COVID-19 CHARTER FOR STUDENTS AND EDUCATION WORKERS
A programme of struggle to prevent students and education workers from being made guinea-pigs of coronavirus
As schools begin to reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, students and education workers could be in grave danger. This is because even though the daily report of infection has reduced, yet nothing scientifically suggests that the pandemic has peaked. In a country of 200 million people, less than 600, 000 samples have so far been tested. Moreso, a second and third wave is entirely possible.
Hence the need for this charter which present demands and a programme of action for students and education workers to begin to fight for safety in the schools. This is to prevent a situation whereby students and staff are made guinea pigs of coronavirus by a completely insensitive and anti-poor capitalist government and proprietors of private schools whose sole concern is profit.
OBJECTIVE OF THE CHARTER
This charter has been drafted by the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). The ERC is an organization formed by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) to campaign for proper funding of education and democratic management of schools. This charter present demands on areas of needs in our education system. It arises as a result of the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic and a bid to reposition our schools (from the most basic form of education to higher institutions) to ensure quality learning in a safe environment that does not compromise the health and lives of students and staff.
This charter will also help to arm the students’ and workers movements with a programme of struggle to ensure that students and workers are not endangered. It is therefore our hope that this charter becomes a basis for principled discussion, engagement (dialogue and consultation) and united mass struggle of students and education workers. All students unions, staff unions, teachers’ unions and pro-masses organizations are enjoined to adopt this charter, wholly or with their own addition or subtraction to reflect peculiarities, and organize activities to ensure the realization of the charter’s demands.
REOPENING SCHOOLS IN THE MIDST OF PANDEMIC
Our schools have been shut down since the 19th of March, 2020 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). This closure became necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19. However despite the closure of schools, the record of confirmed cases of COVID-19 provided by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) revealed that the numbers of cases are on the increase after over five months of school closure. This was because the government failed to utilize the lockdown to take drastic steps to rein in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current low numbers of daily infection being recorded does not appear to be a result of the pandemic peaking but rather due to abysmally low testing and contact tracing. As of 9 October 2020, the total number of samples tested are still below 600, 000 in a population of 200 million. But even if the pandemic has truly peaked, a second and third wave is possible going by the experience of other countries across the world.
In this circumstance, it is not in doubt that reopening of schools can pose danger to students and workers. All assurances from government to the contrary cannot be trusted. Hence the urgent need for a programme of struggle to fight for the safety and health of students and staff especially now that the federal government has announced full reopening of all schools as from Monday October 12, 2020.
The reopening of schools is taking place during a nationwide and indefinite strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and also the 14-day warning strike by SSANU and NASU. Unions like ASUP, SSANIP and NAAT also have disputes with the government which could lead to strike anytime.
By declaring schools to open while unions are on strike, firstly, what this portends is that the government wants to make attempt to break the strike. This must be opposed. This is because, the issues and demands which have necessitated these strike actions actually borders on the funding of education and rehabilitation of decaying facilities in the school system which if done would actually contribute to a safe and conducive environment for learning.
Secondly, the inability of the government to utilize the past 6 months of school closure to resolve all issues and agitations of staff unions is the clearest indication yet of the un-seriousness of government towards public education. How can a government which routinely fails to fulfil collective bargaining agreement reached with staff unions be trusted to make adequate provision for the safety and health of students when schools are opened? The first step is for students to demand the immediate fulfillment of agreements with all the staff unions as the conditions for school reopening and resumption of academic activities.
Without taking this principled position, schools could be reopened but then there would be no academic activities for as long as the series of strikes last. The best way to ensure the strike does not drag for too long is for students to join hands with the staff unions in a collective struggle involving press conferences, public meetings (virtual and physical), protests and demonstrations to compel the government to meet demands so that academic activities can fully resume.
HOW CAN SAFETY BE GUARANTEED?
Since we agreed that it is necessary to ensure the safety of the health and live of students and staff whenever school resumes, it is necessary to put forward concrete demands around which mass activities and campaign can be organized to struggle for appropriate safety measures to be provided in all schools.
But the question many would ask is: why do we have to struggle for safety? Why can’t government assurances be trusted? The answer is simple. The government is an anti-poor capitalist government. It has no other interest except the self-enrichment of itself and other members of the capitalist class. This is a government which underfunds education and promotes policies of privatization and commercialization. This is also a government which does not respect agreement with staff unions and defends the interest of the rich against the poor in all other facets of life. In addition this is a government which has demonstrated its complete lack of concern for our lives going by the daily killings of young people by SARS, regular police and other instruments of class oppression.
So in short, this is not a government in whose hands we can place our health and lives. Rather we have to take their destinies into their own hands by organizing and struggling to ensure that we are not made guinea pigs.
FOR A WORKERS AND STUDENTS INDEPENDENT COVID-19 TASKFORCE
As a starting point, there is a need for students and staff to first carry out an independent assessment of the extent of preparation in all schools before they are opened. For this to happen, an independent workers and students COVID-19 safety taskforce is required to be set up through joint congresses of staff and students unions. Setting is this kind of taskforce or committee democratically has to be the immediate task for all students and staff unions as schools are set to open and it is why we call for immediate congresses of the unions.
This task force should be composed independently by teachers and students and must be answerable only to the mass assemblies of students and teachers. We cannot trust the government and proprietors. The responsibilities of the safety taskforce, is to act as the trusted and elected agents of the working class to go through all schools (both public and private), monitor safety provisions and certify them COVID-19 safety compliant before they are allowed to open and then afterwards to ensure the safety provisions are not relaxed. Upon any report by the taskforce of breach in the safety provisions, the students and staff unions can declare actions like boycotts, protests, strike, picketing etc.
This kind of activity and approach will go a long way in compelling the school management to see to the demands and thereby guaranteeing safety. Without doing this kind of organizing and vigilance, we can be rest assured that after a few weeks, most schools will relax their safety provisions thus exposing students and staff to the virus. To be clear, it is not impossible to make the school safe given the enormous wealth in society but for capitalism and profit interest. This is why our struggles for safety and adequate funding of education has to be linked with building a mass movement to end capitalism and enthrone a socialist society.
PREPARING FOR NEW ATTACKS
As we have seen with recent hike in fuel price and electricity tariff, the COVID-19 pandemic can be utilized by the capitalist government to deepen attacks on the right to education. New increases in tuition fees are possible across many tertiary institutions. At the same time, efforts would be made to place the responsibility for provision of safety facilities on students via increases, introduction of special charges like COVID-19 test fee etc. This would be with a view to use the pandemic to extort students and poor parents.
In Delta state for instance, students of the state-owned higher institutions are being asked to pay a levy of N5000 for COVID-19 safety provisions. In others, students are being asked to pay high amount to buy facemasks branded with the name of the school. In some private schools, students are being charged as much as N25, 000 for COVID-19 test!
This is why the students movement in particular need to be mobilized on a war footing to begin to fight back from campus to campus leading to a day of action involving nationwide lecture boycott and mass protest. It is to this end that we invite the staff and students unions to begin to organize and mobilize to fight for the following demands:
OUR CARDINAL DEMANDS:
(1) Immediate overhaul of physical infrastructure in schools such as; the renovations and construction of more classrooms, hostels and provision of teaching and learning facilities that can guarantee physical distancing in seating arrangement.
(2) Immediate recruitment of more teachers and lecturers to reduce class size to 30:1 ratio of students to teacher respectively.
(3) Immediate provision of toilets, running water, hand sanitizer, washing basin, and soap in all schools.
(4) Free facemasks for all students and staff. We oppose any sale of branded facemasks by school management. Do not commercialize the pandemic
(5) No to attempts to use COVID-19 regulations to witch-hunt and victimize students and staff.
(6) No to COVID-19 test fees or COVID-19 provision levy. We reject any attempts to use the pandemic to extort.
(7) For immediate reduction in all tuition fees across the country. Improved funding of public education and democratic running of schools at all levels.
(8). COVID-19 tests to be available for all teachers, non-academic staff and students free of charge
(9) Immediate construction of a well-equipped and staffed sick bay and a stand-by emergency ambulance in all schools.
(10) For government to take over empty premises to accommodate education needs including to use as hostels for students schooling in non-residential campuses.
(11) Disinfection of all schools against germs and other diseases.
12) Provision of school buses with physically-distanced seating arrangement to convey students and staff to and from school at no extra cost.
13) Recognition of the right of teachers, non-teaching staff and students to strike, stage walkout or boycott, picket and protest against any violation of the safety protocols in any school
11) Payment of salary areas and allowances, provision of health insurance schemes and other measures that can boost staff moral towards effective teachings.
12). Immediate meeting of all demands of all education workers unions like ASUU, SSANU, NASU, NAAT, ASUP, SSANIP etc. either on strike or preparing to go on strike.
(13) Implementation of the N30, 000 minimum wage in all schools
(14) For the NUT to take steps towards immediate unionization of all teachers in private schools and vigorous defense of their rights to decent employment and placement on the N30, 000 national minimum wage and lawful condition of service.
(15) Democratization of the decision making bodies of all schools to ensure the involvement of elected representatives of students and staff
(16) Recall of all politically victimized students and staff. A halt to all attacks on democratic rights
(17) For independent unionism. Restoration of all banned students and workers unions
(18)Provision of free and functional education at all levels
A POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
The corona virus pandemic and the weak and chaotic responses of governments globally show that capitalism endangers society and therefore poses the urgent need for a political alternative. Here in Nigeria, the ineffective Buhari capitalist government and that of the 36 states of the federation and the FCT have not behaved differently. The pandemic has shone a bright light on their abject failure on all fronts. The abject condition of public education 6 years after this supposed government of change came to power is not only disappointing, it further shows why no member of the capitalist ruling elite can be trusted to solve our problems.
Therefore for the struggle for proper funding of education to succeed on a permanent basis, it has to be linked with the struggle for an end to capitalism and enthronement of a workers and poor people’s government armed with socialist policies. Especially now in a time of capitalist crisis, a truly free, functional and democratically managed public education system at all levels is only possible on the basis of the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers control and management. We hereby call on progressive unions in the education sector to support the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) in the immediate while campaigning for the labour movement to form and build a mass workers party.
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is prepared to work with all education workers unions (e.g. ASUU, SSANU, COEASU, NASU, ASUP, SSANIP, NUT etc.) and the mass of students including NANS, Students Unions, JCC and all socialists and pro-masses organizations to call for and organize actions like media campaign, rallies, strikes, protest and demonstrations to achieve the immediate implementation of all of the above-cited demands as a step towards a safe reopening of schools.
In the following weeks, we shall be organizing activities like virtual public meetings and symposia to bring together unions and organizations to deepen discussions around all these issues and to also get feedback from students and education workers which can go a long way in enriching the content of this charter and laying the groundwork for collective struggles to begin to achieve the above-outlined demands. This shall be followed by a campaign involving postering, leafletting, press conference, public meetings, protests and other activities to organize students and workers to begin to defend our health and safety in a properly funded and democratically-managed public education system.
If you agree with the above, join the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and help to build a branch on your campus. The ERC stands for uncompromising struggles to defend the rights of students and staff. We also campaign for the rebuilding of the students movement into a virile movement that can seriously defend students against anti-poor education policies.
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