Adamu Adamu, Nigerian Minister for Education

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

The ravaging Coronavirus which has led to lockdowns in many countries, including Nigeria has had a huge toll on the education sector as schools have been forced recess like every other life endeavour in the affected countries. In Nigeria, the lockdown came at a time most schools were preparing for the second term examinations, and how to keep he students engaged and ready or their academic task ahead when they resume has challenged school managers.

Specifically, students and teachers have been adversely impacted, especially since affected countries had to declare the closure of all academic institutions – a logical means of averting the further spread of the virus among learners.

As a result, some educational institutions have had to come up with redeeming measures such as online e-learning platforms; others can only look on and hope for the pandemic to abate. This situation is more unfavourable for the latter group.

Before the pandemic became a global concern when it was still restricted to China, the World Bank had predicted a possible worst-case scenario.

“…the impact on education is likely to be most devastating in countries with already low learning outcomes, high dropout rates, and low resilience to shocks,” the global financial body stated in a report.

Also, the World Bank stated that “the outbreak of the virus and lockdowns at the national level could be used as the best test for the education technology interventions for distance learning. Unfortunately, few systems arrived at this point fully prepared.

In Nigeria, the pandemic has led to a halt in public examinations; in addition to the closure of schools at all levels. National Examination Council, NECO, for example, was forced to postpone the second test for admission to unity schools. The West African Examinations Council (WAEC)  has also postponed indefinitely its examination this year.

Speaking on the toll the pandemic has had on education, the Minister of State for Education, Mr Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said during daily Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja last Tuesday.

“We have announced that WAEC and NECO for the year have been postponed. This postponement is indefinite at the moment,” he said. Both examinations were slated for May and June 2020. Recall the government had on March 19 ordered the immediate closure of all tertiary, secondary and primary schools as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 virus.

 

Virtual learning option

Nwajiuba said the federal government was working on options for schools to reopen. He said nobody could reopen schools until all efforts had been coordinated by the government. We will also be looking at what we will do for schools to reopen.

“As you recall, we asked that schools be vacated in the last part of March 2020 as soon as this pandemic broke out. The lockdown in various parts of the country will affect whether students and teachers come to school or not. So nobody can reopen schools until we have coordinated all efforts,” he said.

He further explained that some provisions have been made for students to learn online.

“We have made provisions available online. The Directorate of Information and Communication Technology has opened a portal.

“In conjunction with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), the coordinating agency will anchor an alliance with State Universal Basic Education Boards in all the states so that they can key into our design,” he said.

Mr Nwajiuba hinted that about 15 states had already commenced electronic learning for pupils on their local television and radio channels following the stay-at-home orders of the federal and some state governments. He appealed to parents to cooperate with the government to ensure that their children were made available to learn at the designated hours and channels.

“About 15 states have already commenced learning via different channels that are available in their states, mostly local TV and radio. All the programmes they are running are approved by the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Commission. Some of those states are Anambra, Lagos, Kaduna, Ondo, Edo, and Ogun. There are different education programmes for different times,” he said.

First Bank had announced its resolve to move one million children to e-learning which is implemented with several renowned organisations that have come on board from within and outside the continent, as part of its corporate social responsibility, CSR, to assist students to leverage on the opportunity of the lockdown.

The partners include IBM, which is providing opportunities for the acquisition of digital skills, including Coding, Artificial Intelligence and Data Science & Analytics, which would promote opportunities to learn skills of the future. These measures are taken in identifying with the roles of children at securing the future of any country.

The Lagos State Government and Roducate e-learning initiative – sponsored by First Bank – had kicked off. The initiative includes the government accredited curriculum for primary, secondary and tertiary schools designed to ensure children are adequately guided and engaged through their learning experience.

Dr Adeduntan in a statement said, “In keeping with who we are at First Bank, our commitment to self-development and continuous improvement is never far from our thinking.

Some private schools like Christian Schools and Avecinea in Lagos started online learning which has since caught on in Lagos, Ogun and some other states. As of going to the press about 23 states have adopted the platform, the latest being Rivers State which announced Thursday that it had opened all schools up to a tertiary level to online education.

 

Challenges

However, many people have expressed teething issues with the policy, including the minister of state for education, as the model is fraught with challenges. The minister said the biggest challenge of the government is how to reach pupils who are living in rural communities without devices to learn.

“Our biggest challenge is how to reach children who do not have devices. Because they do not have that we are pressing with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria and NTA as the last end to dial.

“We already have programmes running along those lines with adult education, we just want to instil some of that and make it available for primary and secondary. While some privately-owned primary and secondary schools are making use of online tools – in the least, school websites and social media platforms – this doesn’t seem to be the case with government-owned institutions that have made similar efforts, albeit offline.

The alternative some state governments have adopted is classroom broadcasts on public television and radio stations. This is platform Ogun state has opted for, while most states are holding classes at specific times via state-owned media (TV and radio) stations.

The drawback is that these classes are mainly concentrating on students preparing for entrance examinations – school leaving certificate (Primary 6), Junior School Certificate (JSS3), and Senior School Certificate (SSS3) Examinations.

The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) reportedly has a section of its website dedicated to tutorials for examination preparation purposes.

Some private schools in Ogun State like the popular Jolayemi Group of Schools in Agbado use online messaging platforms like Telegram and Whatsapp for ease of learning. There is also a provision to access certain online learning platforms for free.

Again, a major challenge has been power supply during the lockdown period the most of Lagos have not had regular power supply, which denies the children the opportunity of availing themselves of use of the platforms.

A federal unity school at Meiran staff member explained to BusinessHallmark that there is a partnership between his school and online learning platform, Edmodo. The arrangement he said, affords parents to log in for their children/wards to have preparatory lessons.

Mrs Omotayo Adejobi of Jolayemi International School Kollington, Agbado told this reporter how the school authorities ordered that classes should continue via an edtech digital app, immediately it became clear that schools would have to shut down for a long time.

She said the arrangement was full of an unintended hiccup as what began as daily classes eventually trickled down to two classes a week due to Internet issues and parents complaining of being inconvenienced by their children using their devices so frequently.

At the tertiary level, apart from those that have since adopted massive open online courses (MOOCs), it is not clear if any Nigerian higher institutions of learning have devised means to facilitate continuous learning for their students. This seems unlikely though because most edtech solutions are focused on preliminary education and exam preparation.

Dr Olufemi Omoyele of the department of management, Redeemer University and Prof. Albert Ohiare of the department of sociology, Kogi State University share the opinion that the state of infrastructure – such as poor electricity supply- has affected distance learning.

Omoyele said poor public internet infrastructure will make it extremely difficult for students to undertake academic work remotely, including the use of virtual libraries which he noted are absent in many Nigerian universities.

“In this part of the world quite a several people are disadvantaged in terms of the poor infrastructure that we have in the country,” Ohiare said. “Feelers from my interaction with  my students indicate gross inaccessibility to power supply who say that even and in some cases, the internet connection is very poor.”

As it is online learning faces daunting task occasioned by the problem of access to the internet and poor power supply.

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