Nigeria was thrown into confusion on Wednesday, 8th July, 2020, when the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, announced the suspension of the reopening of schools. The Minister further stated that Nigerian students will not participate in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) that was scheduled to start on 4th August and end on 5th September, 2020. Adamu Adamu passed the information to Nigerians after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on that day.
Nigerians were surprised about this sudden change in the reopening of schools because it came barely a week after that same federal government (FG) announced the approval for gradual schools resumption. The sudden u-turn of the FG made it look like there is no synergy between the different sectors of the government.
The sudden change in the decision of the FG to reopen schools not only disorganised schools administrators, students, parents and teachers, who were putting things in place for resumption, but also made it obvious that Nigerian students will miss the 2020 WASSCE. In fact, the Minister of Education revealed that Nigerian students will not be allowed to participate in the exam, claiming that WAEC is not in a position to determine when Nigerian schools will reopen. This is true anyway, considering that WAEC is just an exam body and not the FG.
But then, it seems that the FG did not consider the effect the suspension of school reopening will have on SS 3 students. This is because the Minister did not state whether the students, who have registered for 2020 WASSCE, will be refunded or allowed to defer their exams. However, it is obvious that these students will miss out in the exam because the Minister further said that it is better for Nigerian students to lose an academic year than to be exposed to the virus.
It may be easier for a Minister, who may not understand how difficult it is for many parents to raise the WASSCE registration fee, to freely imply that the money paid for the exam has gone down the drain. Even though the Minister meant well, it is still important that he feels the impact of his decision on the parties concerned. Hopefully, he understood the fact that Nigeria is not in a position to decide on when WASSCE will be written because Nigeria is just one of the five countries that participate in this exam.
Well, as Nigerians wait fervently for WAEC to react to the decision of the FG, it may be worthy to review situations that warranted the suspension of school reopening and the prevention of students from writing WASSCE.
The statement of the Minister of Education, which says that it is better for Nigerian students to repeat an academic session than to be exposed to the virus, was not made out of malice. In as much as this decision can cost Nigerian parents their hard earned money as well as deny the children a chance to sit for an exam they have prepared for, the Minister was not out of place with showing concern for the students. However, like most Nigerians have postulated, some of these children that we are talking about are already helping their parents to sell things in the open market. Their parents have also exposed themselves by going out and mingling with people. Remember that Edo and Ondo gubernatorial elections are on the way and these parents will still go out to vote. All I am trying to say here is that maybe these children would have learnt how to protect themselves from the virus.
Another good point raised by Nigerians regarding this issue is that social distancing has never been an issue with writing WAEC examinations because the exam body has already been practicing that before the pandemic. Remember that in setting up a hall for WAEC exam, a row does not contain more than six desks. I could remember that if a standard classroom is to be used as an exam hall, it should not contain more than 30 desks. So, there is no need to fear that the students will contract COVID-19 as a result of not practicing social distancing in the exam hall.
The only challenge I am seeing with the reopening of schools is that visitors will be allowed into school compounds and this could expose students, especially those in boarding schools, to the virus. This is where the school authority and the government will work hand in hand to provide those facilities that will help to check the spread of the virus. Maybe why FG is suspending reopening of schools is because the government has not provided those devices that government-owned schools will use. If that is the case, I think those in charge should come out and address the public properly rather than giving flimsy excuses about waiting till it is safe. So what if corona decides to stay with us for the next few years and the vaccine is not found, will our children continue to wait like this before they sit for WAEC?
All the same, if the FG remains adamant about stopping the students from sitting for WASSCE, it has to consider doing any of the following:
a. Ensuring that all the students that paid for the exam are refunded fully. This will then mean that students will wait and write only NECO and NABTEB, which are Nigerian owned exam bodies.
b. Making it optional for those that wouldn’t mind taking the risk of coming out to write the exam. I’m putting this here because I know a lot of good private schools that will ensure that all the guidelines given by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) were followed to the letter. It will, therefore, be unfair for these schools to miss out because government-owned schools are unprepared. So let government give chance for those that are ready to partake in the exam and those that cannot, will be refunded.
c. Liaising with WAEC to provide some of the needed equipment for checking COVID-19. Of course, I don’t see any reason why WAEC will not provide protective gears for their candidates and invigilators. Let it be their own contribution towards fighting the virus.
No one knows the decision WAEC will make soon concerning this suspension and other related issues. But we hope it will favour our children. However, the Minister of Education needs to go back and re-deliberate on how to keep our education system alive as we battle this monster.