Opinion: Are We Truly Prepared For Schools’ Resumption?Articles/Opinion, Latest News Friday, September 12th, 2014
By Adewale Kupoluyi
Parents and guardians with their children and wards in both public and private primary and secondary schools – which were earlier scheduled to reopen by the third week of September after a long holiday that began late July – were directed by the Federal Government to adhere to a new date following the sudden outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the country. Initially, the resumption was postponed to October 12 and in a twist, after a meeting of the Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau and states’ commissioners of education, it was resolved that the schools would now reopen on September 22. The Minister of Education’s previous announcement had sparked-off a wave of several reactions with stakeholders in the private schools coming out heavily against it and calling for a reversal. Also, the new date drew criticism from doctors, activists and civil society groups, who alleged that the government was stampeded into taking the decision due to the strong influence of some powerful school proprietors.
Ordinarily, one would wonder why the government and private school owners would be in a hurry to reopen schools while the disease is still being contained in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State, after it was successfully contained in Lagos State. Isolated cases are still being reported in other parts of the country such as Ile-Ife while over 400 Ebola contacts are still being monitored. Hence, one would want to ask whether it wouldn’t have been better to defer the resumption of schools to safeguard the pupils, students and teachers. In what could be referred to as giving an official seal to this decision, the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, had said that there was nothing to fear over the directive to schools to resume, based on ‘experts advice’, on an earlier date of September 22. Chukwu had confidently said the virus had been contained, saying “we’ve contained the situation. Ebola is no longer in the streets anywhere in Nigeria”. He added that his ministry was working closely with the Federal Ministry of Education to ensure that institutions having returnees from outside Nigeria were given questionnaires, asked questions and subjected to tests to ensure that they do not have the disease. Even though the government has given the reason for its decision, many people on the other hand are of the opinion that this directive could have been taken merely as a way of accommodating the views of those who would rather not want the school calendar to be disrupted. The government should ensure the safety and welfare of all including the children.
The Minister of Health has not convincingly demonstrated why the resumption date should brought forward because nothing concrete has been done to curtail the spread of the disease bearing in mind that children and the youths usually have little resistance to manage personal problems unlike adults. This was the bone of contention of the Nigerian Medical Association that has decried the government’s directive and reasoned that all schools should rather remain shut till all those under surveillance for the disease have been certified free. The NMA was of the opinion that the resumption of schools could further be shifted till December or early next year warning that with the spread of Ebola to any school, it would become catastrophic in line with the fears of the House of Representatives, which is also worried that nothing tangible is on ground on the part of government to warrant an early resumption as it swiftly directed its Committee on Education to probe the controversies that has trailed the fixing of a new resumption date. The Nigerian Union of Teachers is gearing up for strike action over the early resumption date. The union said it would not allow any of its members to teach until it was scientifically and medically proven that the country was out of the scourge.
No doubt, Nigeria has been commended for the way it has handled the containment of Ebola with minimal casualty. It is hoped that this feat will not be rubbished by a hasty decision that may not be well thought-out afterall. The health minister should let us know what he has been able to put in place in fact and figures should the virus goes wild in our schools. And if government insists on enforcing the new resumption date, states should ensure that all safety measures are put in place by installing dispensary, providing adequate water facilities, sick bay where sick children, especially those with fever are properly tested and managed. School authorities should watch out for strange behaviour amongst pupils and generously provide hand sanitisers to their pupils before allowing them into their premises. They should also have thermal thermometers to constantly check the temperatures of pupils at regular intervals and train desk officers to handle suspected cases. As a perennial crisis and feature of most public institutions, government should ensure that adequate public toilets are provided in addition to carrying out an intensive safety assessment to ensure proper monitoring of health-related issues. With these provisions in place, it will be easy to convince the people that the government is truly capable of curtailing the spread of the disease. Above all, parents and teachers should be better prepared for hands-on engagement in inculcating good hygienic practices necessary for the eradication of the outbreak of Ebola and other communicable diseases bearing in mind that prevention is always better than cure.
Otherwise, schools should be shut till the last suspected cases and patients are certified to be free of the virus by shifting the resumption date further. Though painful, this would rather help the government to have adequate time to follow the standard procedure and put the necessary machinery in place for containing the deadly virus going by the disclosure that it could take between six to nine months to completely contain the virus. With the peculiar nature of our large population, therefore, rushing the students back to school at a time they are not prepared to receive them is a sure recipe for an otherwise avoidable calamity. This should not be allowed.
Kupoluyi writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, vide, email@example.com, Twitter, @AdewaleKupoluyi
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