Private schools and Covid-19
Dr. (Mrs.) Elizabeth Oriola is the immediate past Chairman of National Association of Proprietor of Private Schools (NAPPS), Alimosho Chapter, Lagos. She is the Proprietor of Cosmos Schools at Baruwa, Ipaja, Lagos. The school which is reputed to be the fountain of knowledge was founded about twenty years ago. Born in Ode-Irele, Ondo State, but married to an indigene of Lagos. Oriola, now in her late seventies, had both her primary and secondary education in Lagos then moved to the United Kingdom for her Higher and Professional Studies. She is a dynamic, versatile and pragmatic educator who had worked in several International Companies before she eventually settled on education sector. In this interview with Wilson Adekumola, she laments the impact of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown on school. Excerpts;
How have you been coping during the lockdown without the children you teach?
Actually, we have shut down the school for two weeks before the pandemic lockdown. We have almost completed our second term exam when we closed the school. We should have gone on vacation before this general lockdown. The only time we could have missed teaching the children would have been when we resume for the third term. Our resumption would have been few weeks ago. But as for the proprietors and the staff it has been very hard on us because by end of March which should have been the end of second time we have not collected money, many parents have not paid as a result of that many of us have not been able to pay staff salary for March. This is disturbing as it is affecting our finance.
You said the schools were shut down before the lockdown, did you envisage this kind of situation?
Nobody envisaged something like this. It caught us unaware. When we were asked not to come to school that particular Monday we began to wonder what was going to happen. We ordered the children to stay at home as well and suspended all our activities accordingly. So, it really affected us tremendously. Now it has started affecting the children because we should have started teaching them. We ought to have resumed in April.
What has been the major impact of the lockdown on your school?
The major impact has been finance because school business is the only source of income for many of us. When the parents have not paid it will affect our finance and we won’t be able to pay the various institutions we took loan from. We are only appealing to the government to intervene in the private education sector. We as a body are working towards that because most of us borrowed money from the bank. As for the students, we suggested that they should go online to learn. But that is where I have a lot of problems. When we asked the children to go and learn online, even in the secondary school, do we have the facilities for these students to learn online?
Firstly, they need a laptop and they don’t have it. Secondly they need data to access the e-learning program. Can they afford the data to surf the internet? In fact, the thrust of the project is electricity. Inadequate power supply will pose as the major challenge. We cannot put on generator because it is expensive to run it for such project. I heard that government is going to put some program on television and radio that is a good one. Students will be able to access the program on television but it depends on adequate power supply. All these can only work in advanced countries where government made provision for all the facilities. So, I don’t think this program can work effectively here.
Let us leave secondary schools and other higher institutions. How do you expect the nursery and primary school pupils to learn online? Since these things have not been put in place before the lockdown I don’t know how it will work. As far as education sector is concerned, the lockdown is the best decision government can take for now. You can’t tell these children not to interact, especially government schools where you have more than one hundred students in a class. If we actually want to contain this coronavirus we must lockdown. But the question is how long are we going to lockdown. In abroad, the schools have been in lockdown till the pandemic lockdown is eased but government is taking care of everything hoping that by the time schools will resume coronavirus pandemic would have been curtailed if not totally eradicated. So, in Nigeria we don’t even know when we are resuming yet.
Now that the challenges are much, where do you want government to wade in?
We are imploring government to lend a hand in the area of finance. We in the private education sector have no income whatsoever. In view of this, we would like the government to give us some palliatives to cushion the hardships we are currently going through. We would appreciate interest free loan, grants among other things. Now whether you like it or not every proprietor must pay March salary to the staff because they worked for it. Then we have to talk about April. Don’t forget they have families and other responsibilities to attend to. They must be encouraged. You can see that it really has devastating effect on us. Even when we resume we cannot start asking for money from the parents because we are all stuck in the lockdown. They have not been able to go to work or do their normal businesses. If government does not come to our aid it will paralyze the private education sector. I want government to quickly look into the private sector and do something meaningful to help us out of this situation.
How have you been reaching out to your pupils, staff and parents?
We have our Parents Teachers Association (PTA) platform where we send all the information to them. We have been getting in touch with them giving them all the necessary information and precautions. It is even through our interaction on the platform we got to know that some parents who are teachers teach their children at home. The major subjects that are very compulsory at primary level are English Language, Mathematics, Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning. If they are up to date with those ones others are easy to cope with. They can catch up with the elementary science and other subjects provided we are not locked up for too long.
What are the needful measures to put in place when the isolation ban is lifted on schools?
As you know, the teachers cannot put on mask to teach the children because they will be teaching and asking questions. Wearing mask will not be comfortable in the classroom. That is why I think maybe the coronavirus would have been very much contained before resumption. They can still wash their hands because most schools have wash hand basin since the outbreak of Ebola virus. Movement of outsiders will be restricted. Whoever that is coming to the school must put on mask and observe the precautionary measures. The staff will wash their hands frequently. As for the parents, they need to go back immediately they bring their wards to the school in addition to other safety restrictions they have to adhere to. The school premises must be fumigated. The normal fumigation we used to do is for rodents. If we must fumigate on or before resumption the chemicals we are going to use must be available to us. Either the government will provide for us or we are going to buy it. Whichever way, it just has to be the necessary chemicals for the virus not the one we used before.
It is obvious that children are vulnerable but you cannot separate them, how do you think social distancing could be maintained in the class?
I don’t really know how we are going to do that because we cannot separate these children. I have been trying to figure it out but no idea has come up yet. We cannot tell these children not to hug or play with themselves. That’s practically impossible. I don’t think the schools know how to maintain that social distancing we are talking about. It will be difficult to observe social distancing in the classroom. It needs a lot of space. How can that be possible where you have about thirty children in a class? Now if we create extra classrooms where we can put ten children in each we must employ more teachers because same teachers cannot teach the class that has been divided into two and that will incur a lot of funds. So we are still going to face more challenges because we cannot do all these things in isolation. We will still put heads together. You can see why we are begging government to come to our aid so that we can ameliorate this situation.
What are the plans made by school owners to ensure that the schools complete their term whenever the lockdown is lifted?
When the schools resume, the most important thing is for us to cover up. We only need to work hard in every area. We have to compress the syllabus where necessary and feasible There is a time in term when we have extracurricular activities, we can take advantage of that time to make up for the lost period and concentrate on the most important subjects. We all have to work extra hard including pupils, teachers and parents. As it is now, we have to cover the term’s work depending on when and if the government lifts the the lockdown this term. We need to sit down and plan our schedule because some of them are interwoven. We must map out our strategies in order to complete the term. In addition, our resumption time will also determine when to complete the term’s work. As matter of fact, almost all businesses have resumed albeit partially and generating income to keep body and soul together.
What are the positive lessons you have learnt from this present situation?
One of the significant lessons I have learned is that the world is going digital. Technology is going to take over the world. We must be ready to embrace technology so that we will not lag behind. Another thing this current situation has taught me as a school owner is that whatever you do you must have another means of getting income. You must not put all your eggs in one basket. If we have another source of income situation like this will not be too big for us to handle. Most especially school owners must be able to diversify. We must not depend solely on the fund we generate from the school. It is not enough to cater for our needs. We must look for other streams of income.
You talked about technology taking over the world, apparently, this will involve online teaching. What does it cost to start online school?
Well, the cost varies. It depends on who is setting it up for you. What you already have on ground and what source you want to use. Do you want to use the internet sources or use your own website? If it is your own website, you have to consult website designer or ICT expert who is knowledgeable in the field of e-learning. If you don’t have website at all you will need to start from the scratch. They will create it for you and provide the software that you will use. I personally prefer the use of your own website because you will be able to control it. Everything you have on it is yours and confidential and nobody will have access to it. But when you use others like Google, Internet Explorer and so on, you don’t have control over it and your information is no longer confidential. Anything can happen to it anytime but if it is your own website it is certain that all your works are intact and you can use it as you like.