Tertiary institutions in Nigeria have been given the conditions they will meet before schools are reopened. These conditions were given in a speech presented by the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, while representing the Minister for Education, Adamu Adamu, at the virtual policy meeting of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) held on Tuesday 16 June, 2020.
The minister said that all tertiary institutions within the country must have “hand washing facilities, body temperature checks, body disinfectants at all entry points to major facilities including the gates, hostels, classes and offices.” He further insisted that for tertiary institutions to reopen, “the whole premises of each institution must be decontaminated and all efforts must be geared toward the maintenance of the highest level of hygiene.” Schools were also given the condition to “ensure physical and social distancing in class sizes and eating spaces.”
The first time I read the news article that bore this piece of information, I asked myself, “Are these conditions for private schools alone? Or, are the state and federal government owned schools also part of this?”
It is not as if it is not certain that the guidelines set up by NCDC and WHO for preventing the spread of COVID-19 would not be enforced in schools, but, somehow, a lot of people were expecting miracles to happen. These measures can easily be put in place by private owned schools for reasons that government owned schools could not meet. Maybe, I will table out these challenges that government schools will encounter by indirectly comparing and contrasting them with their private-owned counterparts.
Factors that will Challenge the FG Conditions for School Reopening
We all know that the population of state and federal government-owned institutions are almost at the level of explosion. In just a department you might see a stream with about 300 or more students. When you compare this number to that of private universities, where you might likely see 30 students or less in a class, you will understand why they can easily observe the physical and social distancing guidelines. The greater population of students in higher institutions will also make it more difficult for other measures, such as body temperature checks and hand washing, to be effective. Imagine the machine for checking body temperature being used for thousands of students in a day; it will definitely spoil within weeks. It will also be uneasy for the persons that will stand at strategic places to do the checking. It is possible that they will not do the work well.
It will be easier for private schools to raise funds than for government-owned ones to do so. This is to say that procurement of the needed facilities by government-owned schools may not be as fast as that of their private-owned counterparts. It is also possible that government schools may not be able to provide enough materials needed for this exercise.
Government-owned institutions have greater landmass than the private-owned ones. For this, there are so many offices, laboratories, lecture halls, auditoriums, canteens, and what have you in government-owned higher institutions. Considering the landmass of these schools makes one wonder how they will decontaminate the area effectively and how they can procure the chemicals needed for it. This also raises concern about mounting of body disinfectants at the entrance of many facilities. It will, therefore, be proper for me to ask where these schools will start this decontamination exercise and where they will end.
It might be easier to start the precautionary measures against the spread of COVID-19 but continuing it might be a different story altogether. The major setback here, especially for government-owned institutions, is supervision and replacement of damaged gadgets. Like I stated earlier, the large population of students and staff in government-owned schools will over-work the temperature checking devices. It might be difficult for these schools to replace damaged ones on time because of the bottleneck that comes with bureaucracy. Unless plans for maintenance and replacements are put in place, imbibing the measures against COVID-19 will definitely be a waste of time.
There is another heavy question that the FG is yet to address. We know that private-owned tertiary institutions will tax their students to raise funds for putting these measures in place. But then, we also know that government-owned schools cannot just ask students to pay for anything that isn’t in their schedule of school fees. Even if they could, many students in government-owned institutions are from working class families; so they might not afford the extra expenses. So the big question is, “Whose responsibility is it to bear the cost of procurement and maintenance of equipments that will be used in preventing COVID-19 in all government-owned schools?”