By Daniel Tyokua and Felix Khanoba
The Federal Government has approved the full reopening of schools at all levels nationwide for academic activities from 12th October 2020, after seven months of closure occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Briefing kournalists on Friday in Abuja, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, said the decision was reached after due consultations with stakeholders and Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
The government had ordered the closure of schools nationwide in March 2020 following the outbreak COVID-19 pandemic.
Adamu said with the level of preparations put in place to test and flattening of the infection curve, the government has come to the conclusion that the earlier decision was reviewed to allow reopening of schools at all levels.
He urged the school owners to be strict and rigid on COVID-19 protocols, Adamu warned that any school owner that does not comply with the guidelines and an outbreak occurs in the school as a result of negligence, such school would be closed down.
“Be vigilant, strict and rigid in the implementation of COVID-19 protocols for the safety of our children and ourselves as we reopen schools. Nothing should be taken for granted,” he said.
The Federal Government had earlier directed the National Universities Commission (NUC), National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) and National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) to ensure that necessary arrangements were put in place for the reopening of tertiary institutions.
He particularly directed that all the 104 Unity Colleges be reopened on the 12th of October, 2020.
He said: “Precisely on Wednesday 8′” July 2020, I had at a press briefing after the Federal Executive Council meeting, informed the nation that the government will not reopen schools without adequate preparations.
“I also indicated that until the curve of infection rate is flattened, it will be unsafe to reopen schools.
“Having taken that painful but necessary decision, the government has not rested on its oars in the areas of consultation with stakeholders, putting together guidelines for reopening of schools and preparations required of school owners to reopen.
“We have consulted widely with stakeholders in the sector, including the Association of Private School Owners of Nigeria, (APSON), National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, (NAPPS), Provost of Colleges of Education, Rectors of Polytechnics, Vice-Chancellors of Universities, State Governors, our development partners, Honourable Commissioners of Education and relevant international organisations.
“Consequent upon these consultations, we developed detailed guidelines for reopening our learning facilities.
“Taking the first step, we reopened schools for exit classes to take their National Examinations.
“I am glad to report that in all our 104 Unity Colleges, there has not been a single case of COVlD-l9 infection so far.
“The isolated cases we have had in other schools are minimal. It is gratifying to note that on the whole, there has not been a single fatality amongst the exiting students
“You may also have noticed that the infection curve nationwide has flattened considerably.
“In July 2020 when I stated that we will not reopen schools until the infection curve flattens, the country was recording an average of 400 infections daily.
“By the end of July and August, the infection rate peaked at an average of 700 cases daily.
“Since the beginning of September 2020, we have witnessed a considerable decline in the rate of infections now averaging 200 recorded cases daily.
“Consequently, with the level of preparations put to test and the flattening of the infection curve, we have come to the conclusion that we have to review our earlier decision especially against the realization that COVlD-l9 has come to stay and that we have to live with it,” he said.
Adamu further noted that states and private school owners would work out the modalities for the opening of schools under their purview.
He urged school owners to put in place safe distancing procedures as well as develop and display at schools, simple context-specific reference protocols on day to day actions to be operated in each school.
He also called on the school owners to conduct a risk assessment with a view to understanding the gaps in the system that can increase the risk of transmission and make recommendations for addressing the gaps.
He listed other precautionary measures to include, safety and hygiene in all stages and phases of the school reopening process which promote behaviours that reduce spread, such as school commutes (to and from school travelling), safe distancing, frequent hand washing and the use of facemasks.
Other guiding frameworks include sensitization and monitoring procedures and ensuring adequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities across the school premises.
He also urged the institutions to encourage the use of open spaces for gathering and promoting outdoor activities as well as regular temperature checks for all the visitors coming into the schools using infrared thermometers.
The minister further advised the institutions to establish a staff/students committee for regular surveillance, monitoring and enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines.
He commended the Federal Ministry of Environment, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and other stakeholders for the various roles they have played in response to the pandemic.