GOVERNMENT MUST FUND THE REOPENING OF SAFE SCHOOLS!
Wole Olubanji (Engels)
WE MUST AVOID DIVISION WITHIN THE RANKS OF THE WORKING PEOPLE
FOR A UNITED STRUGGLE OF EDUCATION WORKERS, STUDENTS, AND PARENTS FOR A PROGRAMME OF ACTION TO FUND PUBLIC EDUCATION
For many working people, continuous closure of schools has added to the burden parents have to bear. They have had to combine the search for daily bread, which the Covid-19 has made more difficult already, with ensuring round-the-clock care for children of school-going age. The agitation, therefore, for the reopening of schools is not restricted to the much older students in secondary schools or tertiary institutions alone. The several advantages of engaging young people’s intellect, even for their mental well-being, as mental health personnel have rightly canvassed during this outbreak, are not ones to be disputed or discarded.
However, the threat of the Covid-19, which the sloppy response of the Nigerian governments has sustained, presents the simple question of ensuring the safety of teachers, students, and their families while schools are reopened. It is the nature of capitalist governments to make simple questions about our lives and well-being seem complex.
FUNDING IS REQUIRED TO MAKE SCHOOLS SAFE FOR REOPENING
In presenting the issue of reopening of schools, the federal government, with feigned concern, is attempting to place the responsibility for public safety on the shoulders of Nigerian workers and masses. It is asking schools to meet safety criteria, on their own accord, before schools are reopened. Few rich schools that are patronized by the children of the few rich can meet the standard measures prescribed for protection against Covid-19. As a general feature, Nigerian public schools are overcrowded, and lack enough facilities to ensure physical distancing for example; running water supply for hand washing is nonexistent in most public schools. And this situation is equally obtainable in most private schools. Where these schools improvise bowls and water, it would increase the chances of the spread of Covid-19 than prevent it, as health officials have repeated emphasised running water over any other improvisations. It is therefore impossible for these poor schools to put in place protective measures without considerable financial burden, and without considerable financial intervention from the state.
To reopen schools during this period, and having at heart the well-being of students, education workers, and their families will require the emergency funding of schools to expand their facilities and provide facilities that can keep people safe from contracting Covid-19. It will also mean extra-pay for teachers and other staff that will be putting their lives at risk, like the payment of hazard allowances to them. Less buoyant private schools will also require urgent financial intervention from the state to be fit for any sort of resumption. And where these private schools prove incapable, the MSA supports the immediate take over by the government or relocation of such students (or pupils) to publicly funded schools. Yet the Nigerian governments have no such plans at the moment, the budgetary allocation to education was cut so drastically in the revised-2020 budget at a moment education funding should be increased for the country to be able to open safe schools.
THE GOVERNMENT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY UNPLEASANT CONSEQUENCE OF REOPENING OF SCHOOLS
Rather like the easing of lockdown when the government after some amount of showy footdragging avers the principle of individual responsibility for protection against the virus, the government’s present stance is no different. It is like Pontius Pilate bidding time to wash its hands off any consequence of the reopening of schools, and in the case of a disastrous outcome, tell the people: “but you asked us for it; it was not our will.” The government, however, should be held responsible for any unpleasant outcome of a reopening not preceded by the funding of the schools so they are facilitated for the protection of Nigeria’s teachers, students, and the homes they will return to.
The state of unpreparedness of the federal government for the safe reopening of schools can be so exposed by the amount voted for the education sector in its revised 2020 budget. The budget cuts the previous capital allocation to the education sector by 20%; the allocation to Universal Basic Education (UBE) was slashed from 111.7 billion to N51.12billion. This leaves no doubt about the government’s lack of commitment to expanding schools’ infrastructures, not to speak of putting in place protective measures.
This country has 30 million out-of-school children, it is ridden with the Almajiri Crisis in the North; it is important at this time for all children of school-going age to be under the walls of safe classrooms than on the streets where they can contract the disease at liberty. The Nigerian government, despite all this, wants to use a paltry N51.11 to address such monumental crisis, meanwhile more than half that sum, 27billion, is allocated for the renovation of the National Assembly. Speaking of priorities, the Nigerian government has clearly pronounced its priorities by its financial actions, every previous oration about the interest of the people or their children was a con job.
EDUCATION UNDERFUNDED; SCHOOLS IN TERRIBLE CONDITION BEFORE COVID-19
Before the onset of the Covid-19, the Nigerian schools were already in terrible conditions caused by a combination of underfunding and contempt for education by the country’s ruling class. The perennial struggles of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other education workers’ unions have been about improved funding of the sector. An indefinite strike of ASUU, for example, has been running side by side with the untamed spread of Covid-19 in the country. Rather than bury the significance of the ASUU strike, the Covid-19 has accentuated it; it has brought to the fore the backward condition of education and scientific research in the country. For once, the agitation for academic facilities like laboratories and equipment have been vindicated by the poor level of testing for Covid-19 across the country, and subsequently, the few numbers of tests carried out per capita. Each time the President had expressed his hope in the discovery of vaccine by foreign scientists is in itself an indictment on the education system, and the President has expressed this disgraceful hope more than once. This situation is a consequence of the regime’s ruinous underfunding of education and the lack of necessary support for research and facilities for both the teaching hospitals and universities.
This is a vindication of the previous struggles and agitation for improved funding of the education sector. It is also a call for a more determined and united struggle of workers, students and parents for adequate funding of education in the interest of society.
BACKWARD EDUCATION SYSTEM IS A FEATURE OF CAPITALISM IN NEOCOLONIAL SOCIETIES
The attitude of the Nigerian ruling class, and the underfunding of the country’s education system, is a special feature of capitalism in neocolonial countries. Socialists uphold that a society’s form of economic production goes a long way to determine its social, political, and intellectual system. Nigeria’s capitalism and its stunted development have proven this maxim correctly. As a country, whose ruling class derive their wealth and power from the extraction of oil, with as limited technical capacity as possible required for this menial venture, the Nigerian ruling elites have demonstrated little concern for lifting the scientific and cultural level of the country. It has been said that more than 30 million Nigerian children are out of school, and those in school study by rote, with limited facilities to demonstrate even the most intricate scientific topic.
Not even the worst humanitarian crisis in a century, the Covid-19, will make Nigeria’s thieving elites change their disinterested principles regarding the education sector. In matters of priority for the ruling elites, like preserving its own privileges as displayed during the insensitive receipt of exotic cars by parliamentarians, not even Covid-19 can stop them from displaying inordinate wealth among millions of people further impoverished by the Coronavirus. It should also be noted that Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council (FEC), in a clear attempt to protect cabinet members from Covid-19, has been conducting FEC meetings virtually since May 13. The ruling class can employ the most advanced material culture for their protection, and even vanity, but uninterested in extending such culture to the populace. This points to the wide divide that capitalism emplaces in society, which restricts advanced culture, like technology and medicines, to the benefit of the few, rich and powerful in society, while the rest of society languishes in artificial backwardness.
The need to digitize learning and teaching has been pronounced during this period. If the government’s meetings can be conducted virtually, then academic instructions have no reason to be put on hold. However, the monster of underfunding haunting education in the country, and the poverty bedevilling the average family, make it unthinkable for virtual learning to be employed under the conditions of Nigeria’s capitalism. The privatization of the electricity sector which has seen the DISCOs distributing darkness, and that majority of working class parents cannot bear the cost of access to the internet or smart devices have meant that a majority of students cannot effectively benefit from virtual learning.
FOR A UNITED STRUGGLE OF THE WORKING CLASS AND MASSES TO PUSH CAPITALISM TO ITS LIMIT AND ULTIMATELY END IT
But these are artificial conditions that exist because the people are yet to conduct an organized struggle against them. We must not limit our demands for improvement in the conditions of the working people to what capitalism can afford the people after it has satisfied the few rich. Experience has proven that only an organized struggle of the people, with clear demands, can force out the impossible from the paws of the capitalist ruling class.
The choice before the Nigerian people, as far as school reopening is concerned, is not limited to avoiding learning to stay safe or returning to schools to gamble with one’s life, as the government is desperately trying to present the matter. It is a choice before the Nigerian government, of whether to continue with underfunding schools or fund it in line with the lessons Covid-19 has taught us about education and the scientific level of society in the period of a pandemic. However, Nigeria’s capitalist government will not cheerfully abandon its traditional budget priorities. Especially the vanity of the political and business elites, unless a determined struggle of the working class, students, and parents forces it to.
It is recognized that the topic of school reopening has a tendency to pitch parents and students against education workers. However, the safety of education workers, students, and parents for and after reopening is of a common interest, which can be demanded at the same time with the reopening of schools. Similarly, the demand for expansion, and equipping of schools, is more in the interest of average Nigerians than the niggard government’s. These common interests have set forth the need for an organized and united struggle of the education workers, students, and parents for schools to reopen on a new level that the Covid-19 pandemic situation has dictated. And the government must fund it.