By Sanni Onogu, Abuja
The Federal Ministry of Education Tuesday briefed members of the Senate Committee on Basic and Secondary Education on its plans to reopen schools which have been shut as part of measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, during the meeting expressed concern over the decision of the Oyo State Government to reopen its primary and secondary schools in spite of the rising cases of coronavirus infection in the country.
Nwajiuba wondered why the government of Oyo State which is currently battling with an increase cases of new infections, should be eager to throw open the gates of its schools when its neighbouring states, were exercising caution.
The Minister was reacting to a question from the Senator representing Oyo South, Lekan Balogun, who wanted to know the views of the Federal Government on the plan by the Oyo State Government to reopen its schools.
Nwajiuba said, “Why is Oyo State talking of reopening schools when it has just started recording an increase cases of Coronavirus infection.
“Just beside Oyo is Ogun State which was part of the three states under the FG’s lockdown since April is not talking about schools reopening.
“That’s part of the country’s problem, education is on the concurrent list, so every state takes decisions that pleases it on it. Also everybody is a big man. When you call them on phone, they will not answer you.
“As we speak, Kogi and Cross River states are not on the same page with the National Centre for Disease Control on the issue of testing while all their neighbouring states are conducting tests.”
He said that the ministry had presented a proposal to the National Assembly on the way forward concerning schools reopening for the federal lawmakers to criticise and make their input.
He added: “In science, we talk about facts. Everything we know about this disease is imported. In fact, nobody has seen this disease in Nigeria.
“Anybody who says he has seen it is a joker. As a nation today, we have done 112,000 tests for a country of 200 million people in a four month period.
“Children are asymptomatic carriers. Nobody can prove whether they can infect each other. Not even the health experts.
“Everything we know about it is what we read. There is nothing we discovered on our own.
In the document we have provided, we have suggested how we can move our education sector forward in this pandemic period.
“We don’t want to make it known at this period so that some people will not take our proposal for guidelines for schools reopening.
“This is because people publish fake guidelines every day which I always come on air to debunk.
What we have now is a proposal. Even if the Senate has not called us, we would have come to you to discuss with you because we have already discussed with the House of Representatives.
“The documents were presented to you so that you can criticise and make inputs as major stakeholders.”
The Vice Chairman of the Committee, Senator Akon Eyakenyi, who presided over the meeting, expressed the fears that the academic calendar could be distorted in public schools where no visible arrangement was being made to teach the children at home unlike their private schools counterparts.
She said public schools students were made to rely on educational programmes on radio and television stations whereas they tune to stations showing cartoons whenever there was no adult to guide them.
She said children in public schools don’t have access to online classes like their counterparts in the private schools.
She noted that the arrangement regarding radio and television stations was not working.
Eyakenyi said, “Even when the students in the cities have access to education programmes on radio and televisions, what of those in the villages? What do we do so that we don’t shut them out?
“If government can give guidelines for the reopening of churches and mosques, stakeholders in the education sector could also hold a meeting with the government to agree on guidelines for schools’ reopening.
“All we need to do is to come up with measures that would ensure the safety of both the students and their teachers.
“We can design a plan that would make sure that not all the students resume at the same time. We could probably start with the exit classes.
“We could have the numbers of students that would go to school in both the morning and afternoon sessions.
“We have to be innovative in our approach to save our educational sector in this country because nobody knows how long that the disease would be with.