By Muhammad Auwal Ibrahim
Let me start by glorifying the Almighty Allah who has spared our lives till date and saved us from the untold dangers of this COVID-19. Alhamdulillah. The fact that COVID-19 is not as deadly in our country as we have seen in other places does not mean we should not take preventive measures. Public safety should always come first.
It is noteworthy for you (the reader) to know that I am not in support of illiteracy and backwardness in our education system. However, in a situation like this, where coronavirus is a great (and still largely misunderstood) threat to our lives, it is pertinent to take responsibility. Amongst the best things to do is to pray and adhere to safety protocols as outlined by the ministry in charge. This is also the teaching of Islam.
As a student of one of the more prominent universities in Nigeria, I cannot call for reopening of schools amidst COVID-19. This is because it is a university that comprises students from all sections of the country and even from abroad (students from Niger republic and others). Therefore, I understand that reopening schools may be a great threat to our lives since we do not know whether their own coronavirus wave is over or not. They may come and spread it to others not affected and thereby increase our cases.
I do not know why Nigerian social media students are agitating that schools which are closed today should reopen. It can be recalled that at the beginning of the ASUU warning strike, some of the people clamouring for the reopening today were happy and were even celebrating the strike as others were mourning it.
Why are they now insisting on reopening of schools? I doubt if their main concern is education. If it is, it is simple. In a situation like this, which others have referred to as the new normal, we have to be more digital than ever. Yes, there are other ways to learn from home or in your comfort zone. For example, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) commissioned a digital academy with thousands of enrollees (including me) into various programs available. Just like them, many people are exploring free online courses to improve themselves during this period while others are making noise on social media streets.
Those who want to learn are learning. Those making noise are just pretenders. If education is your concern, see it in your phones. Although not all Nigerian learning institutions can afford online lectures because the country’s sack has been run by a few selfish looters. This is the benefit of doing the right thing at the right time. This school closure is not much a problem in many countries abroad, because they did the right thing at the right time. Still, we must not go to schools. We can benefit from other e-learning platforms since they made the sacrifice and worked hard for their countries. And the few ours like that of NITDA.
The only excuses social media students give is the unstable power supply (resulting in the low battery of their devices), insufficient data and the rest. But if you observe carefully, you will notice that this kind of issues are raised when it comes to the issue of education, i.e e-learning. But when it comes to the issue of watching films (Arewa24 programs in particular here in the north), football and chatting on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and their likes, they know where to charge their phones so that they will be active, current and updated about every progress. They source money to subscribe for a data bundle, and some even pay for cinema tickets.
And this is happening at the same time when others are maximising the time they have in exploring good opportunities online but them, they are using their own time negatively. Wasting their time protesting online with the #savenigerianstudents. One would wonder if those making noise about schools closure are concerned about education. One may conclude that maybe they have their own concerns other than education.
Even if noise is to be heard, let us hear it from those in rural areas first. Those who do not have an adequate power supply, not those that are online chatting already and maybe they live in cities.
Apart from all these, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the academic body in Nigerian varsities said that schools should not be opened now. I agreed with ASUU here because their decision is of the public interest. So for those thinking that we are always against ASUU, it is not like that.
Recently, on 12th of July 2020, the same decision came from the Acamedic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), the academic body in Nigerian polytechnics too did not support reopening of schools at this time. I do not know about the position of NUT concerning this.
All these, are happening because they do not want to risk our lives to the danger of coronavirus. If social media students are insisting on reopening of schools, then who will teach them? This is the question. Are they going to teach themselves? If yes, they can organize this locally in their respective areas with strict observance of the social distancing protocols. If no, those responsible for teaching said no, then there is no need to resume now.
I wonder if those making noise forget that ASUU went on strike months ago. Then if they resume, ASUU issues are still on the ground. As Nigerians, staying at home is not new to us. We have been experiencing ASUU strikes before, even when our counterparts across the globe are learning. Then why, now that there is a global pandemic, are people insisting that schools must resume now?
Our people lack organisation. We have lecturers, we have final year students and we have junior students, why not engage those lecturers, locally, to teach us? They are online. And in some locations where observing social distancing protocol is possible, lessons can be organised with a smaller number of attendees or virtually. One should utilize his Facebook data to learn instead.
The truth is that COVID-19 protocols cannot be observed in Nigerian institutions, both in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. Our people are lawless. They will not put on the facemask as required, they will not wash their hands and the population is high in schools. If we are to observe social distancing protocol in a lecture theatre, then about half of the students will not attend. If so, no need to hasten the reopening of schools now without necessary measures taken.
Even in the places that have been reopened, some of the COVID-19 safety protocols are violated, including hospitals. Parks and airports are not in the exception. We are seeing what is happening online. Only the concerned ones are taking responsibility by wearing their masks properly.
For those final year students writing WAEC and other examinations, the government should be allowed to make a good decision with stakeholders on how to organise and carry out a successful exam. Students insisting that they want to write WAEC should adhere to all safety protocols.