Olalekan Adetayo, Eniola Akinkuotu, Friday Olokor, Grace Edema, Daud Olatunji, Abiodun Nejo and Peter Dada
There was confusion on Monday over reopening of schools in the country as the Federal Government issued guidelines , but failed to mention the resumption date for the schools.
The guidelines for the reopening of schools were contained in a document titled, ‘Guidelines for schools and learning facilities reopening after COVID – 19 pandemic closures: Taking responsibility for safe schools and quality learning.’
It was signed by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, and Minister of State for Education, Mr Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba.
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 had , at its press briefing on June 29, said the Federal Government had approved the resumption of graduating pupils in Primary 6, Junior Secondary School 3 and Senior Secondary School 3.
It said the resumption would enable the pupils to prepare for their final examinations. The task force said the West African Examinations Council had fixed the West African Senior School Certificate Examination for between August 3 and September 5.
At the June 29 press briefing, the PTF National Coordinator, Dr Sani Aliyu, said, “Pupils in graduating classes – only graduating classes; Primary 6, JSS 3 and SSS3 – will be allowed to resume in preparation for examinations.”
But on Wednesday, the Federal Executive Council, at its meeting made a U-turn when it put the planned resumption of graduating classes on hold on the grounds that it was not safe to reopen schools because of COVID-19.
It said pupils of the Federal Government-owned unity schools would not participate in WASSCE.
Despite putting the resumption on hold, the Federal Ministry of Education on Monday issued guidelines for the reopening of the schools.
According to the guidelines, the safe distancing measures require that in schools and other learning facilities, learners should be supported to stay two metres apart.
The document states that where the two-metre rule could not be reasonably applied, other risk mitigation strategies could be adopted.
It states, “In these circumstances, risk assessments must be undertaken with the best interests of the learners, teachers, and other education personnel in mind. The scenarios require organising learners and children into small groups with consistent membership and compliance to the risk mitigation strategies. The membership of these groups should not change unless the NCDC public health guidelines suggest otherwise.”
The government said with the release of the document, it would conduct a rapid assessment of funding requirements for upgrading infrastructure such as classrooms, furniture and water to meet prescribed safe school reopening requirements.
Speaking on the guidelines, Adamu said, “Given that COVID – 19 may be with us for a while, the guidelines also highlight the urgent need to maintain and improve upon distance-learning programmes. Our aim is to identify and strengthen programmes that will guarantee the recovery of learning gaps resulting from the pandemic.
But at the PTF press conference on Monday, Nwajiuba insisted that there was no policy somersault on the planned reopening of schools.
Nwajiuba said, “Mallam Adamu Adamu is consistently in tune with what we have said in the PTF. No schools are reopened, we didn’t reopen any school.
“He (Adamu Adamu) was only giving what he has received which was the timetable as published by WAEC and advised that this period, from now till when the (WASCCE) examination will take place sometime in August, anybody who wanted to use the schools would have to follow the guidelines.
“He said however that he is not in charge of private schools and schools under the concurrent list and power have therefore been devolved to sub-nationals who can take a decision on their state-owned schools, whether they can participate in the WAEC examinations or not.
At the press briefing, the PTF said the Federal Government had asked all government officials to suspend what it called all unnecessary travels for meetings, saying they should continue with virtual meetings.
With electioneering reaching its peak in Edo and Ondo states where governorship elections would hold, the government also cautioned politicians to be circumspect in their gatherings.
The PTF Chairman , Boss Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, urged corporate organisations not to misconstrue the resumption of flights but also encourage virtual meetings.
He said, “The PTF wishes to reiterate the following: ‘all government offices shall continue to hold virtual meetings in their offices especially where participants exceed four persons and suspend all unnecessary travels for meetings.
“For corporate organisations, board members, etc, the reopening of the domestic flights should not be misconstrued. The PTF strongly encourages virtual meetings as well.
“We still urge places of worship to cautiously follow the guidelines on public gatherings; and we urge members of the political class to exercise utmost circumspection in their gathering for whatever reasons.”
On testing deficit, the SGF said the task force has resolved to establish one sample collection centre per local government area.
The Director-General of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, on his part said new evidence suggested that COVID-19 might be transmitted through air.
He explained that hitherto the virus was believed to only be transmittable through droplets which emanate from the nose and the mouth and fall to the ground.
Ihekweazu, however, stated that studies of new infections showed that the disease might also be airborne.
The NCDC boss said, “Over the past few weeks, increasing evidence has emerged that in addition to droplet infections, we cannot rule out that airborne transmission is also possible as a mode of transmission of Covid-19.”
Ihekweazu said with this new revelation, the wearing of face masks and the need to maintain social distancing had become imperative.
The NCDC boss also stated that one of the challenges undermining the agency’s efforts was the high number of unnecessary calls being received by the emergency centres.
He said last week alone 26 per cent of the calls its emergency centres received were ‘hoax’ calls.
FG rules out financial help for private school owners
Meanwhile, the minister of state for education ruled out the possibility of the Federal Government assisting private school owners financially to survive the pandemic.
He said he had however advised them to take advantage of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s window which had been provided by the Federal Government to support Small and Medium Scale Enterprises for salary augmentation provisions and loans.
While answering a question, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, told frontline healthcare workers involved in the fight against COVID-19 to write a petition to him, if they had yet to be paid their allowances.
S’West states meet on school resumption
As the Federal Government released the guidelines, the South-West states will on Tuesday (today) hold a virtual meeting to decide on the resumption of final year students sitting for WASSCE.
The Special Adviser to Governor on Public Communications, Remmy Hazzan, told one of our correspondents on Monday that the outcome of the meeting of the commissioners for education in the South-West would determine the next step to be taken by the state government.
He said, “I am aware that tomorrow, all the commissioners for education in the South-West are holding a meeting and the outcome of that meeting will help the governors to further take it to another level and also meet to now have a common position.”
Also, the Ondo State Commissioner for Education, Mr Femi Agagu, said he was aware of the meeting, adding that the state would be represented at the meeting .
The Ekiti State Commissioner for Education, Mr Foluso Daramola, on his part, said at the meeting, the state would make its situation known.
The state had earlier announced that the final year pupils should resume on July 20 before the Federal Government rescinded its decision on resumption of schools.
But the Lagos State Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folasade Adefisayo said that the government would make known its decision this week.
When one of our correspondents spoke to her on the telephone, she said, “you will know our decision within the week.”
All schools in the country have been closed since March 2020 following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Federal Government’s decision to suspend resumption of schools has generated a lot of controversies. While 19 northern states supported it, the Yoruba apex socio-political group, Afenifere, threatened to sue the Federal Government over the decision to withdraw Nigerian pupils from the WASSCE.