SCHOOL REOPENING IN THE MIDST OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC: HOW TRULY SAFE ARE OUR SCHOOLS?
CURRENT DEPLORABLE CONDITION OF LIVING AND STUDY ON CAMPUSES CAN MAKE PUBLIC TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS SUPER-SPREADER OF THE VIRUS UNLESS URGENT OVERHAUL IS CARRIED OUT
*CALLS ON GOVT TO MEET DEMANDS OF SSANU, NASU, NAAT, ASUP, NUT, ASUU AND ALL UNIONS
Education Rights Campaign (ERC) statement January 17, 2021
The latest pronouncement from the Minister of Education re-affirming January 18 2021 as the date for school reopening has failed to assure students and staff about their safety as schools prepare to reopen amidst the raging covid-19 pandemic. Rather this pronouncement has further proven the ineptitude of the Buhari capitalist administration and its mismanagement of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic which has seen a more deadly second wave develop but without any serious response from the government.
We also use this opportunity to call on the Federal and State governments to meet demands of SSANU, NASU, NAAT, ASUP, NUT and all unions. Without meeting their demands, the January 18 resumption date will end up as a charade for many universities. Municipal services like water and electricity supply, cleaning and others are crucial for maintaining a conducive academic environment and once these are shut down, students and staff will be left in jeopardy.
The ERC hereby supports the legitimate demands of these protesting unions and call on the respective federal and state governments to immediately and unconditionally meet their demands immediately so that students can experience a conducive learning atmosphere when schools are reopened as from January 18 as announced.
OUR POSITION ON THE JANUARY 18 REOPENING DATE
As an organization, the ERC is sympathetic to the pains and desire of students for schools, especially universities, to reopen having lost about a year to the pandemic alongside many other innumerable losses. However this cannot be at the cost of the health and lives of students and staff. Unfortunately, the approach of the Federal Government particularly the Ministry of Education towards the question of how schools can be made safe for resumption of academic activities is far from reassuring.
For instance, in a statement dated 14 January 2021, the Minister of Education informed that the Ministry agreed to the January 18 date after “extensive consultations with relevant stakeholders, including state Governors, Commissioners of Education, Proprietors and heads of institutions, staff unions and students…” While this kind of consultation is important, there is no evidence that the Ministry of Education or the NDDC have on their own independently verified the claims of the State Commissioners of Education, heads of tertiary institutions and proprietors of schools about their level of preparedness and provision of safety measures. A direct visitation by the ministry or any committee, including elected representatives of workers and students, so mandated to verify the situation on the ground in each campus before announcing resumption would have been more reassuring as it would at least show that the Ministry knows what it is doing. As things stand now, there is nothing to show that the Ministry of Education can vouch for the safety of any school yet it has gone ahead to announce resumption date despite outcry by the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
As bodies of professionals, ASUU and NMA’s outcry can only be ignored to our collective peril. As we all know before now, the conditions of living and studying in our public schools are so bad. In fact, given the animalistic condition of the hostels of many public tertiary institutions where undergraduates are forced to fetch water at the stream because there is inadequate supply of pipe borne water or have to bathe outside because of the unsightly condition of bathrooms, it is not difficult to see why the public schools can act as super-spreader of the COVID-19 virus unless urgent overhauls are carried out.
In a matter of life and death, words alone do not count but actual verification of real processes and measures to keep our schools safe. Unfortunately, all the minister of education can vouch for to open the school gates to hundreds of thousands of students and staffs are words of assurance from commissioners of education, state governors and proprietors – generally corrupt elements who cannot be trusted with the standard of our education let alone the health and lives of students and staff! Indeed, for a crucial stakeholders meeting that held about 4 days to resumption date, what the nation would have loved to hear is to what extent, in concrete terms, schools have complied with the approved NCDC guidelines. In addition, students, parents and staff also want to know:
(1) How many temperature checking devices are provided per public schools at primary, secondary and tertiary levels and their locations?
(2) What plans have been made for provision for periodic free distribution of facemasks in each school and the manner of their distribution to prevent sharp practices like racketeering?
(3) How many hand sanitisers are available per school and how are they to be deployed and in what manner would this be done to prevent sharp practise like racketeering?
(4) Plans to ensure regular supply of water at hostels and academic areas for handwashing and other needs
(5) Plans to upgrade hostels and classrooms in order to end overcrowding and enable efficient compliance with physical distancing
(6) Plans to upgrade toilets and bathroom facilities at hostels and in schools many of which are in decrepit condition
(7) How many testing kits are available in each schools and what resources for emergency response, first aid treatment and contact tracing have been put in place?
(8) What is the condition of medical facilities in each schools and what provisions have been made to prepare them for emergencies?
Instead of addressing the country in the above-cited concrete manner in order to assure students and workers that they are not being marched to a slaughter slab, what we saw at the end of the meeting was the Minister, just about 4 days ahead of resumption, reeling out eight (8) COVID-19 protocols that institutions and parents must comply with without presenting any concrete evidence that sufficient preparation exist in the institutions for these to be complied with when schools resume. Hence, this would mean that the government at all levels want to shift the responsibility of ensuring schools are safe to students and parents. Recent increment in the tuition fee of fresh students at the Lagos State University (LASU) is another confirmation of this.
We hereby warn that if schools reopen without adequate provision of safety measures and serious effort to upgrade living and studying conditions in each public schools and tertiary institutions, the consequence could be a spike in COVD-19 infection rate and the endangering of precious lives of students and staff. To prevent a health emergency and crises breaking out, students and staff must form a united front to campaign against and resist all neo-liberal policies and anti-poor attacks by the government and their various agencies. The ERC therefore demands the following:
(1) That students and staff through their own democratically-formed, united and independentCOVID-19 Taskforce should be allowed to verify and certify the safety measures and protocols allegedly put in place in each schools before commencement of academic activities
(2) Provision for regular free distribution of facemask to students and staff, provision for sanitisers and handwashing facilities.
(3) Upgrade of medical centres or sickbays of schools with covid-19 testing kits, human and material resources for efficient response and contact tracing in the case of infection
(4) Emergency public works programme to upgrade living and studying facilities in order to end overcrowding, enable effective physical distancing and further strengthen the safety of students and staff.
(5) Government bailout/relief fund to help indigent students pay rents especially since hundreds of thousands of students have also lost a year of rent to the lockdown and school closure.
(6) No to COVID-19 levies, reversal of all hiked fees and adequate funding of public education at all levels under democratic control and management
(7) Meet all demands of SSANU, NASU, NAAT, ASUP, NUT and implement all agreements with ASUU.
(8) Reinstatement of all victimized students and staff activists, restoration of all banned unions and an end to attack on democratic rights.
(9) Provision of free, functional and democratically-managed public education at all levels
Deputy National Coordinator
Adaramoye Michael Lenin
Acting National Mobilization Officer