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Conducting WASSC Exams not impossible, only takes commitment

Discourse should be on ‘how to’, not ‘when to’

The decision of the Federal Government of Nigeria to rescind its earlier stand on an indefinite postponement of the 2020 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) for Nigerian students which received lots of backlashes from Nigerians is quite commendable.

Last week, the FG and WAEC agreed to shift the date for the commencement of the WASSC Examinations from the earlier proposed August 4 to September 5, 2020.

In the face of surging COVID-19 numbers, the need to protect students from contracting the deadly virus is understandable, more so as the government strives to flatten the pandemic curve. But losing an academic year as earlier proposed by Adamu Adamu, Nigeria’s Minister of Education, is tantamount to creating a problem in a bid to solve an existing one.

That, we think, means basically setting back about 1,549,463 registered candidates as against their contemporaries in other West African countries who are also participating in the yearly exams.

We share the view of most Nigerians, especially parents, that holding the WASSCE is not impossible if there is a commitment to conduct the examination. It has been suggested that campuses of universities and polytechnics should be used for the exams to allow for social distancing. We can’t agree more.

Additionally, we also agree with the view that, in a bid to achieve safe examination exercise, the usual examination duration could be extended to reduce the large concentration of students in the examination hall for better observance of physical distancing rules.

It is important Nigeria finds a way to participate in the WASSCEs, while strictly adhering to health and safety protocols as advised by health professionals. After all, schools are closed and, so, spacing shouldn’t be an issue. Lessons can be conducted in safe environments until the exams are due.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus forced several countries to shut the school gates this year. According to statistics, over 1.5 billion young people have been compelled to stay at home as part of broader shutdowns to protect people from the novel coronavirus.

Although this measure was, to a large extent, effective in curbing the spread of the virus in some countries, parents and educators at a time began to raise concerns that school closures did more harm than good. They contended that the measure was damaging the lives of a generation of young people.

To address this, many countries have reopened their schools, while they ensure students remain safe by imposing strict policies and sanctions on failure to observe safety measures.

The case of reopening schools or not is all about proper execution of safety policies and measures. This is why we feel strongly that Nigeria cannot afford to keep schools permanently shut, because no one knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last nor how soon a vaccine will be discovered and declared safe and potent for curing the virus.

There is the fear too that when the vaccine is discovered eventually, not many Nigerians would be able to afford it, meaning that the virus may be here for a long haul.

Instead of being reactive towards the opening of schools, we encourage the government to be more proactive in safe approach to restarting sectoral activities the COVID-19 pandemic has forced to shut-down. In the long run, the benefits will outweigh the risks, especially in Nigeria’s education sector.

All it will take is a combination of keeping student-groups small and requiring masks and some social distancing. In this regard, current discourse should be on “how to” and not “when to” reopen schools. It should also be on “how” to conduct the WASSCE and not “when” to do so.

Basing policies on “when” would only see the FG go back and forth on COVID-19 related decisions when the numbers again become scary. Countries have now gotten to the point where they are asking, “how can we resume activities while safeguarding the people?” We advise that Nigeria should take a cue.

Although very complex, we warn that the longer school activities are interrupted, the deeper and hasher the psychological impacts on students at home. Some students have taken to e-learning, but there are countless others out there without access to such a facility or opportunity.

To this end, we advise further that ‘how’ do we make our schools safer for classes to resume and exams to take place, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, should be the big question on the government’s lips.

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