A PREMIUM TIMES’ check across several secondary schools in Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones during the just concluded West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) has mirrored a shabby adherence to safety protocols for COVID-19 ahead of the full resumption of schools.
Federal and state authorities in the past few months have been struggling with the reopening of schools safely without putting teachers and students at the risk of contracting the virus which has infected more than 57, 000, killing about 1, 100 across the country.
Recent data from the World Health Organization (WHO) had cautioned governments on ensuring full safety protocols before reopening schools, warning that 43 per cent of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019 – a key condition for schools to be able to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other safety measures expected in place before reopening include temperature checking thermometers, a COVID-19 infantry, face masks and adequate maintenance of social distancing.
Many of such plans were stalled due to the inability of several schools to meet up with safety demands and guidelines put in place by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 for safe reopening.
Another challenge was that the response strategy of the federal and state authorities is not in sync. The reopening of secondary schools rests on the shoulders of state authorities, except federal unity schools with the federal government doing oversight functions.
Due to failures to meet up with safety demands, the Nigerian government had resolved it would not allow candidates in the country to sit for WAEC, a terminal examination for secondary school students in four West African nations – Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, and Liberia.
The government, however, made a U-turn later to allow students to join others from the other West African countries to write the exams starting August 17.
Only students and pupils in exit classes – Primary 6, JSS3 and SSS3 – were allowed to resume on August 4 to prepare for their terminal exams.
Some of the students taking the exams in states such as Bayelsa and Akwaibom tested positive for the contagion, a warning sign that more needed to be done to ensure safety.
Some states such as Benue have fully reopened schools for all classes starting from Monday.
During the terminal examinations, which ended in mid-September, PREMIUM TIMES visited several schools across the country to observe the level of safety ahead of full reopening.
In Lagos, many schools, especially government-owned secondary schools, shut their gates against PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter, saying the government has given the directive not to allow visitors and journalists access, those who allowed access declined to make any comment.
There was a circular from the state’s Ministry of Education that no school teacher or even principal should talk to journalists; “you cannot observe or even take pictures, except you have a written approval from the ministry.”
There were handwashing equipment and hand sanitisers in various schools visited, though temperature checks were missing.
At Ikosi High School, students entered the school premises in twos and threes but none practised hand-washing despite a big container of water and soap positioned close to the gate.
For about 15 minutes of sitting at the first block of the high school, which was close to the gate, no student washed their hands. There were no temperature checks being conducted likewise.
The students, however, maintained physical distancing in the exam hall as they were spread into several classrooms to achieve a COVID-19 compliant sitting arrangement.
“We are not allowed to speak to any reporter, the state government released a circular that mandates all school principals and even teachers not to address reporters. You can go to the ministry to get any information you want”, one of the teachers said.
“But we have hand sanitisers and handwashing machines provided by the state government.”
The principal of Ayedere Ajibola High School, Ketu area of Lagos, likewise declined giving comment on the compliance of the school to COVID-19 protocols.
“You should not have been allowed to enter the premises, that is the clear directive from the government. I’m a public official and cannot allow you to even see the school or speak to you.”
At Caleb International College, modernised and touchless handwashing machines were erected at strategic locations, while visitors and students were mandated to wash their hands before entering the premises.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Kayode Abayomi, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Education on the safety protocols put in place in secondary schools, he said he could not give any comment on it as WAEC is a national examination.
Secondary schools in Borno state conducted WAEC without support from the government to enable them to comply with the COVID-19 safety measures, some teachers and officials said.
A visit to some of the public and private schools within Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, revealed how school managements struggled to conduct the examinations with little or no aid from the government to enable them to observe the prescribed safety measures.
In Shehu Garbai Secondary School, one of the largest in Borno state, safety measures such as hand washing, wearing of face masks were observed but social distancing was not fully adhered to as students sat in twos on each desk.
The principal of the school, Kaka Muhammed, said though the government provided some safety and cleaning products, they were not enough for the students.
“Even the Face Masks that were supplied by the state the government was inadequate; hence some of the students had to resort to some self-made face mask which is not good enough to protect them”, he said.
Mr Muhammed said another major challenge for the school was the inadequate toilet facility.
At the GRA Model school, Maiduguri, the Head Teacher, Aishatu Dauda, said 420 students were taking the exams, noting that there was no facility to provide medical care for any student.
“Our first aid box is empty as you can see,” she said opening the green box. We are just lucky that so far none of our students has fallen ill, which is even surprising to us,” she said.
There was no evidence of WAEC officials seen in the exam hall enforcing the observance of the safety protocols.
At Bara’imul Iman School, a private school located within the GRA in Maiduguri, the students observed the COVID-19 safety measures. All the student was provided with were face masks by the school management.
“We provided face masks for all our students and we ensured the use of handwashing spots and sanitizers before entering the halls,” said Kyari Ali-Kyari, the Principal of Bara’imul Iman school.
At Mafoni Liberty Secondary Schoool, the students that failed to come to the school with their face masks were asked to turn back.
The principal of the school, Yusuf Tom, said the school has not received any support “neither from the state nor the federal government.”
“The hand sanitizer and hand washing items you see us using here were provided by some spirited individuals and some NGOs. The school-based management committee provided the handwashing facilities. But the challenge we are facing now is that all these items like the hand sanitizers would soon finish and the exams are still ongoing.”
The principal also confirmed that two students, a female and a male, developed a high fever and were asked to go home for treatment.
Efforts to get the Borno state Commissioner for Health, Salisu Kwaya-Bura, to find out if the state received any support from the federal government was not successful as his phone simply rang without a response.
Many public schools in the Federal Capital Territory maintained shabby compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols.
At Junior Secondary School Wuse Zone 2, Abuja, some students in the classrooms were not wearing face masks.
Koori Donatus, the principal of Jewel Model schools, a private school in Kubwa, said though safety measures are being maintained during the WAEC exams, officials from the FCTA visit regularly to check “our level of compliance and we have not been culpable of violating any of these rules.
“The last time the officials came, they said we have done well above 80 per cent. Our spacing is also accurate.
“We also have the isolation centre in case of any challenge, we can put it to use. Fortunately, we have not had any case to prompt the use of the isolation ward. The student’s temperature is checked every day right from the school gate.
He said, “the school provides the soaps and sanitizers for everyone within the premises.
The principal said parents were advised to make provisions for facemasks to increase the safety of their children/wards.
On preparation in place for full school resumption, he said, “We have already started reshuffling sitting schedules in the school by expanding the classrooms. Before now we have two classes for science students but it has been increased to three to ensure physical distancing in the classrooms.”
In Ebonyi, our reporter, who went round some schools, noted that there was the provision of running water in buckets with taps for students to wash their hands.
Hand sanitisers were readily available which the state government had distributed.
However, it was observed that many students no longer wear face masks to school.
Spacing during exams was observed. It was the same scenario in some private schools visited.
A teacher, who pleaded anonymity, however, noted that some schools have run out of sanitisers and soap.
Also, none of the schools monitored had infrared temperature kits to check student’s temperatures.
The commissioner for education, Onyebuchi Chima, could not be reached to speak on the development as he did not take calls nor respond to text messages sent to his phone.
Most of the Kaduna public schools visited abided with the COVID-19 protocols especially with regards to the provision of water containers for hand washing at the school entrance.
But the majority of the students did not adhere to the handwashing protocols. Also, most of them barely wore face masks.
At Government Secondary School Kargi Road in Tudun Wada, Kaduna South Local Government Area, both the teachers and students observed the social distancing protocols during the exams.
It was gathered that face masks were provided by the state government to all the JSS3 and SS3 students after schools resumed.
Similarly, at Government Girls Secondary School Maimuna Gwarzo located at Unguwar Sanusi community in the same LGA, not all students and teachers adhered to safety protocols.
Few private schools visited had better safety protocol in place than the public schools.
At Agombas Secondary school Tudun Nufawa, the school management provided face masks to all their students.
A senior teacher in the school, Salisu Ibrahim, said no student was allowed into the school without washing his or her hand or wearing face masks.
In all the schools visited, there was no sign of WAEC officials assigned to enforce COVID-19 protocols.
Meanwhile, in some private schools in Kaduna South Local Government Area of the state, parents paid for their children’s face masks.
Albashir Yusuf, a parent, said he was asked to pay 500 Naira as money for face masks for his two children.
During a visit to Efficient Secondary Commercial School, a private school in Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State, the students were writing Christian Religious Studies.
At the school gate, they and their teachers were screened, using a non-contact temperature assessment device, before they were allowed inside the school premises.
There was a hand sanitiser and provision for hand-washing at the school gate.
However, most of the students did not wear face masks and did not observe social distancing inside the examination hall.
At West Itam Secondary School, Itu, a government-owned school, there was hand sanitiser and provision for hand washing at the school entrance.
Most students did not wear face masks. They did not also observe social distancing inside the examination hall.
At Uyo High school, Uyo – government-owned, there was no hand sanitiser at the school gate. No provision for hand washing at the school gate. All the students, however, wore face masks.
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