‘COVID-proofing’ Lagos public schools

As public schools in Lagos state reopen for in-person learning amidst a second wave of coronavirus in Nigeria, UNICEF is supporting the state to put in place protocols to mitigate the spread of the virus among students

Blessing Ejiofor, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
Students wash their hands at a handwashing station
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/JideOjo
22 December 2020

December 2020, Lagos, Nigeria – Twelve-year-old twins Taiwo and Kehinde Afolabi are excited to be back in school after six months stuck at home due to the COVID- 19 lockdown. While they were able to do homework thanks to broadcasts on Lagos State radio and television, they would have much preferred to be learning together with schoolmates and friends.

“I missed the playing and joking with my friends,” said Kehinde. “I prayed for school to reopen.”

For Taiwo, the daily morning assembly where all students gathered to sing and receive information was what he missed most. “I love singing and we often learned new songs at the assembly gathering,” he said.

According to Averting a Lost COVID Generation, UNICEF’s report on the growing consequences of the pandemic on children, 572 million students across 30 countries have been affected by school closures - or about 33 per cent of enrolled students worldwide. This is a massive number.

And while the Afolabi twins are thrilled that their schools are reopening – along with about 449,444 other public primary school pupils across Lagos State – they have had to come to terms with the fact that they can no longer hug or huddle with schoolmates and friends like they did before the pandemic.

Students in classroom display physical distancing
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/JideOjo
Physical distancing classroom arrangement at Oregun Junior High School in Ikeja, Lagos

Like everyone else, their school has had to adopt guidelines and protocols from the state ministries of health and education, and this has changed the experience.

“We no longer hold the morning assembly because of social distancing guidelines, and school time has been cut to four hours a day, without extracurricular activities,” said Christiana Adesanya, principal of Oregun Junior High School, where the twins are students. 

But this doesn’t discourage the twins, who are excited to be resuming in-person education. “At least we are back in school and learning with friends, even though we’ve been asked to maintain social distance,” said Taiwo.

Key to Lagos State’s safe school re-opening protocol is the proper wearing of face masks, social distancing, proper and frequent handwashing, strengthening of referral systems and contact tracing.

The provision of a designated holding area for sick pupils to wait for their parents and the installation of handwashing facilities with soap and water at multiple locations is compulsory for any school to get re-opening certification.

“We kicked off with sensitization and capacity building for all stakeholders in education, especially teachers, parents and the school management boards,” said Dr Abiola Seriki Ayeni, Director General of the Office of Education and Quality Assurance in the Lagos State Ministry of Education.

An official conducts temperature check at a school
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/JideOjo
Temperature check at the entrance of Oregun Junior High School in Ikeja, Lagos

Teachers are expected to take an online certification course on government protocols and guidelines, and schools are required to register and get certified for re-opening after meeting all conditions. About 29,000 registered teachers have so far passed the online school re-opening course, while 13,000 public and private schools have been registered and certified to safely re-open in Lagos, according to Dr. Ayeni.

UNICEF, with funding from the UN Basket Fund and European Union, has supported the stakeholder sensitization meetings and teacher trainings on how to demonstrate proper handwashing, the correct use of face masks, and the appropriate way to socially distance.

“It is our priority that key public services in Lagos - like education - have COVID-19-proof plans so that children can continue receive an education while lowering the risk of spreading this disease,” said Dr. Charles Nwosisi, Health Specialist at UNICEF in Lagos.

Elated to be part of the training, teacher Boboye Olaitan described it as “instructive and valuable”. For him and other teachers, it was clear the big picture was what mattered most.

“Reminding my students to properly wash their hands as I have learned here and to do it repeatedly will help keep the virus at bay – and ultimately ensure all children can learn,” he said.

A teacher demonstrates proper handwashing
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/JideOjo
Teacher Boboye Olaitan demonstrating proper handwashing at a training for teachers