By Damola Kola-Dare
Prof Olanrewaju Fagbohun
Prof Olanrewaju Fagbohun of Lagos State University, LASU, asserted recently that the coronavirus pandemic did not hamper the creation of knowledge or the drive for innovation in Lagos State University. The Vice-Chancellor said that instead, it led to new thoughts and ideas, some of which culminated in the production of hand sanitizers, face masks, automated soap and sanitizer dispensers by the Faculty of Science and Engineering of the institution.
Speaking during the 2020/2021 matriculation which recently held at the university’s main auditorium, he said: “Challenges come with opportunities, the pandemic has put us on a global spotlight. It has truly been an unprecedented time that didn’t avail us an opportunity to adopt models but rather set us up as creators of models and frontiers in the management of human and material resources. These are not normal times. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 did not limit knowledge creation and community service. The Faculty of Science massively and locally created hand sanitizers and face masks, while the Faculty of Engineering designed an automated soap and sanitizer dispenser currently in use at the new Senate building.”
He said of the 21,626 applications received, the school could only admit 7,968. He, therefore, told the matriculants to count themselves lucky to be in the institution.
Dean Students’ Affairs, Dr Tajudeen Olumoko, congratulating the students, urged them to abide by the rules and regulations of the institution.
Addressing the students on the need to attain academic excellence, a human resource personnel and motivational speaker, Miss Tope Nkem Adeyiga charged them to work hard and be committed to their studies.
However, the start-stop nature of academic activities in the country remains worrisome. First, it was the coronavirus pandemic in March, now the #EndSars protests turned violent. Parents and stakeholders have expressed concerns over the setback suffered by education while calling on government to speedily bring calm and stability to the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic culminated in school closure at all levels across the country for six months (March to September).Thus, it crippled academic activities despite the recourse to virtual teaching and learning.
But there was relief when government approved the re-opening of schools last month. Both public and private schools resumed in Lagos and other states. And then, barely a month after resumption, the #ENDSARS protests rocked the nation and sadly resulted in another closure. Lagos, Oyo, Ondo and Ogun, among others, ordered that schools be shut. The Lagos State Government instructed primary and secondary schools to close on Tuesday, October 20. According to the statement issued by the Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo, the directive was for public and private schools. The statement noted that the new development was in response to the protests against police brutality in the state which had gone out of control.
The directive came on the same day schools reopened fully in the state for all categories of classes, including kindergarten, daycare and nursery. According to the state, the safety of the pupils and their teachers was essential and deserved to be prioritized. Parents were advised to keep an eye on their wards and prevent them from being used as tools in the hands of those who might want to hijack the protests to unleash mayhem. She also urged schools to deploy other means of distance teaching and learning such as radio, television and online media as they were doing during the COVID-19 lockdown. She said a new date for resumption of all classes would be announced as soon as possible.
It was difficult for teachers and students to get to school last Monday in Lagos because of the protests that escalated. However, states like Oyo, Ogun and Ekiti have reopened schools after the protests. The same cannot be said of Lagos where looting and arson held sway.
Against this backdrop, parents have expressed concerns about the closure, noting that the standard of education continues to decline steadily among other things.
The President, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS)Yomi Otubela, said school owners, teachers, learners and parents already suffered depression as a result of COVID-19 and now violent protests. He decried the uncertainty that has now become the hallmark of the education sector.
He said: “Stakeholders have been really affected this year. Teachers are just coming out of lack of funds following the lockdown. There is so much uncertainty surrounding education. We are just trying to put in new policies and adapt. The policies cannot work because all of a sudden schools got shut because of ENDSARS protests.”
Otubela also noted that closing down schools was not the solution to the problem at hand, but empowering and adequately equipping security agencies. “It is not about closing down schools. Government should as a matter of urgency adequately equip security agencies to tackle the situation. As we observed during the protests, security officials didn’t have the needed materials,” he said.
He urged government to get experts to work with schools in the area of psychology. He stressed the need to address the depression affecting teachers and pupils. “People who have been traumatized cannot settle down to learn. Pupils have been exposed to gory pictures and sad news. Only someone with the right state of mind can learn,” he said.
For Mrs. Idowu Oshinaike, a parent, government should find a way to reopen public and private schools in Lagos for learning to continue for school children. She noted that the sharp decline in the standard of education needed to be addressed urgently. “When the protests escalated, the governor had to impose curfew and ordered school closure. Nevertheless, government should review the idea of indefinite closure in Lagos. The standard of education had fallen long before now. And it will only get worse if nothing is done urgently. We are still affected by COVID-19, now ENDSARS protesters have caused problem for education again. Government should be swift in re-opening schools for unhindered learning. Some other states have reopened after the protests, Lagos should not be left out,” she said.
However, Deputy President, National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, said the level of assault on Lagos during the protests which could not be compared with other states necessitated an indefinite closure of schools. He noted that the safety of pupils was paramount. “The level of looting and destruction in the state called for urgent action. And you never know if the hoodlums will attack schools. The governor did very well to immediately order shutting down schools. Though, education standard is currently low, closure was necessary. The parents should also note that the protests affected Lagos most, hence, lives and properties must be secured. I believe the governor will make a pronouncement to reopen schools soon. It is better to have our children alive than to be maimed or killed,” he said.
On his part, another parent, Mr. Ademola Lateef, noted that in as much as safety is paramount, Lagos should deploy law enforcement and security officials to problematic areas instead of the indefinite closure of schools. He said: “We have had enough already. Learning and academic activities have not been running smoothly despite the introduction of virtual learning as a result of poor network, electricity, data costs among others. Pupils have been really affected. Our appeal is for government to restore order and calm to the state and ensure schools resume without further delay.”
A private school teacher, Mrs. Olubori Alhassan said the educational activities of this year have been nothing to write home about. She also noted that private school teachers found it difficult to cope during the lockdown as their salaries were not paid. Calling on government to restore order, she said: “For teachers and learners , this year has been terrible. During the lockdown we found it difficult to cope financially. We were not paid because we didn’t work. Our appeal is for government to restore calm in the country and address the ENDSARS issues so that normal academic activities can resume. Education has not fared well this year. We hope things get back to normal quickly.”