A vast majority of parents currently are still struggling with the decision of whether to send their children to school in instances where the school offers a hybrid model or full physical model option. Many are clearly worried about the implications for both the child’s health and family health as news of numbers filter through the airwaves. Thus requiring clarity and tact in reporting.
A non-Nigerian study from Qualitrics reveals that “majority of parents who can send their children to school are uncomfortable doing so.” About 53% of pupils will learn remotely (with attending challenges) even when the option for in person classes are available. What parameters are parents engaging in making these decisions? Where do they get the information required? You guessed right. The media.
It can thus be imagined what headlines like the one reported in The Punch, Healthwise would do to the decision of parents to send their children back to school. The headline of the October 16, 2020 article read “181 students, staff contract COVID-19 in Lagos private boarding school”. Right under that headline is a picture of individuals fully kitted in hazmat and decontamination gear. To understand how this news may have been perceived, it is important to note that schools had been shut down for months and had only resumed three weeks earlier amidst frantic worry from parents. I remember where I was the minute I saw that headline flash across my screen and even I, as a teacher in a school successfully running a hybrid model, wanted to run, pick my child up and return her to the bubble of my home. Did I mention that the image had nothing whatsoever to do with the reported cases? It was a photo taken in April 2020 showing volunteers disinfecting a school. Yet, it immediately seems to scream “Danger! Keep your kids at home!” What does this do to school populations and learning outcomes in the long run?
Speaking with friends, family and a few parents, several parents kept their kids home after that news broke because in their minds it was a case of “if it can happen in this school, it can happen at my child’s.” The Qualtrics survey reveals that pupils from homes with higher incomes are more likely to be kept at home because their parents can afford to ‘indulge’ the fear. What then does the report like the one above do? Further solidifies their decision to keep them at home.
The concern though is, while they are at home, do they get the requisite support to ensure learning is going on optimally. Many children work unsupervised and only get the virtual support from teachers through a screen because either their parents have to go to work physically or are working from home. This often leads to lower teaching and learning outcomes.
Fast forward a few weeks later, Nairametrics ran a similar story following reports of other cases in another secondary school. The headline simply read “Lagos State confirms COVID-19 cases in secondary school.” The article shared the discovery, actions taken and sought to allay the fears of readers while keeping them cautious. Having sampled a few other opinions, every single person had the similar reactions. COVID is real, but things seem to be under control. My kids can still go to school.
Why did this article hit differently? First, there was no mention of numbers in the second headline. This perhaps gives a false sense of security or implies that it is not too serious if they aren’t scaring us with the magnitude. Next would be the photograph right under the headline. We see a confident Health Commissioner who seems to lend some of his confidence through the picture.
Both articles report the same thing at the end of the day. Bubbled schools are not impenetrable by COVID-19. Both articles have the government responding appropriately and the school authorities doing the same. In fact, both articles end almost the same way with a charge from the commissioner, but they elicit different reactions.
So, I ask you as I have asked every parent I encounter, what parameters would you be engaging in deciding whether to home-school or not?
Written by Adeiye Oluwaseun-Sobo
1. Adejoro, Lara. (2020, October 16). 181 Students, staff contract COVID-19 in Lagos private boarding school. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from The Punch
2. Nielsen, Liesl. (2020, August 13). Mostt parents will send kids back to school- with hesitation Qualtrics study finds. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from Qualtrics
3. Olisah, Chike. (2020, November 8). Lagos State confirms COVID-19 cases in secondary school. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from Nairametrics