COVID19: Lagos wants to re-open schools soon, but is the state ready?
By Wemimo ADEWUNI
SCHOOLS across Nigeria were shut down in March 2020 due to the ravaging coronavirus pandemic. Eight months later, with infection numbers dropping drastically the Lagos state government announced recently that schools would be re-opened fully on September 21st and 24th for tertiary and basic schools respectively. But is Lagos state ready to receive students in a safe learning environment?
According to the Lagos state government’s website, the population growth rate of Lagos is 10 times faster than New York and Los Angeles. With a population of 9 million as at the last population census of 2006, 477,912 births were recorded in Lagos state in 2016 with 41.39 percent of children recorded under age one, 25.82 percent between one and four, and 32.79 percent above age five.
Former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had in 2017 announced that 86 people move to Lagos every hour, confirming the report by the World Population Review which listed Lagos as the 8th fastest growing city in Africa. Lagos state now boasts of an estimated population of 24.6 million people.
The Universal Basic Education Board which coordinates the implementation of quality basic education in Nigeria provides guidelines for Minimum Standards for Basic Education, including the approved distance between schools.
“Schools are to be located in such a way that the average number of pupils does not walk more than two kilometers to get to the nearest school, provided that there are (enough) pupils within the radius of 2km to fill (the minimum required) two-stream school, i.e. 12 learning groups of 40 pupils each for semi-urban schools and at least a total of 60 pupils for small rural schools.”
The maximum number of pupils per class according to UBEC’s FME guidelines on Minimum Standards in Schools Nationwide is to be 20 in pre-primary, 40 for primary and 45 secondary schools. But this is not so in Lagos State. Before the lockdown, questions have been raised about how grave the scarcity of public schools is in Lagos and if the government is meeting up with the growing demand based on the rapidly growing population. Even then, there were reports of classrooms having up to 80 pupils or more in a class in some areas of Lagos with pupils seating three on a desk.
The Lagos Annual Education Performance Report was last published in 2014. The document shows that “The Enrolment ratio from the public to private is 1:5 which means for every 6 pupils, 1 attends public while 5 attend private. For every 3 students in junior secondary school, 2 are in public while 1 in private”. The report, which is used in creating the Medium Term Expenditure Framework for the state recommended that more classrooms be built, and called for the establishment of more schools especially in newly created development areas like Alimosho, Agege, Ifako Ijaiye, Eti Osa, Ibeju – Lekki, Ojo, Badagry and Ikorodu.
The Chairman of the National Union of Teachers, Lagos state chapter Comrade Adedoyin Adesina lamented overcrowding in schools especially in areas like Alimosho, Ikorodu, Amuwo/Ojo axis, Ajeromi/ Ifelodun. According to him, “there is a serious, acute shortage of teachers, because people are retiring in sets, and the government is not employing to cushion the effect.”
Speaking on the preparedness of the Lagos state government to receive secondary school students, the Public Affairs Officer of the ministry, Mr. Kayode Abayomi explained that the state government is building more classrooms to ensure more spacing in compliance with covid19 protocols.
For primary schools, Honorable Alawiye King, Chairman Lagos SUBEB said there will be staggered resumption of classes to reduce the number of pupils in a class per time.
But none of these efforts will meet the deadlines for school resumption which is less than one week today Wednesday, September 16.
Though UNICEF states that the direct impact of COVID19 on children and adolescents is very limited, they are possible transmitters of the virus and need to be protected as much as possible. Clean, safe environments for schooling is one way to ensure there isn’t a new spike in COVID19 infection rates in Nigeria. It is unlikely the Lagos state government has met all the conditions in the UNICEF’s guidelines.
This story by Wemimo Adewuni is under the REMOP EDUCATION PROJECT supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism