As of the first week of May, The Spectator Index confirmed over four million positive cases of the Corona Virus globally and at least 200,000 deaths. As the virus continues to spread its tentacles across countries, threatening human existence, human lives are being changed in unprecedented ways. As the pandemic affects nearly every sector of human interaction ranging from economic to social, health, education and commercial to mention a few; we are forced to make quick adjustments and life choices to prevent further spread.
While grappling with this new reality, a major change the world has had to make is maintaining social distance. To ensure compliance, the government at the state and federal level enforced a lockdown order where virtually all social activities came to a screeching halt. As expected, education was not excluded, giving that it became imperative to shut down education facilities across Nigeria and many other countries to prevent the pandemic from affecting children’s education and more importantly, their health. This move affected 1.3 billion students globally, and has forced the government and members of the society to see the shortcomings of the education system in Nigeria. The most glaring of these is the unpreparedness of the system to embrace online and digital learning strategies, and if well attended to, it also gives a laser focus on specific areas of improvement and innovation.
As COVID-19 Widens the margin of education and access to the basic learning amenities, my volunteer experience with OneAfricanChild has enabled me to see first-hand, how children in low-income communities are forced to share rickety desks and uncomfortable wooden chairs, manage their very few books for many subjects, and enjoy internet connectivity/laptops only when we are able to organise our monthly digital classes. With the break of the pandemic, their learning is currently in a state of hiatus as their main motivation is derived through the school system and informal learning opportunities we provide them. With this disruption, they are exposed to anxiety and panic alongside learners facing similar struggles. Their social skills, emotional well being and educational aspirations are put on the line, worse still if they are enduring these challenging times in a community that undermines the value of education.
Despite the world tilting towards technocracy, public schools in Nigeria are still grossly underfunded and there are no considerations for digital learning tools. At this point it is difficult to measure Nigeria’s effort towards the Education 2030 agenda aimed at “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Several children are still learning under conditions similar to the system their parents’. While the future of education is progressing exponentially, ours seem to be moving at a slow pace. Education in this part of the world is still largely monolithic and children are not being adequately prepared for the world they are expected to lead.
A risk factor of the pandemics is the possibility of a high school dropout rate, especially in low-income communities. Deliberate efforts are required to reintegrate children in these communities back to school. According to the World Bank’s “Learning Poverty” indicator, the percentage of children who cannot read and understand at age 10 stood at 53% of children in low- and middle-income countries – before the outbreak. While the situation can still be salvaged, a proactive move by the government will ensure a successful transition back to formal education post covid.
Innovation is required to provide quality and sustainable education to learners, and teachers cannot be left behind in this campaign. Understanding that learning can happen anywhere and in different forms, teachers must be trained to embrace this new reality, and as a matter of urgency, be provided with practical materials on how to meet learners where they are. Digital skills training to make learning accessible as well as emotional intelligence and creative teaching styles workshops need to be prioritised for teachers so that they are able to create safe spaces and assume the role of mentors and guides for learners.
This period, providing content like interactive videos, soft copy materials, class activity, and lectures on websites where teachers can easily access will help them to prepare for a robust teaching-learning experience after the pandemic is over. But while it persists, partnerships with media houses like radio and television stations, to air educational programs for primary and secondary schools like some states in Nigeria have adopted are positive steps in the right direction.
Teachers must also be made to understand the Education 2030 goals as this has not been adequately communicated to them, only when they understand it are they able to run with it and ensure its actualisation. Workshops and materials to enhance this understanding should also be provided, with realistic benchmarks set in place to achieve it.
OneAfricanChild Foundation in partnership with Learning Equality, organises digital skills training for children in select marginalised communities in Nigeria. Through Kolibri, a digital solution developed by Learning Equality to provide offline access to a variety of learning materials, we provide quality education for children in low-income communities on a broad range of global citizenship education topics such as media literacy, internet safety, fake news spotting, and lots more. We have had virtual learning sessions with students from other countries to share knowledge and exchange experiences. This exposes learners to blended learning that combines digital skills with offline learning. With support from the government and key stakeholders, we can successfully scale this project and double our impact.
To further ensure inclusive education for marginalised children, learning styles need to be diversified to include project-based and personalised methods so that the children are more engaged, involved and enthusiastic to learn. Their emotional well being needs to be prioritised and the school must be a safe space for them to heal from the instabilities that came with the pandemic. As the world around us changes torrentially, it presents opportunities to embrace technology, innovate and improve our education system to be more sustainable and to accommodate the changes that come with this new world, together with its industrial revolution. If other sectors are constantly improving to meet up, the education sector must not be left behind, because in this space, leaders are groomed.