Ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, school closure policy has remained a very contentious one across the world. For example, in the United States under the Donald Trump administration as well as under the current administration of Joe Biden, school closure policy remains largely controversial. In July 2020, under President Trump, the AP news reported that the American Federation of Teachers made up of 1.7 million members issued a resolution to support any local chapter that decided to strike over school reopening plans. And under the Biden administration also, it was a contentious issue with teachers’ union in some states actually going on strikes over resumption of schools following the outbreak of the ravaging Omicron coronavirus variant. About two weeks ago, the Hong Kong authorities halted in-person classes for primary and kindergarten pupils thereby endangering the education of many of these children.
Nigeria we recall quibbled or equivocated over school reopening during the lockdown period. However over time, reason eventually prevailed and it followed science rather than crude conservative politics of 19 state governors who refused to support the reopening of schools on the ground that they were not ready. Yet they were not seen making serious preparation to be ready for school. And so had this policy prevarication prevailed, Nigeria would have ended up like some other countries (e,g. Uganda) that suffered prolonged school closure. The lesson in all these is that science should always be followed in deciding to open schools after a prolonged closure.
This column aligns itself with UNICEF’s position on reopening of schools under this pandemic. First, as UNICEF argues “global school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic present an unprecedented risk to children’s education, protection and well-being”. Secondly, “schools do much more than teach children how to read, write and count. They also provide nutrition, health and hygiene services; mental health and psychosocial support; and dramatically reduce the risk of violence, early pregnancy and more”. And thirdly, “its the most vulnerable children who are the hardest hit by school closures, and we know from previous crises that the longer they are out of school, the less likely they are to return” (See https://www.unicef.org/documents/framework-reopening-schools).
So under a COVID-19 pandemic which appears not to be in hurry to go, the most pragmatic policy is to use science to adapt, move on and minimise as much as possible the risk posed by the pandemic. This was the main thesis of this column in a two-part series titled COVID-19: The dilemma and politics of school reopening in Nigeria on July 14 & 17, 2020. Had the position of the conservative politicians prevailed, students from Nigeria would have missed their WAEC conducted examination in 2020 and possibly in 2021 when the Delta coronavirus variant posed greater danger than what obtained in 2020. This column therefore celebrates the policy farsightedness of reopening of schools that eventually prevailed after what would have been a catastrophic policy trajectory advocated by our reactionary politicians whose negligent behaviour has sustained the statistics of over 10 million out-of-school children in the country.
Going forward, Nigeria should not be shy to take bold policy measures when faced with difficult situations like the one that has been prevailing under the COVID-19 since the first quarter of 2020.
Finally this column adopts the position of UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, World Food Programme and UNHCR which had as far back as March 2021 developed a document titled ‘Framework for Reopening Schools Supplement: From Reopening to Recovery – Key Resources’.
The document contends that the “cost of closing schools – which at the peak of pandemic lockdowns affected 90 per cent of students worldwide and left more than a third of school children with no access to remote education – has been devastating. Children’s ability to read, write and do basic math has suffered, as has the development of their skills to reach their future development. There is emerging evidence not only of learning being stalled, but also regression in basic skills acquisition”.
Consequently, they argued that “recovery in the education sector requires that all children return to school, putting in place quality remedial learning programmes quickly and at scale, as well as comprehensive support to children and youth when they do return so that they are able to learn more effectively than before. Schools, teachers and children should be supported to plan and prepare for future shocks and be provided with relevant teaching and learning skills to be ready to face the global challenges of our times”.
Furthermore, “the supplement offers a collection of key resources to support recovery as schools reopen after months of closure due to COVID-19 – including policy research, practical guides, and emerging best practices to help countries in the preparation and implementation of their national education recovery process”.
The Framework highlights three key priorities for recovery when schools reopen:
- Make sure all children return to school.
- Put in place targeted remedial/accelerated learning programmes at-scale including summer programmes, utilising digital tools, etc.
- Provide comprehensive support to children and youth through the recovery process and beyond (See https://www.unicef.org/documents/framework-reopening-schools-supplement).
Education of our children should not under any circumstance be played with as this is the reason behind the over 10 million out-of-school children in this country. Given the way the 19 state governors behaved during the school closure under the lockdown, no one is surprised as to why Nigeria is still having over 10 million out-of-school children. Enough is enough of this negligent behaviour as we are all reaping its negative consequence in the widespread insecurity in the land.
•Prof. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: [email protected].