Ebola: Why my kids may not be returning to school this month.

It is no longer news that the Ebola virus disease has introduced a new level of panic and opportunity into our already overworked system. We had our issues, and believe me, they were tough issues and then suddenly, like a bad wind blowing from Liberia, Mr. Sawyer came to Lagos with Ebola and boom! everything went awry. The Lagos state government reacted promptly and responsibly as it is wont to do, and everyone started to heave a sigh of relief that the authorities had this thing well under control. But it was not quite so. In the midst of the rumours and counter rumours, it was confirmed that a compromised person had somehow found her way to Enugu thereby endangering people there. The government swung into action and again we heaved a sigh of relief. And then again like a fiend that delights in spreading evil, the news hit that the Doctor who first zeroed in on the Ebola, DR. Adadevoh had succumbed to the disease. The nation was thrown into mourning. But the fiend was not done yet. We soon heard that someone else had managed to avoid being detected and had somehow found his way to Port Harcourt where he was treated successfully but succeeded in infecting the Doctor who treated him! That Doctor is no more. Several others have also died and truly my heart goes out to them, they have sacrificed their lives on the altar of a needless ailment that should have remained with animals in the wild.
In the almost eight weeks since this disease reared its ugly head in Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Health has shown that it is possible for a government department to be responsible and alive to its duties. Information has been properly managed and openly shared and in several ways this has helped to keep the disease to a manageable level. And then two weeks or so ago the Ministry of Education showed up and announced that schools would not resume for a while until the situation was brought under control. Believe me I was one of the parents who rejoiced at this news. As a parent I truly believed it was the best thing that the government could do to show that it was truly responsible.

Unfortunately my joy was short-lived. The government reversed itself and asked the kids to return to school in September. And in my opinion that is not right. I will share my reasons: the Ministry of Health and the government of Lagos state did their best to contain the spread of this disease, but it still spread. They did everything possible to ensure that correct information was disseminated but they could only give the information that was available to them and as the scenarios unfold, we are finding out that some people, deliberately, or otherwise did not obey government directives on the quarantine.And this why I think it is not a good idea to send the children back to school at this time.

1. We cannot truly be sure that all the contacts of Sawyer, primary secondary and tertiary have been identified and quarantined.

2.There could be other people in the society who may have contracted the disease from other sources beside Sawyer who are yet to be identified.

3. While the private schools which seem to be in the forefront of the clamour for school resumption may claim that they are able to cope with whatever emergencies may arise, we must not forget that public schools may not be so prepared.

4. Not all private schools have the capacity or the willingness to provide the level of hygiene needed to keep children safe from danger.

5. Children in schools represent every strata of society and when they are brought together in a school atmosphere, it is difficult to say who may have been exposed in their homes.

6. Children in boarding schools could be in even more danger as their parents are not there to ensure that they keep themselves clean and hygienic.

7. Children may not understand or appreciate how dangerous the disease is and may not necessarily report suspicious symptoms immediately.

The argument for early resumption is unreasonable. I have heard school teachers saying they were not consulted before government took the decision to extend the holidays and a very senior teacher argued that it would disrupt their academic calendar. As a concerned parent, I am appalled at these arguments. The health of our children should be placed high above academic calendars and school curriculum. Would it not be better to lose a school year than to lose even one child? When I make counter-arguments, my Christian friends and family are quick to retort that “it is not our portion”. Of course it is not my portion, it is the devil’s portion but my Bible tells me to watch and pray, and I believe we owe our children the responsibility of ensuring their safety. They can always catch up with academic work later, but please let us ensure they are safe. Let us ensure that the school environments are completely ready everywhere before we send them back to mix with everybody. If they resume in November the Christmas holidays can be shortened to a few days, same with the Easter holidays and the long holidays. Parents can find ways to engage them in their academic work while they remain at home. Believe me, I know this might place a burden on the parents but I think it is the sensible thing to do.

Having said all that I know that I am a lone voice crying in an uninhabited wilderness so until I see some things in the system to instill confidence in me, my kids may not be returning to boarding school till further notice. Shalom!

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