Against the background of precautionary concerns for the health of Nigeria’s teeming schooling population, in the wake of the hanging threat of Ebola Virus, and the need to save the school system or calendar from collapse, stakeholders remain divided over the resumption of schools across the country.
While proprietors and teachers in the private education sector are largely calling for resumption of schools on September 22, principals and teachers in the public schools system consider the September resumption date hasty and not in the interest of the health of Nigeria’s children.
Beyond the issue of date for schools resumption, analysts and some concerned stakeholders are worried over the poor state of sanitation in many public schools, with rickety water infrastructure, un-hygienic toilets and the widespread practice of open defecation that create high risk conditions for spread of not only Ebola but other diseases like Cholera and diarrhea.
Organisations like the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Trades Union Congress (TUC), Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and the All Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCONPPS) believe that time is not yet ripe for schools’ resumption, as there was no visible or convincing evidence that effective preventive measures or preparations are in place to ensure the health of pupils and students returning to school.
Harping essentially on the impact of delay on resumption of schools on the school calendar, private sector stakeholders like Funmilayo Oladipo, proprietress of Tomvic Group of Schools in Ilasamaja, Lagos, told BD SUNDAY that those campaigning against schools’ resumption must be speaking from the standpoint of ignorance and lack of feeling for the nation’s education system. She believes that the minister of health has given re-assurance on the effective containment of Ebola and that should suffice.
“Look at the poor results released by WAEC and NECO. It shows that Nigeria needs to double efforts at rescuing the education sector. Do we hope to achieve that when we shut the gates of schools for one academic year? Oladipo asks.
For some stakeholders, they believe that the resumption date is inconsequential, so long as many public schools remain without water, hygienic toilets and pupils and students still defecate in nearby bushes, canals and gutters.
A female teacher in a Lagos State public secondary school who chose to remain anonymous counts her school as one of the lucky schools that had bore holes before now. For her, there are schools without water and are akin to “poultry farms.”
For Walter Afolabi, a concerned parent, “the fact that Lagos State government has promised to link 600 public school with water does not solve the huge problem. What happens to other neighbouring states? Don’t forget, whatever happens to other states will bounce back to Lagos.”
Titus Olagunju, proprietor, Timi Group of Schools, Surulere, said there is no reason to keep the schools shut indefinitely since school owners had been directed on what to do.
According to him, what is important is that schools must observe the precautionary health measures as directed by the health authorities.
Obiageri Ezikoha believes that “government doesn’t have to wait till Ebola comes before they provide toilet facility for public schools or fix the already dilapidated ones.”
BD SUNDAY investigations reveal that a good number of pupils and students in many public schools across the country practise open defecation in nearby bushes, gutters or canals as hygienic toilet spaces are rare and water provision for proper sanitation is not available. It is estimated that over 30 million Nigerians still practise open defecation, and Nigeria is on the notorious list of countries still with such unhealthy habit.
With high open defecation around school environments, and poor water supply, the risk of Ebola infection may be high, considering that contact with body fluids and wastes are easy ways of spreading Ebola and other killer contagious diseases.
However, it appears that private sector schools are the ones vocal about being ready with preventive tools and arrangement in the fight against Ebola.
Graham Stothhard, Principal Grange School, Ikeja Lagos who spoke to BD SUNDAY says that Grange school “has been ready for resumption for over a week now because we have all our staff trained in the precaution that they should take in the situation concerning ebola.”
We have three school nurses who had additional training on the sensitisation of the Ebola virus. We have warning posters all around the school premises; we have automatic sanitiser gel dispensers in every appropriate location in the bathroom and every public administrative area. We have body temperature scanners which would be applied to everybody entering the school premises.”
It would be recalled that the initial announcement by Ibrahim Shekarau, minister of Education, that all schools nationwide should resume on October 13, 2014 over the Ebola Viral Disease outbreak sparked reactions, with stakeholders in the private schools sector coming out heavily against it.
However, following the outcry, Shekarau had called a meeting of state commissioners for education, where with the advice from the Health Ministry that Nigeria is safe, it was agreed that schools should be reopened on Monday, September 22, 2014. This decision, which was apparently taken to accommodate the interests of private school operators who seem keen on keeping with the school calendar, is again being protested against.
Responding to the resumption date debate, Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of Health, at a recent briefing in Abuja, had said that those with cogent reasons why schools should not re-open on that date should forward same to the Federal Government.
Chukwu said those calling for the extension of the schools resumption date was being driven by “irrational fears”.
He said: “The minister of education, after meeting with the commissioners for education from the 36 states and FCT decided when public schools should open, which is 22nd of September. In taking that decision, they considered the information that was given by the federal ministry of health that there is actually no reason now, with the expert information we have at hand, why schools cannot resume earlier than the original date of October 13. I think people should just allow us to do the work we have been doing very professionally.
“It was based on advice given by the ministry of health that the minister of education took the original decision that it was going to be in October and nobody quarreled with the minister. Now the minister, based on expert advice, has come back to say the resumption date will now be Sept 22 and some people are now quarrelling with it. I think we should allow the authorities to do their job. We don’t need to close the world.”
Meanwhile, as the debate rages on, the House of Representatives intervening in the matter, seeking clarification on actual readiness of schools before resumption, is to meet with the minister of Education, Shekarau, and Nigerian Medical Association executives tomorrow, Monday.
IKENNA OBI, ZEBULON AGOMUO, KELECHI EWUZIE and NATHANIEL AKHIGHE