ABUJA - Some education officials are baffled by the Nigerian government's decision to delay school openings nationwide in an effort to prevent the spread of Ebola. With only one current case of the disease in the country in a year where hundreds of children have been killed or kidnapped from their schoolhouses why cancel classes for Ebola?
Most Nigerian children are still on summer holiday. Schools were set to start opening next week. But officials announced Tuesday that classes wouldn’t resume until October 13 at the earliest.
Although for some education professionals the caution is welcome, the decision has angered parents.
More than 1,400 people have died of Ebola in West Africa this year. Only five of the victims were in Nigeria but many people are still deeply afraid that the disease could spread further.
According to Rose Kaltun, a senior member of the union that represents public school teachers in Kaduna State, the school delay was part of the Nigerian government’s well-praised rapid response to the Ebola crisis initiated in July.
“It’s very welcome and we want to appreciate them for that. We should not think it will affect the education of our children. It won’t. It will help us and it will help our children too," said Kaltun.
But some parents, like mother Ramatu Tijjani, say it makes no sense to keep schools closed. Tijjani noted that people would still pack into churches, mosques and markets and children would be just as exposed.
“Places whereby your fellow citizens do their daily activities, but in this regard when it comes to Ebola now, government announcing that ‘Children don’t go to school’? You want them to become dumb?,” she said.
Other education professionals said keeping schools closed was unnecessary and illogical. Private school owner Murtala Mohammed said the government seems to be contradicting itself by assuring Nigerians the Ebola threat was all but passed on the same day it announced that schools would not open.
“If this is something to be taken serious the extension of school commencement of the session should not be taken on Ebola anymore,” he said.
The bigger problem Nigerian schools face, he said, was neglect and insecurity. Nigerian schools were being dragged down by lack of resources, long teacher strikes and declining attendance, he said. Boko Haram insurgents, who have killed hundreds of schoolchildren in their schoolhouses and kidnapped hundreds more have driven some parents to keep their children at home.
Conversely, he added, declining education was fueling the insurgency.
“All the crisis happening today, from the issue of kidnapping to insurgency and all of you. When you look at it, it is traceable to education. If someone is not properly educated he can not be productive and therefore he will become a nuisance to society,” said Mohammed.
Nigerian officials hope Ebola will be out of Nigeria entirely sometime in September if current efforts remain successful. However, with the disease still spreading rapidly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, officials say Ebola still threatens Nigeria and the entire region.
Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.