The news of the approval by the Federal Government of Nigeria that SSS3 classes should reopen on August 4, 2020, to enable the students prepare for their final examinations is a welcome development. This development which exemplifies government’s responsiveness to public opinion is very commendable.
In a statement released by the Federal Ministry of Education and titled ‘Exit Classes To Reopen August 4th’ (as reported in more details by the Punch newspaper) reads:
Secondary schools in the country are to reopen from the 4th of August 2020 for exit classes only. Students will have two weeks with which to prepare for the West African Examinations due to start on the 17th of August 2020. These were the unanimous decisions reached today at a virtual consultative meeting between the Federal Ministry of Education, Honourable Commissioners of Education of the 36 states, the Nigerian Union of Teachers, the proprietors of private schools and the Chief Executives of examination bodies. It was agreed that the exit classes should resume immediately after the Sallah break, from the 4th of August 2020, to enable them to prepare for the WAEC examinations scheduled to commence from the 17th of August 2020.
The meeting also resolved that a passionate appeal be made to the Federal Government through the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 and public-spirited Nigerians for assistance to schools across the country to enable them fast-track the preparation for safe reopening, as agreed. Another meeting is to be convened tomorrow between the Federal Ministry of Education and the Chief Executives of examination bodies namely, NECO, NABTEB and NBAIS to harmonise their examination dates, which will be conveyed to stakeholders expeditiously by the Federal Ministry of Education. (See Punch, July 17, 2020, via: https://punchng.com/breaking-2020-wassce-to-begin-aug-17-fg/).
This column understands that to reach this decision to reopen schools specifically for exit students through a wide consultative stakeholder meeting, was not an easy one. Prior to this decision, the Federal Government had all along adopted a cautious approach to this very controversial issue by insisting that schools would not reopen until the conditions are safe with respect to the high spreading and ravaging coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This is very understandable as any reasonable and responsible government anywhere would do exactly the same.
This notwithstanding, this column had all along argued that much as a cautious approach is good, the provision of adequate safety measures in schools is one sure way to ensure that the conditions are safe for the (feared) reopening. The idea was not that schools should resume irrespective of the safety conditions for the sake of taking final examinations, which would have meant a focus and emphasis on examinations rather than on the lives of our children. The focus, however, was that adequate safety measures should be put in place first in all the schools to enhance safety and guarantee a reasonable level of confidence that would make parents release their children for the examinations.
It is heartening that the statement by the Federal Ministry of Education made a passionate appeal to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF on COVID-19) and public-spirited Nigerians to provide assistance across the country to fast-track the preparation for safe reopening. This column had in the past made an appeal to the private sector-led CA-COVID (a dependable partner with the government on the fight against COVID-19) to come to the aid of the education sector in this regard. This column in particular, called on CA-COVID to provide financial support to the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) to enable it acquire the needed Private Protection Equipment (PPE) and hire additional examination invigilators and supervisors to make the examinations comply with the required social and physical distancing protocols. The support of numerous philanthropists in this country is also required to enable Nigeria meet its obligation to its future leaders so that no one would be left behind in the spirit of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of leaving-no-one-behind.
There are few other matters arising from this Federal Government approval for the resumption of schools for students in exit classes. First, parents should take personal responsibility for the decision to allow their children to return to schools and take part in the final examinations. Put differently, by this Federal Government approval for reopening of schools for examination classes, no one (i.e. parent) is under compulsion to allow his/her child to resume classes in preparation for the examinations. It should be a personal decision which should be taken with convincing faith and in full consultation with one’s God, as He alone can ultimately protect these children.
This issue of personal responsibility is very important particularly for those who suggested (or still feel) that the 2020 WAEC-conducted examinations should be shifted to 2021. It would have been inappropriate if the government is the one making the decision on their behalf, for as it is now, the government has played its regulatory role by directing what should be done before the schools resume. It is, however, our expectation that the Federal Government as a proprietor of schools should also play its role properly with respect to the provision of adequate safety measures in its 104 Unity Schools.
The second important issue in the reopening of schools for exit classes is that it is a bold, worthy and strategic decision. We argue so because first, since it will take longer time for the virus to go completely (given the community stage of its transmission presently), it makes sense to focus on provision of safety preventive measures as a coping strategy for a time-bound examination not completely under Nigeria’s control. This arises from the fact since there is low level of compliance with safety protocols by many Nigerians, no one is sure that by next year the virus will be completely defeated in the country. As the chairman of the PTF on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha rightly pointed out during the national briefing on Monday, 27 July 2020, members of the PTF “have regrettably come to the inevitable conclusion that the majority of Nigerians, irrespective of status, creed, and level of education, continue to live in denial of the virulent nature of the virus and consistently breach the guidelines and non-pharmaceutical measures put in place”.
Consequently, given this no-change scenario, it makes sense not to postpone 2020 WAEC conducted examinations till April/May/June next year. If this opinion is anything to go by, it means that the envisaged situation next year may not be significantly different from what we have at present. In actual fact, if we postpone the 2020 WAEC-conducted examinations to next year, two sets of WAEC examination classes will then compound the problem with respect to the observance of the physical distancing requirement. It, therefore, appears reasonably unassailable that with adequate safety measures in place and their enforcement, along with the students operating with extra-care and precautions, the examinations are better taken this year than next year.
It should also be remembered that these SSS3 students were practically ‘ready’ in March for the examinations scheduled to begin on 6 April 2020 before WAEC announced the postponement on March 20, 2020. It will, therefore, be a huge psychological relief to most of the students to get this burden over then. The Federal Government, therefore, should be commended for taking a courageous decision based on available information.
Lastly, it should also be commended for demonstrating a high level of responsiveness to public opinion on the side of not leaving the hopes and aspirations of our 1.5 million Nigerian students hanging in the air any longer.
•Prof. Obasi, a public policy expert (& former columnist in the Daily Trust, Abuja, March 2003 to October 2006, & Daily Champion, Lagos, April 2005 to December 2008), is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: [email protected]