By Ekene Odigwe
Education gives us an understanding of the world around us and offers the opportunity for us to apply knowledge wisely. Irrespective of tribe, race, creed, and gender, education makes it possible for people to stand out as equals with other persons from different walks of life.
Currently, the global world is facing a crisis — one that is killing people, spreading human suffering, and upending lives. But this is much more than a health crisis. It is a human, economic and social crisis. The Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), which has been characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), is attacking societies to their core.
Unfortunately, the educational sector is a part of the receiving end paying a huge price. According to UNESCO, an estimated 1.725 billion learners have been affected as a result of school closures, representing about 99.9% of the world’s student population as of April 13th, 2020.
In Nigeria, over 80 million learners are affected by the shutdown of schools since March 2020. The educational system has been devastated and children from lower socio-economic families are bearing the brunt.
The pandemic has also forced many businesses to temporarily shut down. To cushion the effects, the world is embracing technological innovations. Virtual interactions are increasingly adopted to replace face-to-face engagements and limit the total disruption to many sectors.
As a result, education channels have changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, where teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms. Classes are now held on virtual platforms like Zoom, Google Classrooms, Articulate 360, Lectora Inspire, among others.
But not every student can access these platforms.
As pleasant as this solution is, it is sad that students from under-served low-income communities are left out and unable to access learning during this period likely due to financial limitations, data expenses and limited technological savviness
For underprivileged children, this crisis is widening rather than narrowing the learning gaps.
To mitigate this challenge, Enugu State, in April 2020, embarked on airing school lessons two hours daily on the radio for primary and secondary school students. According to the Commissioner for Education, Professor Uchenna Eze, the project was launched by the ministry to assist pupils and students to keep up with the school curriculum.
The Enugu Radio School, done in partnership with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) Enugu Zonal Station and The Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) with funding from the Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi Administration, has bridged the gap in limited access, provided earning power for teachers and helped prepare students especially those in the final stages.
Over the years it has been established that there is a drop in the number of children that return to school after a pandemic.
For Enugu State, this closure of schools is testing its education systems’ readiness and capacity to maintain student engagement and learning.
This is shedding renewed light on the inequities that exist across and within local governments that create barriers to quality education, especially for the marginalized communities.
Consequently, it is safe to say that Enugu state is prepared for school resumption. Recall that the Federal Government announced on July 30th that exit classes for Nigerian secondary schools were to resume on August 4th, 2020.
According to the government, the reopening of exit classes will enable the students to have two weeks to prepare for their West African Examination Council (WAEC) examination which is scheduled to start next week by August 17, 2020.
This unanimous decision was reached during a virtual consultative meeting between the Federal Ministry of Education, the Commissioner for Education in each of the 36 states of the Federation, the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), the proprietors of private schools, and Chief Executives of examination bodies.
As education stakeholders around Nigeria enthusiastically support the government’s decision, parents and guardians are concerned about the health implications likely to arise and about how equipped students are to adapt and transition to this phased reopening of schools and new methods of learning.
Lack of quality basic education limits a nation’s potential for growth and development; adding COVID-19 pandemic to the mix is more worrisome for a developing nation like Nigeria. For the Nigerian child, both constitute emergencies and require urgent realistic solutions.
WHAT FACTORS ARE MOST IMPORTANT IN REOPENING SCHOOLS?
In speaking with Ebere Okoye, the Director of iNSPARK Enterprise, an ICT hub within Enugu metropolis which offers graphic design and programming classes, she explains that the government has consistently not increased the education budget and the already existing infrastructures are not receiving the desired attention.
She argues that a clear plan must be developed, that first and foremost prioritizes the health and safety of students, educators, and families.
Likewise, Nneka Ikeji, a Chief Nursing Officer at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Ituku Ozalla, who praised Governor Ugwuanyi’s actions with the provision of funding and equipping of public schools in Enugu State.
She suggested that more financial aid is still needed in terms of investing in the educational tools of the future alongside a total revamp of the educational sector.
Reforms in the national curriculum post-pandemic would be an effective way to bridge these gaps with priority given to newer courses like digital safety and Microsoft Office tools which can usher students into the modern era and prepare them for jobs of the future.
WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER SCHOOLS REOPEN?
Despite numerous complaints from the Basic Education administrators on the paucity of funds to improve educational infrastructure, the Federal Government matching grants remain unused at the Central Bank of Nigeria and is waiting to be accessed for the State’s development throughout the country.
These, no doubt, are tales of woe; elucidating an experience of the proverbial butcher’s son who suffers lack of meat and thus settles for the worst of the bones.
Catering for basic education is primarily the role of States through the existing 37 State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEB) as stated in the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act of 2004.
The Act allows the federal governing agency, UBEC to share the costs of financing basic education with states through counterpart funding. It originally provides that the central government is to spend 2% of its annual budget on UBEC. To access the funds, states are expected to provide 50% of counterpart funds to match the amount approved by the federal government each year.
As schools have reopened, learning from other countries’ experiences will be especially useful and also finding a way to access the unutilized matching grant of 3,464,873,598.26 from the Universal Basic Education Commission from (2005 – 2019) will go a long way in enabling our students’ educational development in this digital era.