Communities work with government and UNICEF to ensure safety for children as schools set to resume
Nigeria’s School Based Management Committees (SBMCs), along with school administrators, are working hard to identify potential problems and find a safe way for children to resume their education
“Our children are missing their teachers, friends, classes and want to start going to school again”
Amid the heavy toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on everyday life in Nigeria, the turn of the calendar to September has presented one of the most challenging problems so far: how to safely re-open schools.
While the lockdown has been necessary to fight disease spread, it has also created an extremely challenging situation for both children and their parents. For the children, they remain stuck at home with little access to needed education, while parents struggle to carry on their lives with the additional workload of caring for their children full-time.
This has highlighted the important role of Nigeria’s School Based Management Committees (SBMCs), which, along with school administrators, are working hard to identify potential problems and find a safe way for children to resume their education.
"We want our children to resume classes in safety,” said a worried Mrs. Gladys Nweke, member of the UNICEF-supported SBMC at Community Primary School Ndufu Igbudu Ikwo in Ikwo LGA, Ebonyi state.
She was speaking at a recent meeting with SBMC members and state and school officials to determine what had to be done to safely reopen the school, such as renovating dilapidated buildings and hiring more teachers to reduce teacher-to-student ratios.
“As things are now, we might also have to adopt two school sessions,” she said. “Pupils in junior classes will attend in the morning hours while the seniors will attend in the afternoon. We can also reduce school hours if school authorities agree.”
In 2005, the National Council on Education directed that all schools establish SBMCs to ensure that local communities participate in the school decision-making process and in 2007 made their establishment mandatory.
Since then, with support from UNICEF, SBMCs have been very active, working to ensure children receive their schooling in a child-friendly school environment. Amid the current health crisis, their efforts are more important than ever.
“Our major challenge now is how to effectively conduct social distancing”
“The school’s population is 879 and some of our buildings are dilapidated, but we are thinking of the best options because coronavirus has come to stay with us. We have to manage it for the safety of the pupils - perhaps by having classes in batches and reduced hours.”
Nigeria’s task force on COVID-19 is working round the clock with relevant ministries, departments, Agencies and SBMCs to ensure safe resumption by making sure that facilities are in place to maximize prevention of infection rates among school children.
Mr Kenneth Ogeh, Mobilization Officer at the State Universal Basic Education Commission (SUBEC), said it’s important that different stakeholders do what they can to make sure schools have what they need.
"We should take responsibility in doing certain things for ourselves,” he said. “The state government has planned to distribute face masks and other things, but we need to complement their efforts.”
UNICEF is supporting these efforts through various means, including the purchase of sanitary buckets fitted with taps for proper handwashing at schools in Ebonyi, according to Dr Agatha Nzeribe, an Education Specialist at UNICEF Nigeria’s Enugu Office.
“UNICEF is working hand-in-hand with the Ebonyi State Universal Basic Education Commission (SUBEC) to ensure the best safety and preventive practices are maintained in the schools upon resumption, ” she said.