Covid-19 and opportunities for Nigeria’s education sector



 

There are growing awareness that with every crisis comes deep challenges and opportunities for transformation, this is no doubt obvious as contemporary realities are beginning to reveal that we are likely going to live with the Covid-19 pandemic longer than we thought in Nigeria.

With reports from leading National and International educational agencies reeling out global statistics of school closures at the peak of the spread of Covid-19 in April 2020, Nigeria is not spared its fair share of this new world order.  With estimated 1.58 billion learners out of school in almost all countries of the world, directly affecting up to 90% of the world’s total enrolled learners, the impact of the pandemic on sustaining the only legacy that has continued to shape the thought pattern of Humanity-‘Education’, calls for attention and quick action.

The speed at which these closures were hurriedly done left little time for planning or reflection on both the potential risks to safeguard against and or leverage on the possible potential opportunities that it brought. At the height of it all, lies the fear of increased dropout rates in hitherto less enthusiastic learners in some part of Nigeria. This has further necessitated the call for a holistic reassessment of the situation towards a revolutionised learning processes in the country.

The question(s) among others, now, is how prepared are the leading actors in the Nigeria’s educational system ready to salvage the sector by taking the necessary actions needed to internalize the inherent opportunities to ensure that formal learning does not stop.

Opportunities amidst daunting challenges

In Nigeria and indeed most of the African sub region, many of the learners do not have access to technology or a suitable learning environment at home because of our position on the digital divide. The reality is that the alternative distance or online learning is only easier for those with access to internet clearly excluding large groups of disadvantaged learners in the remote villages. A larger number of learners without access to electricity, television and other essential educational technology (EdTech) devices will continue to be left out. Some learners with basic feature mobile phones do not have smartphones. Again, others have only low-bandwidth internet availability which cannot connect EdTech tools needed to learn. However, worst off is the ability of our teachers to adapt to delivering education remotely.

Realistic openings

So far, since the beginning of this pandemic, in some states and communities, many teachers have championed video conference lessons to stay in touch with their students on social media or SMS messaging. In some other instances, broadcasting lessons through radio or television has proven to be helpful in reaching isolated students without internet access. The one-way transmission of information by radio or television hasbeen potentially supplemented through calls using mobile phones. Broadcasts have been used in combination with SMS to communicate between educators and students, as well as peer networks of students.

In some other circumstances, some teachers are overwhelmed with the sudden requirement to use technology new to them. This calls for education system managers to do remedial tasks towards improving the level of ability of the teachers and set expectations accordingly. EdTech might remedy some of these through flexibly adaptation of materials to different technological channels of delivery or opening up channels to rapidly support struggling teachers through mentoring and train the trainers approach. In the overall, the teachers’ capability will be a core constraint, and may not be quickly overcome.

Our educators with the support of partners, need to look inward to develop trusted sources to help assemble high-quality online learning tools. Curate these in our resource libraries, launch them in thelanding pages of dedicated websites and WhatsApp groups that allow educators, parents, partners and caregivers to access free materials quickly, and inspire young people to learn. 

Teaching as a profession in Nigeria will definitely be enhanced through collaboration and working together. Teachers will come out of this crisis stronger by collaborating and working together without having to reinvent the wheel. 

The readily available option for Nigerian educational system and international partners is to embrace theincreased use of EdTech even though there are arguments by experts on how far EdTech can help mitigate the gap amidst these crises.  While it is believed by some that, EdTech alone cannot be the solution, and it will be difficult to scale up in a short time frame, others are of the opinion that this might not be best of time to invest heavily in new hardware, or entirely new curricula.

As opined by Rebecca Winthrop: a senior fellow and director at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, globally; blended learning approaches should be tried, tested, and increasingly used. She added that blended learning can draw on the best of both worlds and create a better learning experience than one hundred percent face-to-face learning. She suggested ‘rebalancing the mix between face-to-face and online’. 

In conclusion, stakeholders in the education sector need to highlight what can be done within current constraints, with resources readily available, and with minimum levels of investment as we explore ways to improve outcomes in the short, medium and long terms.

Abugi writes from Abuja

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