocational training and education. Students who complete their tertiary education are usually given academic degrees and certificates. Undergraduate education is a type of education in which the learner is awarded a bachelor's degree. However, the closure of tertiary schools is affecting the school administrators, students, faculty, and the school itself.

    Read other perspectives on how Covid-19 affected schools.

    School resumption safety measures

    In Nigeria, many schools are ready for the resumption and are waiting for the government to declare the resumption date. Many of these schools' heads said they are now prepared to receive their students as they have already made the necessary safety precautions. On Wednesday, May 27th, during the presidential task force briefing on Covid-19, the ministry said that they would release guidelines on the school resumptions and safety measures to take.

    Some of the measures that schools must put in place include:

    - Every school must publish government Covid-19 safety guidelines and enforce all students to abide by it.

    - All schools must sanitise and disinfect their classrooms and the entire schools before the resumption

    - Hand sanitisers must be placed in every available corner of the school, and all students must be forced to wash their hands before entering the classrooms or any other famous sites.

    - The face mask is an essential protective tool against Covid-19, and all students and other workers in the school must wear face masks.

    - Social distancing is another effective way to protect students and teachers against Covid-19. All schools must increase security to make sure all students obey the social distancing rule.

    Check out these Covid-19 technical guidelines for schools, workplaces and institutions issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).

    Risks associated with school closure and resumption

    In Nigeria and in more than 190 countries where Covid-19 is spreading, schools have been closed for more than two months. This affects more than 1.57 billion children, which is approximately up to 90% of the world's student population. Since these closures occur quickly to contain the virus, the government then devises alternative means of learning, including TVs, radios, and other online platforms. According to UNESCO data, up to 100 countries are yet to announce their school reopening dates, and 65 countries are planning to open partially. Up to thirty-two countries are planning to complete their academic year online.

    There are many risks associated with the reopening of schools in these countries, especially in Nigeria. Will there be no increase in infections among students? How are we going to control the spread among such a large number of students? These and many more questions need answers for smooth school reopening. This is a complex decision to take, and there is little evidence on the risks and rate of transmission. Even if schools reopen now, there are questions on how the opening process will be managed because we are still studying the virus. Even with the little we know, governments can still open the schools successfully with every essential safeguard put in place.

    The longer we close schools, the larger the students learning loss. However, the earlier we open schools, the little the damage that will happen to the well-being and learning journeys of millions of students. The prolonged closure of schools will increase the risks of children's exploitation and deepen the learning crisis of many students. Many students will find it hard to return to schools after long-term school closure. For example, there were increased teen pregnancy rates among school girls after the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

    Apart from learning, schools offer other different things to students. Some of these include improved health, nutrition, social protection, and emotional support. This is very helpful to most disadvantaged students. According to the World Food Programme, it was estimated that up to 370 million children stopped receiving school meals due to school closures. However, since most students have no access to computers, there is a reduction in learning during the shutdown. No matter how little the alternative learning channels, such students will never be like the rest. Also, there will be an increase in psychological problems among students when they are isolated from their mates and teachers, and when any of their loved ones died.

    When school reopens during this period, things must be done differently and better. When students resume, the school must provide support. This support will include providing flexible learning methods and expansion of classrooms to support social distancing as analysed by the government. There must be enough care to be given to girls and young mothers. Secondary school students have higher risks when returning to school after a long-term break. Some of these risks can be reduced by engaging with families, increasing communication campaigns among them, and providing scholarships.

    Related article: Challenges and benefits of distance education during Covid-19 pandemic

    School resumption updates 

    Currently, many countries in Africa are planning to reopen schools and other public gatherings in their countries. However, despite many rumours of school reopening in Nigeria, there is no confirmed date for schools to resume. Since there is an element of truth in every rumour, different organisations have started advising the government on whether to reopen school or not. 

    However, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) has been advising the president of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, to allow each state to reopen the schools, religious centres, and businesses in their states. This is to help contain the Covid-19 virus in the country. The advice comes in the day after the two-week total lockdown ends in the country. Each state knows what is happening and how to prevent the spread of the virus in their state. With time, the president will decide on what to do to ease the lockdown and reopen schools, businesses, and religious centres. 

    Although the Organised Private Sector (OPS) has advised the government to ease the lockdown and allow businesses to resume and prevent workers' reduction; NMA and PSA have opposed this. On the other hand, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSA) and the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) has called for the extension of this lockdown to help contain the spread of the virus in Nigeria. The president will release new guidelines on what to do about the update received from PTF.

    Why not also check out these frequently asked questions about distance learning.

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