After over four months at home, pupils in terminal classes in public and private secondary schools started resuming last week. However, it has not been a normal resumption, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that requires some adjustments to be made to check its spread. Living with these adjustments has not been easy for the pupils, report KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE and JUSTINA ASISHANA.
SCHOOLS across the country began to reopen from Monday last week to SS3 pupils ahead of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) starting August 17.
The examination had to be moved to August from April because of the threats posed by COVID-19. Concerns about safety of the pupils while commuting to and from school, learning and relating with their peers and teachers were some of the reasons schools were shut in the first place.
To mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in schools, the government put in place certain protocols they had to observe. Before resumption, energy was focused on ensuring schools were ready to safely receive learners. Seating arrangements in classrooms had to be adjusted so that pupils could seat two metres apart to maintain physical distance; schools were mandated to ensure ready supply of water, soap and hand sanitizer for regular hand hygiene; and infrared thermometers were required for temperature checks.
Schools also had to provide a place to serve as mini-isolation centre for suspected cases; ensure all workers and pupils wore facemasks while on the premises and place information, education and communication (IEC) materials in strategic places to remind members of the school community about what to do.
However, not much thought was given to how the pupils would react to these new restrictions.
Having resumed earlier than other schools across the country, a Civic Education teacher in a public school in Oyo State, warned teachers that they may have to shout themselves hoarse to get the teenagers to stay apart. When The Nation asked her whether her pupils had learning gaps from staying home so long, she said that was not a problem compared to just getting them to maintain physical distance.
“We are trying to do our best but the children don’t believe there is COVID-19 — maybe it is from their homes. We are just shouting; making our own efforts to ensure they maintain social distance. We try to make sure that their seating is separate. But they still come together to gist. The week we resumed, they would see themselves; they would shout; try to hug one another. They would leave their seats. We tried to manage the school building; we scattered them for social distance. But they still came together,” she said.
With most states reopening schools, many teachers and school managers are experiencing similar reaction from their pupils.
Principal of Mind Builders High School, Ikeja, Mrs. Olufunmiloyo Olatunbode, said the pupils had to be cautioned initially to keep their facemasks on.
She said: “The challenge is there because they are teenagers and they have youthful exuberance – wanting to move round; wanting to punch. But we have arranged their seating positions – two metres apart and there is a teacher seated. Even though when they talk to one another, there is a lot of noise but they have learnt to maintain physical distance. They are appreciating the difference.
“When there is change of subject, within that period of transiting or when they are moving to the laboratory, you have to keep reminding them to maintain physical distance. They are getting used to it; it is sinking in.
“Initially to them, it was what are they doing? The first day, they got up, threw nose masks on the table; making noise, moving down. We had to call them to order – tell them that if anybody catches anything it is the entire school that would go home. And this exam we will not be able to have it. So they should think about that. I think the effect of psyching them is sinking. They have improved really.”
At Ambassadors Schools, Ota in Ogun State, the Proprietor, Mr. Samson Osewa, also said the SS3 pupils behaved like normal teenagers elsewhere. To help them remember the new normal, he said the school broadcast recorded messages over its public address system hourly.
“It is more tedious but they are cooperating. We have jingles that remind them of what to do and the reason they have to do it every hour. We play it over the public address system so it keeps them in check. Everyone is cooperating – the teachers, the students. I tell them we are helping one another by doing the right thing,” he said.
Speaking about how the restrictions have affected school life, head girl of the school, Esther Ogundele, said it was not easy hearing people speak with their facemasks on.
“Talking sometimes can be inaudible, you might not really be able to hear people well. When teachers are talking you cannot hear them well because they are wearing facemasks.
“I am able to keep my facemask on throughout the day till I get to the hostel. In the hostel, we are now three or four in each room instead of eight,” she said.
Esther, however, said she was more worried about her examination than contracting COVID-19, especially as she knew no one that had contracted the disease.
“We resumed last Wednesday. We did not have much time to prepare; I was kind of scared trying to prepare for the examination starting in two weeks. I was not really scared about coming to school because I have not actually witnessed a case before; I am just hearing. No one around me has had it,” she said.
When schools resumed in Niger State on Monday, The Nation observed that the pupils were so happy to see themselves after so many months that majority of them ignored safety protocols. They hugged and shook hands despite caution from their teachers who were watching them like hawks.
The pupils who spoke to The Nation admitted that it would be difficult to keep the safety protocols but promised to work hard at it so they do not catch the virus.
A pupil of the Government Girls Science College, Minna, Raliat Ibrahim, said: “For students, it will be difficult for us to stop hugging or coming close to one another. Shaking hands, hugging will be difficult for students to stop, but we will work on it because it is for our own good and for our health.”
Aisha Umar, a pupil at Government Girls Secondary School, Old Airport Road in Minna, said she would try to sensitise her friends about not hugging or shaking her.
“It is very difficult for us because we cannot abandon it; it is part of us and if you don’t see your friend for a long time, it is normal to hug each other after not seeing for a long time because we missed ourselves. But we will try our best to follow the rules and regulations because it is for our health.”
The Vice Principal 3, Government Girls Science College, Minna, Hajiya Ramatu Mamman, said it might be challenging enforcing the students to follow the safety protocols but they will try their best towards ensuring the compliance.
“It is very challenging but because it has to do with the safety of teachers and students, we will ensure by imploring teachers to monitor the students regularly and ensure they comply with these protocols.”
The Principal of Government Secondary School ‘A’, Danjuma Abdullahi, said various committees of teachers had been set up to ensure the students follow the protocols, especially during break time.
“We will ensure that the safety rules are strictly followed by the students. Our health teacher and prefects are on ground and committees are everywhere to ensure our students follow these safety protocols.
“We will organise a sensitisation for them to tell them what is expected from them and how to keep themselves safe from COVID-19.”
Credit: The Nation