Coronavirus. A word we did not know a few months ago but that has now grown familiar on our tongues.
Since the second week of February, 2020, the world has been on red alert concerning the novel COVID-19. This has prompted a range of unforeseen measures taken by governments across the globe, such as heavy lockdowns which started in Wuhan, China.
In Nigeria, the rising number of infected persons has culminated in restrictions ranging from the international airport closures and social distancing, to a nationwide shutdown of all schools.
There is no doubt of the fact that the pandemic has had far-reaching effects on education across the globe.
According to UNESCO figures, over 1.5 billion learners are affected by school closures in more than 180 countries. Here in Nigeria, nearly 40 million learners have been impacted of which over 91 percent are primary and secondary school learners.
This graph shows that most of those affected by school closures are those in public schools and by implication from low-income homes which may not have access to digital learning technology
The implications of this school closures in Nigeria include:
1. Missed learning for the majority of in-school-students.
2. Loss of access to vital school-provided services such as the Homegrown Schools Feeding Initiative that the World Food Programme (2019) estimates provided daily meals to over 9 million children in over 40,000 public schools.
3. Widening education gaps as more children without access to digital technology are being left behind.
With these harsh realities, the question is: what are the emerging trends in education and what should we be doing differently?
Across the world, organisations in the international community who have stepped up to the challenge caused by the coronavirus pandemic include-though not limited to- UNESCO, UNICEF, GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP FOR EDUCATION (GPE), THE WORLD BANK, COMMONWEALTH OF LEARNING, INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL FOR OPEN AND DISTANCE EDUCATION (ICDE) and TEACH FOR ALL.
New Trends in Nigerian Formal Education
1. Learning through traditional media
A trend that has perhaps come to stay is learning through television and radio. At state level, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and the FCT have phased-in some programmes for the children in basic education levels through radio stations.
Similarly, non-profits like Ace Charity have explored radio learning by producing lessons for different levels of education to engage with while for-profits like DSTV have introduced dedicated learning channels for primary schools to their platform.
2. Digital Tools
Concurrently, Mobile Classroom, an indigenous digital mobile learning platform is collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Education to provide free learning materials through 4 major internet service providers in the country.
3. Multilateral response
The COVID 19 pandemic has brought all hands on deck as various agencies are working simultaneously to curb its effects on education.
In Northeastern Nigeria where at least 4.2 million children in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states are affected by school closures, the Nigeria Education in Emergencies Working Group (EIEWG) has prepared a response strategy.
Through the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Save the Children and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Nigeria Education Sector COVID19 Response Strategy in North East aims to reduce mortality due to COVID19 among school learner, teachers and school stakeholders in the region; mitigate the negative effects of school closures on stakeholders and ensure a safe and inclusive return to quality learning for all.
As much as these trends are steps in the right direction, there is cause for concern as regards strategies for sustainability, recording long-term impact and ensuring that these are replicated in other states. This is considering the fact that it is currently uncertain how long it will take before the school re-opens.
4. Federal Ministry of Education Response
The Ministry has launched a contingency plan that prepares for 3 scenarios: school closure for one month, 3 months and beyond 3 months.
With the current state of affairs, it is clear the closures will last for over 3 months and the plan documents measures to, “encourage digitization of curricula, development of radio, TV or self-learning instructional materials based on the national curriculum; FME, UBEC, and others through communities and parents will be re-oriented to available resources to support more long-term solutions; Engage with government and National Exams Councils to decide on adjustments and communication on exams schedules; Support clear communication with teachers, parents on continuity of learning and on exam schedules.”
Recommendations for Bridging the Current Educations Gaps
According to a World Economic Forum report, COVID19 could change how we educate future generations in 4 ways:
i. educations will factor in the huge interconnectedness of the world
ii. the role of the educator will be redefined from that of a knowledge-holder to one of a facilitator of the learning process, as knowledge becomes readily available through digital tools
iii. life skills such as resilience, adaptability, creativity and collaboration will increasingly become indispensable
iv. technology becomes an inseparable part of the learning process
With these 4 implications in mind, there is an absolute need to consider the following recommendations for the Nigerian education system:
1. A major curriculum review
For years, there have been series of agitations for the review of the curriculum at primary and secondary school levels. While snail progress has been recorded in this regard, this pandemic has shown more than ever, the pressing need to re-think what our children are being taught.
Our approach to formal schooling has to evolve to accommodate the changing landscape of the world and impart knowledge that young people truly need. Life skills should be part and parcel of the curriculum and not an idea so far-flung that students go through 12 years of schooling without an inkling what they mean.
The curriculum must take a practical approach to learning, providing exactly what is needed for work and life in the coming years. This also entails taking a fresh look at the entrepreneurship modules. It is imperative that those modules teach students to see entrepreneurship as a means of providing solutions to the problems around them and not an optional venture merely for profit-making.
In order to achieve an overhaul on this scale, a multi-sectoral approach must be utilized with key input from local educational NGOs and international organizations capable of providing a global perspective.
2. Infusion of technology to the learning process
The coronavirus pandemic has shown the porosity of the educational system as learning had to stop for many students across the country. However, this need not be so. Beyond teaching about technology in classrooms, it ought to be infused into the learning process so as to give students the opportunity to practice what they are being taught.
Consequently, this necessitates the democratization of internet access. The Federal Ministry of Education should work hand-in-hand with the telecommunications industry to devise means of achieving this.
As a short-term solution, we recommend that the Ministry considers a digital solution to administering external examinations such as WAEC and NECO. This way, SS3 students do not lose a whole year and the school calendar will not be completely disrupted.
3. Widespread teacher
It is a fact that many teachers lack sufficient training to deliver the education of the 21st century. This is why continuous and systematic training of teachers at all levels is paramount.
Teachers must become versed in deploying technology in teaching, even at the most basic level. In same vein, they need to be equipped with life skills that will inspire them to build resilience and provide solutions to the educational needs that arise around them.
A process that duly incentivizes teachers ensures that they give their best to our children’s education.
In conclusion, we may be a long way off from the mark but a sound strategy and collaborative efforts will ensure our educational system recovers from the pandemic and becomes even better.