The Federal Government’s decision to reopen schools for students in graduating classes to write their final examinations drew more flaks on Wednesday.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) pitched tent with the Nigeria Union of Teachers and the Nigerian Medical Association in opposing the move.
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 on Monday approved what it called “safe reopening” of schools nationwide to allow final-year students to prepare for their examinations.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation and PTF Chairman, Boss Mustapha, who announced the move, said named pupils in primary six, Junior Secondary Schools (JSS 3) and Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) as those to return to the classrooms.
But ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, faulted the decision amid the spread of COVID -19 pandemic.
Ogunyemi said the Federal Government had not put in place safety measures for the pupils.
The ASUU president who spoke yesterday on Sunrise Daily, a breakfast programme on Channels Television, stated that government should first tell Nigerians who would provide the conditions for the reopening of schools.
He said: “We are not against reopening of schools but the government must not just spell out conditions. The government must tell us who will meet those conditions. And even in private schools, the government cannot just leave everything to the proprietors because we are talking of public health issues here.
“When you talk of public health issues, they are not issues that will be left in the hands of individuals who can follow through according to their capacity.
“There must be a basic minimum in order to ensure and guarantee that we are all safe. It is about our collective safety and the safety of our children.
”We are not seeing any concrete steps being taken about meeting their own (Federal Government) conditions. The timing is there but if they (government) say they are convinced, we hold them to that.
“We have seen other places where they are opening schools and we have also seen other places where they are even delaying opening schools till August and September.
“Here, if the government has come out to say they are convinced that we can manage the situation but we are warning against the situation where they (government) will just leave us to what we call health immunity in which case the students will be exposed.
“Nigeria should not take a gamble with the health of its citizens and that is why we are warning that if they believe that they are convinced, we will hold them to that but let them meet their own conditions.
“These public schools they are talking about many of them are without fences. How do they monitor children coming into the schools? The teachers there, how much of COVID-19 prevention and control do they have? What are they to do during an emergency?”
Asked if the government should suspend the decision, Ogunyemi replied: “We have said that it is not auspicious to open schools now because the number of measures that should be put in place have not been put in place.
“You don’t put something on nothing and that is what we have been saying.
“The basis for reopening schools is not there yet. The government must go back to the drawing board. They have to put what they have to put in place before they open our schools. It is collective jeopardy.
“Certainly, we know they (government) have not done what they needed to have done. Because they have not done that, the way forward is that they have to go back to the drawing board.”
The USUU boss advised the government to engage all the structures in the education sector before reopening learning centres.
He also pointed out that classes in public schools are congested and wondered how social distancing will be observed.
However, national coordinator of the task force, Dr. Aliyu Sani, said the PTF did not approve the reopening of all schools.
Sani said the decision to reopen schools for JSS3 and SS3 students was duly discussed by the PTF with all relevant stakeholders.
Sani said that the task force had communicated state governments on measures to take to reopen schools for final students.
He said: “With all due respect, Prof Ogunyemi was talking as if we are reopening all schools. “Remember we are opening only two classes- SS3 and JSS3. We are opening them for a short period of time in order to get their revision classes done and in order for students to do their examinations.
“We have been looking at different options and this is being led by the Federal Ministry of Education because we are running a multi-sectoral response.
“ I do empathise with parents that are concerned and as I said it is all about behavioural change.”
“We are in very unusual times, we are in challenging times and we know that as a country developmentally we are already at a disadvantage.
“We need to be creative and open schools safely because the issue is safe and we didn’t say all schools should open. We said the state governments should take responsibility.
“We have got to look at the option of JSS3 and SS3 opening for a short period of time in a safe way to undergo revision for a few weeks and then have their exams done.”