By YVONNE ISHOLA
THE announcement that the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) will hold from August 4th to September 5th, 2020 was like rain to a thirsty ground for a lot of graduating students in Nigeria. Their case could be likened to seeing the promise land from a mountain top like Moses, but being forbidden by an authority to step into it. In the case of students in their final year in most countries of the world, they have been delayed from graduating due to the Corona virus pandemic.
Since March 21st 2020, when schools in Nigeria were forced to close down due to the threat of Corona virus and the rate it was spreading in the country, most students in SS3 in Nigeria thought it was going to be a short break, then it would be business as usual. Not in their wildest imagination did they think they would be affected and their programmes disrupted due to Covid-19.
Baring their minds, some of the students had these to say: Lara Yusuf could not hide her joy. “I had just about given up on graduating this year. I have never loved going back to school but I would gladly run to school even if it means living with my strict principal. There is nothing like hanging in the balance-you can’t go forward nor backward,” Lara opined.
Emmanuel Bali, on the other hand said the message was received with mixed feelings all around him. “While I was celebrating that at last! At last! Most adults in my area were busy saying-it is not right. Their fear was that Nigeria’s Covid-19 infections is at its peak, increasing by the day. Their popular saying has been “Government should have waited a little” because the youths are reckless and might not maintain any social protocols or guidelines, they expressed in different ways.
Federal Government had on June 29th 2020 approved safe opening of schools nationwide. But this disclosure provoked a lot of lashing from members of the public. The Federal Government through the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 led by Boss Mustapha said only students in transitional classes should resume. Which means only pupils in primary 6, students of JSS3 and SS3 are expected to resume. This is aimed at providing the enabling environment for them to prepare for examination.
WAEC is a West African examination meant for Senior Secondary School Students 3 in all English speaking West African Countries including Nigeria at the end of their secondary education. It would have been sat for from April to May. Unfortunately, it had to be cancelled when Covid-19 became a pandemic, so as to contain it.
Due to the Corona virus, life changing decisions had to be taken: schools were closed down, social protocols were imbibed, social distancing (2 meters between one and the next person), avoiding crowded places, closing of exit and entry points of states, closing of borders, imposing of lockdown which forced everyone to remain at home except essential workers. All public places like markets, churches etc were shutdown to contain the disease, wearing of face mask has become mandatory. Inspite of all these measures, the virus continues to claim more victims.
As a consequent of lockdown around the world, some of the problems imminent are paucity of funds due to the fact that many businesses suffered for lack of patronage. Oil money has crashed and its trickle effects is that our budget had to be cut down for the federal, state and local governments. This means that everyone will feel the impact.
The wheels of development which is oiled by education has suffered some setbacks. In the 4 months our children have been home due to Corona virus, education has evolved for many students, from being taught physically in the four walls of a class to e-learning. Unfortunately, it is the exclusive reserve of the rich.
Speaking to a few parents who want to remain anonymous, they said business had been slow, food stuffs prices increasing by the day. “We are barely struggling to survive,” a parent cried out. “Where the hell does my children’s school want me to get money to get N20,000 to pay for online classes?” An angry father of 2 pupils in Low Cost Jos spat out.
Another parent lamented that she had earlier sworn not to take part in the on-line classes. “But after the school sent me a text that our children will be assessed through the same platform, I was forced to go and borrow money. Remember this is promotion term,” she pointed out.
However, the lamentation of most parents is the cost of data consumption and the merciless attitude of most schools with bulky classwork and assignments. “It is like I am also in school,” a parent of a set of twins and a girl complained.
The above case is bad because the age range of her children is 8 and 5. This means they need supervision and guidance during every class. “We need to set the laptop for the twins and set the ipad for their elder sister”, the mother explained. “Before sitting by their side to supervise and guide”, she added.
Speaking on the data consumption and its challenge, this mother of twins said they spend not less than N3,000 every week on data, that is apart from the N45,000 they have paid for the online classes and materials for her eldest daughter and N45,000 for the twins. That not withstanding, they have been told they have to pay a token as examination fee when the time comes.
Whereas the above parents complained about the high cost of e-learning, some parents are not only struggling with the high cost but the lack of smartphones, laptops to enable their children and or wards to be part of the online classes. One of such parents laments the plight of children with no access to online classes because of lack of laptops, smartphone, location or because of lack.
The above parent who refuses to give his name said his son has not been part of online classes because none of them in the house has smartphone and neither do they have a laptop. “I have told the school, if they won’t give us hard copy then there is nothing I can do. I can’t buy a smart phone because I want my son to start online classes. I don’t have that kind of money”, he concludes.
There are so many parents like the above one whose children have no access to online classes because their parents cannot afford smart phones or data. Others are unable to join online classes because they are staying in remote places with no network or data connection. For such pupils and students, what should be done? Some of them are in transitional classes and need to prepare for their examinations. It would be unfair to move along with the privileged ones, leaving the under privileged behind. It is not their fault. It is Covid-19’s fault.
In every indication, while most students in private universities have taken the changes in the manner of teaching easily. It has not been easy for those in the public scchools. For one, ASUU was on strike right before schools were shut down. So, in their case, if any lecturer arranges for online classes, he is doing them a favour.
University of Jos students spoken to claim they have not had any online classes since the strike began. Bayo Dan, a 300 level Theatre and Film Arts student of the University of Jos said as far as he is concerned, he has heard of no online classes. This points to the fact that Nigerian institutions especially the public ones, are not ready for online classes. We are still grappling with the issue of social amenities in public schools-water supply is not always constant, power supply erratic and the roads dilapidated. Much is desired to get there. And most of the students in the public universities, tertiary institutions are from average backgrounds or poor families.
However, this pandemic has brought to the fore some lapses in online classes. Hakeem Olajide, a final year student of Bingham University, says several times he has done his assignments in the wrong way because lecturers did not take time to explain to him as it was the fashion when lectured physically. “It is usually after the first attempt that they would direct me”, Olajide explained.
Shane Nasiru, a 100 level student of Veritas University said there is no way online classes can have an upper hand over physical lectures.
“For one, one cannot argue or discuss issues very well in on-line classes but that is what makes physical teaching interesting,” Nasiru pointed out.
Speaking on on-line learning recently in the Premium Times, spokesperson of National University Commission, Ibrahim Yankassai said “A call has gone to all higher institutions in Nigeria to explore the possibility of on-line learning and look at what they require to start on-line learning in case of something like this again .” Yankassai pointed out that even if universities have the capacity for on-line learning, most of the students do not have smart phones.
Even as there have been celebrations over FG’s announcement that WAEC will commence from August 4, 2020 to to September 5, there were voices of dissension against such moves. Prominent among such voices is ANAP Foundation, an NGO. Reacting to FG’s plan to reopen schools, the foundation in a statement by its chairman, Atedo Peterside and Vice President, Abubakar Mohammed, disclosed that the data of Covid-19 currently is at its community transmission phase and it is yet to reach the peak.
ANAP Foundation pointed out that having children from different backgrounds and homes gather in a confined environment for long hours, interacting closely at this stage portends great danger for the students, teachers and their families.
They maintain that “Though the PTF has specific appropriate protocols as safe guards, we are aware that most schools especially the public ones will not have the required resources to put these in place, nor the wherewithal to moderate children’s behaviors.”
ANAP suggested that the government should delay the reopening of schools for a few more weeks to let the Covid-19 curve reach its peak and begin to reverse before giving the greenlight for reopening of schools even for students in transitional classes- graduating classes. “This is the current global best practice” they said.
The NGO’s fears stem from the South African and Israel experience. These two countries had re-opened schools prematurely and had to reclose again due to high rate of infection amongst students, teachers,staff and their families.
The ANAP Foundation Covid-19 Think-Tank was established on March 22, 2020 to respond to Corona Virus disease 2019 (Covid19 Pandemic). It has also 18 members drawn across 6 geographical zones and the diaspora (USA and Germany).
Meanwhile FG had earlier announced that “ as soon as we conclude WAEC, we will take NABTEB and NECO”. This was spoken by Emeka Nwajuiba, Minister of state , Education on Monday during the daily Covid-19 Presidential Task Force briefing. He disclosed further that the new WAEC date was part of their discussion with stakeholders which includes National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT).
Adding its voice to that of ANAP, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) expressed its disapproval for FG’s planned reopening of schools. It pointed out that Covid-19 is still ravaging the country. Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, ASUU President stated their position to newsmen recently at Ota, Ogun state. He argued that for any school to meet the criteria for reopening schools, it needs millions which most schools in Nigeria don’t have. Enumerating the guidelines spelt out by NCDC to include provision of materials for regular washing of hands, running water, face masks, isolation centers, space for social distancing and hand sanitizers, Ogunyemi concludes that most schools in Nigeria don’t have the capacity to provide all these.
The ASUU President appealed to the FG to provide the running capital for schools to enable them provide all these essentials for reopening of schools.
In another development, the Federal Government has cancelled any plan for reopening of schools. This was announced by Adamu Adamu, the Minister of Education. The Minister said no student of any school under Ministry of Education will participate in the forthcoming WAEC coming up from August 4th to September 5, 2020.
Adamu said this decision was reached after meeting with PTF. And they based their judgment on the excalation of the number of the infections in Nigeria. At the time of filing this report, the number of confirmed cases of Covid 19 in Nigeria stood at 30,249.
The Education Minister gave this information while addressing newsmen after the Federal Executive Council meeting at the State House on Wednesday. This new stance of government make people wonder if the minister and his deputy are on the same page.
According to Adamu Adamu, we will rather lose one year than expose our children to danger. His deputy on the other hand had assured Nigerians the previous day, that it was after consultation with stakeholders-NCDC, that they arrived at the decision to reopen schools.
As it stands, WAEC is postponed indefinitely until it is safe for students to sit for it. The Minister pointed out a situation where students would be flaunting social distancing especially if eyes are not on them which would portend great danger.
That, not withstanding, we all know that Nigeria’s health system is already over-stretched. Any careless attitude like re-opening schools now that the cases are still high could spike up Nigeria’s infections and overwhelm our health sector. We have already learnt from the South Africa’s and Israel’s story.
It is also glaring that government has to step in and bridge the gap for the students from under privileged homes. School owners should be made to accommodate them. Only God knows how such students are feeling or how much tears they must have shed already. Something has to be done urgently or the gap will get wider.
One cannot agree more with federal government on the issue of reopening of schools. Better late than late.