The United Nations has called on state authorities in Nigeria to ensure safety protocols against the spread of COVID-19 are in place before full reopening of schools.
The global agency said about 46 million primary and secondary learners across Nigeria are affected due to pandemic-related school closures.
The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Edward Kallon, said this in a statement he issued on Monday in commemoration of the World International Day to Protect Education from Attack.
The theme for the Day this year is: “Protect Education, Save a Generation.”
Mr Kallon said prioritising safety in schools for educators and learners would be an indication of the government’s commitment to protecting investments in the education sector and a validation of Nigeria’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration.
“As State Governments plan to reopen schools after prolonged closures, building a resilient education system to withstand future shocks should be included in pandemic response plans, ” he said.
“Education is essential to helping crisis-affected communities in the north-east rebuild and recover. Attacks on schools are a direct attack on future generations.
“I call on all parties to the conflict to take all necessary measures to protect education and give learners a chance to build a brighter future,” Mr Kallon said.
The Nigerian government last week directed school administrators to communicate with parents and students for the full reopening of schools, following the COVID-19 induced lockdown.
The government had in July approved the reopening of schools for exiting students who are currently sitting for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
But the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) at the University of Ibadan, through its chairperson Ayo Akinwole, had criticised the plans to reopen schools, especially universities, without adequate precautionary measures against COVID-19.
PREMIUM TIMES had also reported about 20 students writing the WAEC exams contracted COVID-19 in Bayelsa sState.
Nigerian schools also face security challenges. On August 24, seven students and their teacher were abducted from their school in Damba-Kasaya village in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
Reports said they had gone to school to sit for the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE).
The UN humanitarian coordinator said the protracted conflict in many parts of Nigeria and the north-east has had devastating impacts on education.
According to him, attacks on schools, communities and education itself are tragic consequences of a protracted conflict that has left a generation of children traumatised.
He said, “From 2009 until December 2018, 611 teachers were killed and 910 schools damaged or destroyed.
“More than 1,500 schools were forced to close and some 4.2 million children in the north-east are at risk of missing out on an education.
“Hundreds of girls have been abducted, some even from their own schools, which are meant to be safe zones. Notably, many children have been used to act as carriers of person-borne improvised explosive devices.”
He said more than three million children in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe in North-east Nigeria are in need of education emergency support.
In his remarks, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, said safeguarding education from attack is urgently needed to restore confidence in schools as places of protection for children and teachers, particularly pressing in light of COVID-19.
“As the world fights to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, children and youth in conflict zones remain among the most vulnerable to its devastating impact.
“We must ensure our children have a safe and secure environment in which to learn the knowledge and skills they need for the future,” he said.
“The UN vehemently condemn any and all attacks on education, including abductions of school children, school-related gender-based violence, herders-farmers clashes, and repurposing of schools for use as isolation centres, IDP camps, markets or for military purposes.”
Also speaking, Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, said, “Schools must remain safe places, free of conflict and violence.
“Safeguarding the right to education for all contributes to the achievement of sustainable development and nurtures the international community’s decades-long gains towards peace, economic prosperity, and social inclusion worldwide.’’
The UN said incessant attacks on schools and learners could reverse the gains on education investments made by the government of Nigeria, the UN and other multilateral, bilateral, and private sector partners over years.
“Attacks on schools are a violation of humanity and basic decency. We must not allow these senseless attacks to destroy the hopes and dreams of a generation of children. We must do all in our power to ensure that schools and the children and teachers within them are protected,’’ said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.
“As the world begins planning to re-open schools once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, we must ensure that schools remain safe places of learning, even in countries in conflict.”
The UN also called for increased funding, noting that it would go a long way in mitigating the effects of prolonged school closures on learners, especially vulnerable children, including girls and others living with disabilities.
“In north-east Nigeria, education in emergency partners is appealing for $55 million USD to provide emergency education to 3.1 conflict-affected children this year. So far this year, only $3.3 million USD, a mere 6 per cent of the total needed, has been received so far.”