Federal and state government authorities should be leading the way in modeling pro-life values that put people’s health, safety and lives first.
Despite the fact that Africa’s most populous country is third behind South Africa and Egypt as COVID-19 most impacted in Africa, schools across Nigeria are being asked to resume in-person classes.
Daily assurances intended to ameliorate citizens’ anxiety caused by uncertainly about the pandemic can only go as far as bridging the gap between government pronouncements and proper and adequate actions to contain the spread of the pandemic.
With a population of more than 200 million and its position as Africa’s largest economy, the Nigerian government exercises tremendous centralized leverage on matters of public policy and spending. It has continued to enforce regulations across the board even though most state governments have moved to relax restrictions. The actions of some state government seem out of sync with federal guidelines, and nowhere is this more pronounced than on the matter of school resumption and to a lesser extent, religious worship centers.
At the heart of the national response is the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, NCDC, led by its Director-General Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu. The office of the presidency has the Presidential Task Force, PTF, led by SGF Boss Mustapha along with a national coordinator and relevant ministers – chief among them, Health, Foreign Affairs and Education ministries.
Nigeria’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic followed a similar global trend. Though slow at the outset, the outbreak compelled authorities to close schools at all levels, while the few privileged ones transitioned to remote instruction. But with the pandemic showing no signs of abating, schools are now facing difficult questions about the challenges inherent with the uncertainty of resuming in-person classes in the coming academic year.
Poverty of resources –inadequate national internet infrastructure, would likely hamper planned hybrid approach, offering a mix of online and in-person classes. But as cases continue to surge, the Federal Government must pursue an aggressive measure which considers improved nation-wide Internet access in order to meet a growing number of schools opting for fully remote instruction.
The unprecedented characteristics of the coronavirus scourge paint a new picture of the phrase “back to school.” And the picture is not pretty. Suffused with such life-or-death connotations, schools and parents alike ponder anew the meaning of schooling. Across Nigeria, an uncertain formality of speculations about COVID-19 accentuate the anxiety surrounding the impending return-to-school. And for most Nigerians, instead of shopping for school supplies –pen and pencils, notebooks and school bags, students this year are stocking up on cans of hand sanitizer and boxes of face masks —supplies meant to protect them from contracting the coronavirus if they return to the classroom.
What happens if they head back to the classroom?
This question remains unanswered. In Nigeria, the answer remains elusive. With total absence of a comprehensive, coordinated national response strategy, it’s unclear how it will all work. Will restless, anxious, and hungry students actually endure masks on all day? Will rural and poor communities have access to the Internet and Wi-Fi hot spots? Will the federal monies to fund repurposing of existing classrooms to conform with social-distancing requirements? Will socially distanced recess be any fun –a principal containment guideline that faces unique challenges in a communal environment such that is Nigeria?
Will rural and poor communities have access to the Internet and Wi-Fi hot spots?
Challenges abound, and decisions on the ground are changing daily to reflect reality. However, a focused federal government response must emerge as a national priority –an approach at the level of a state of emergency, requiring huge national investment and not the stopgap measures emanating from discordant policies and actions of many state governments.
Cautionary measures by federal and state authorities must entail proper training for teachers to facilitate, in-person classes, and virtual learning. And relatedly, parents of younger children should be encouraged or mandated, as the case might be, to be available to supervise the adopted process. Federal and state government authorities should be leading the way in modeling pro-life values that put people’s health, safety and lives first. And as adjustments and models are adopted, let’s not put teachers, staff, and students on the front lines of this horrific pandemic.