Under normal circumstances, Rejoice Levi, an 11 year-old secondary school student, and her siblings will be in school – probably in the first or second week of the third term of the 2019/2020 academic session.
Primary and secondary schools in Nigeria usually resume a week or two after Easter holidays for the third and final term of the academic year.
It has been over a week since the Easter celebration and Rejoice and her siblings cannot return to school. All she does is eat, sleep, watch TV and some house chores, she told this reporter.
She is one of the millions of Nigerian children who have been out of school for over a month and forced to stay at home.
This is because of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the country and the lockdown ordered by the federal government to curb the spread of the disease.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, on March 29, ordered a 14 days lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states which was later extended by another 14 days on April 13.
The Nasarawa State government followed suit, restricting movement in Karu Local Government Area (which shares boundaries with the FCT). The lockdown was again extended by 10 days following the FCT lockdown extension by the president.
This has had schools, worship centres, markets and other businesses closed for over two weeks – hence, Rejoice’s inability to resume at school.
Previous school activities cut short
Rejoice is a JSS 3 student of Junior Secondary School, Orozo. She had just woken up from a nap and was having garri for lunch. That has been the order of the day for her, her brother and sister.
She told this reporter that for almost four weeks of being at home, her activities are shuffled between sleep, food and chores.
Besides being at home for weeks, she expressed sadness that the lockdown cut short the examinations for the term because of the pandemic.
“We were asked to go home because of the Coronavirus. Because of the pandemic. We were in the middle of exams and we went to school that day and they said that we should just go home. They even postponed our exams.
“We do not know when we are resuming, they just told us till further notice,” she said.
Rejoice said she finds time to read her books and prepare for the exams should the lockdown be lifted.
During holidays, Rejoice and her siblings are made to learn vocational skills but the pandemic has rendered it impossible this time.
The number of children under 14 years in Nigeria is estimated at 42.2 million which includes over 10.5 million out-of-school children, according to a UNICEF report.
With the pandemic which has led to the closure of schools at all levels, there are fears that the number of children currently out of school would have doubled or even tripled.
A UN report has described the impact of the pandemic on children as catastrophic. It says Coronavirus is turning into a “broader child-rights crisis.”
The report also says that those badly hit will be children living in slums, refugee and displacement camps, conflict zones, institutions, and detention centres, as well as children with disabilities – as was the case in communities visited by PREMIUM TIMES.
Children resort to handling parent’s businesses
Unlike Rejoice and her siblings, Susan Anthony and Micheal Eze, 14, spend their time at home helping out with their parents’ businesses.
Susan, an SS2 student of Government Secondary School, Barkin-Ado, in Ado, Nasarawa State, spends her day at her mother’s shop where she sells food items.
Having been sent out of school in the middle of exams and being at home for a month, she said she finds time to read daily in preparation for the exams.
“I have been reading and helping my parents in the shop. I have a timetable I created myself and I have been reading intensively,” she said.
Susan, who does not attend any private lessons, says she cannot wait to get back to school.
She also complained that patronage has been low and prices of goods have skyrocketed. This, she said, is because of the lockdown and the pandemic.
Eze Michael, who attends the same school as Susan, explained that he followed his father to his electrical workshop. He stopped going a week after the lockdown was announced and now sells food items in his mother’s shop.
“Now, I only do housework and help my mother in the shop. She sells food items. I try to read my books on my own too as we do not attend private lessons.”
Pandemic affecting private lessons
For three sisters in New Karu, Nasarawa State, private lessons are usually organised for them at home during holidays but the lockdown order has made it impossible this time.
Peniel and Olivia Thompson are SS1 and JSS1 students of Faith Academy, Goshen, Nasarawa State.
Like all the kids interviewed by this reporter, they were sent back home in the middle of exams. And while they find time to read at home, they spend more time playing or napping.
They explained that a private tutor usually comes to the house for private lessons during the holidays but is now impossible because of the restriction of movement.
Mitchelle Arnongu, a JSS3 student of Modern Comprehensive School, was made to write an examination of 15 subjects in three days in a bid to hurriedly shut down the school.
“For us, we finished our exams. We take 15 subjects and we were made to write our exams in three days – five papers each. We didn’t get our result.
“After the exams, they asked us to go home. They said we can resume when the government announces,” she said.
School owners out of business
The students are not the only ones affected by the pandemic in the education sector, both teachers and school owners have complained.
Boniface Okwanya, proprietor of The Maker Academy, New Karu, explained how he was made to shut down his school in the middle of exams.
He also decried being out of business as many students owed school fees before the compulsory vacation.
“We got a letter on the 27th of March from the Ministry of Education, National Association of Proprietors of Primary Schools, asking us to vacate on the 28th of March because of COVID-19.
“We started exams on the 27th and had to stop and vacate. They did not finish exams. It was an indefinite vacation.”
Asked how it has affected the business, he said “it’s not funny at all because some of them are still owing fees which they promised to pay at the end of the month (March) but once we were asked to leave, till date, they are still owing.
“I’m not praying for the lockdown to be extended because it is not funny. Surviving now is just by God’s grace. One major prayer is for God to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the government should put measures in place to make sure that the spread is stopped.”
Parents lament expenses, need for online classes
Some parents who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES also complained about spending more with the children at home. They also urged the federal government to create avenues for online classes for the students at home.
Rejoice’s mother, Queen Levi, said her children’s presence at home has been problematic and expensive. She says it is worse with the low patronage in business.
“They are eating too much, playing around too much, we are spending too much. We can no longer go out. We can’t sell our goods again. No one is patronising us. Our business is not doing well.
“We cannot even organise private lessons. We want the government to help. We are suffering.”
Sandra Oker, the guardian of Peniel, Olivia and Mitchelle, also complained of spending more.
“We are spending more on food this period. I think the lockdown is making them eat a lot of food. And that’s because there’s hardly anything to do. Even when you ask them to read, it is as though the books are stirring up hunger. We can’t wait for them to go back.”
While she decried poor patronage, she emphasised the need for online classes.
“I am in support of the lockdown but if there was a way they could send them back to school, it would have been better because it would affect their school calendar. I don’t know how the government is going to work around that.
“If they could arrange for some of them to take online classes or do their exams online just to make sure that the stay-at-home isn’t too long and is not felt.”
Online lessons, the solution?
With the pandemic ravaging the country and crippling some sectors, many believe switching to the internet is the best option to carry on with all necessary activities.
Many government officials and private organisations now use the internet for virtual meetings in this period. Even entertainment concerts and religious services are now being held online.
Many have called on the federal government to provide the necessary facilities for online classes for students at all levels who are currently out of school.
Already, countries like South Africa have transferred all courses online because of the pandemic. This is also done so that the virus does not ruin the school calendar.
However, going by the UN report, many students who will be worst hit by the pandemic are those in the slums, IDP camps, among others. These are children who have very little or no access to gadgets or the internet – leaving them underprivileged.
The report admonished the federal government and individual donors to prioritise education for all children with maximum attention to the most vulnerable – those in rural and IDP camps and those who are disabled.
NOTE: All interviews with the students in this report were done in the presence of a parent/guardian.